Dooney’s Kitchen is 1. Phew, I can’t believe I just wrote those words. It does feel like forever and I am truly grateful for the experience. What I started with so much trepidation has brought me so much joy, I can’t believe that little old me has accomplished this. Seeing the news that Lupita Nyong’o won the Oscar this morning is so poignant, especially as this time last year, on this very date Dooney’s Kitchen was born. The part of her speech that resonated with me was, “no matter where you are from, your dreams are valid”. A young girl from Kenya, born the same year as I was, had a dream worked towards that dream and today she has achieved International success and recognition. When fate smiles on you, when He blesses you in the way Only He can, when it is your turn to shine, there is no stopping it. Her story is so inspiring, I have found myself repeating so many times today, Dunni your dreams are valid. It doesn’t matter if at the moment Nigerian food is not seen as anything to be reckoned with, you are putting in the work and He will reward you in the way only He can. Your dreams are valid. You are going to be the next Lupita, making waves, inspiring a generation through food and letting people in Nigeria and the African continent realise that there is greatness within what we can produce, that no one else can produce – our food. Today Kenya is on the map in such an amazing way, I pray that the special brand of Lupita magic, the Lupita fairy dust sprinkles my way.
It just so happens that Nigeria makes up one of the MINT countries. If you haven’t heard of the MINT countries yet, you need to read up on it. We represent the ‘N’. Growth is coming, the world is watching and waiting. Food is an integral part of us as a people, and we have to be ready to showcase that. Investors are coming, some are already there, we should not elevate Western food over ours, in a bit to be fake and appear posh and sophisticated. It is already happening and it makes me angry, to be honest. You see pictures of food served at events in Lagos, menus in “fancy” restaurants in capital cities and you wonder what happened to local, home grown cuisine. You can’t beat an “oyinbo” man at his own game. Lose your identity, and no one will find it for you. Lupita is a shining example of how being yourself, makes you stand out.
No more lumping all we produce as African food. No such thing exists. I read a comment on Bella Naija by some ‘Jane Public’ and it was so profound, I have to copy and paste it here because it is what a lot of us are guilty of.
You hear words like African food. That term gets my blood boiling. Even food bloggers use that word. There is nothing like “African food”. Be specific. Afro-politan, Afro-centric, Afro, this, Afro that. Why won’t they think we are all the same thing? Have you heard the term European food before? You hear British food, French Food, Italian Food, Spanish food, Mexican food, Indian food, Thai food, Chinese food, Mediterranean cuisine, hardly do you hear the term European food, Asian food, because IT DOESN’T EXIST. Europeans and Asians differentiate themselves and woe betide you tar them with the same brush, but we, nooooooo, we loves it. African food. What does that mean? Mschew. Is Nigerian food the same as Ethiopian food? Or Ugandan food?
Thankfully, I have always referred to our food with its proper label, Nigerian food. Afro nothing, has never had a place on this blog, and I implore all of us to do the same. We are so migratory as a people, it is time we distinguish ourselves and our food for what it is. We should speak well of our food and properly tag it for what it is, Nigerian food. Our food is not healthy, yeah right. I tell people, in many ways than one, I should be the poster child for Nigerian food because it constitutes probably 95% of my diet. Yes, I also have my genes to be thanful for, but my diet also plays into why I have maintained my wieght. Moderation, changing cooking styles, methods, use of ingredients, what volumes of what you consume, and our food is organic to boot, what else do we need?
One of such gloriousness that truly showcases our local produce is Banga soup. This is a powerhouse across the Niger Delta, it should be an institution of its own. The last Palm fruit soup recipe I posted, is more the Efik version called Abak Atama Soup (recipe HERE) due to the ingredients used. I wasn’t feeling too well this past weekend and missing my father so much, because he always knew what to say or do to make me feel better. With my body not co-operating with me, I dragged myself to the kitchen to cook his favourite meal. Starch and Banga soup, and it really did help me feel better. The energy and zeal I got from making it, kicked up a cooking super storm, like I have never seen before. I cooked a total of 9 soups this weekend spanning across the Niger Delta region, so be ready for a bumper season this March. Yes, I have been baking more and posting some not so 9ja centric recipes, but I am back people. Like seriously back. My kitchen is buzzing and buzzing. Today I am bringing you Banga Soup as it is called in Delta State.
You will need
Palm fruit or Palm nut extract
Ata rodo – scotch bonnet/habanero pepper
Dried bitter leaves
Dry red shrimps
Tilapia – any fresh fish will do
Powdered Banga spices – Rogojie, Tyko
Obunrubebe stick – some I know by name. There are lots more blended into the spice powder
Stockfish or smoked fish
Traditionally Banga soup is made with fresh in several varieties. Fresh, smoked, shell fish etc. Yes, you can make it with meat, but it truly is not the same. The flavour of fish is so tender and delicate, matching the delicate taste of the palm fruit. If you will use Meat, Bush meat is best. I remember the joints, shortly off the express way my father stopped at in Ugheli, Delta State. Those women would serve hot steaming bowls of Starch and banga soup with fresh fish. I still remember till this day, how amazing that food was. I hope, I did it justice.
1. You need the palm fruit extract. Now, you can do this one of tw ways. From scratch which involves boiling the palm fruits, till they soften, and then pounding in a mortar, to extract the juice. After which you add hot water, squeeze the chaff to extract more liquid and then discard. Or you can simply cheat and buy the extract in a can.
2. If you are using the canned version, it comes quite thick, so you need to dilute it with hot water, to make it more fluid, and more like the consistency you would achieve if you were making it from scratch. Dooney’s Kitchen tip: you need it to be fluid, but not so fluid it becomes translucent
3. Then you add the smoked fish varieties, and let them boil till they soften, and you can taste their flavour in the palm fruit extract. I used stockfish and dry red prawns. Notice, that I did not use crayfish. I don’t use crayfish when I cook with fresh fish or shellfish. Its flavour, though amazing is way too strong, it dominates the flavour profile.
4. Add fresh pepper. As much as you can tolerate. Also let this boil. Ata rodo, particularly has its own flavour. Many of us don’t realise that it does. In soups like Banga, you notice that flavour.
5. Add the banga spices in tablespoonfuls until you get the intensity that you want. I used 3 tablespoonfuls for this deep saucepan. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: i started with 2, and then proceeded to adding one more, to get a kick. Mind you, you really don’t want to use too much or it will taste bitter. Don’t just pour in the spices at once. Start with one or two tablespoons and work your way from there. I also added the oburunbebe stick for added flavour. This is something I observed my grandma do. Just the way the Efik people would add the Uyaya pod. If you don’t have the obunrunbebe stick, that’s fine. It has been blended with the powdery banga spices, so you are covered.
6. Stir and let it boil, till you can smell and also taste the spices in the palm fruit extract.
7. At this point, add the seasoning cubes and salt. Season to the point you will not need to anymore, because once the fish and shelled fish go in, it is not advisable to re-season again.
8. One thing you will notice is that after the banga spices go in, the palm fruit extract thickens. This always happens. If it doesn’t in a few minutes, it means you added too much hot water from the start. One signature thing with the spices is also that they introduces black spots into the soup. This is the signature of those spices, just as using vanilla pod add black spots to whatever it is added to. See the black spots in the picture below.
9. Once it has thickened a bit, then you add the fresh fish, the fresh prawns and periwinkles still in their shell.
immediately they go in, lower the heat and cover the pot. Dooney’s Kitchen tip: it is essential that you lower the heat, because high heat destroys the flavour of fresh fish and seafood, especially when you are cooking them in a large broth. If you’ve always been cooking your fish on high heat, try my method and taste the difference.
10. Once the fish has cooked, the last ingredient to be added is dried bitter leaf. The urhobos use the Obeletientien leaf, but other parts of Delta use dried bitter leaf. My grandma definitely did. Blend the dried leaves in a mill till it becomes powdery.
sprinkle the powder unto the soup. Roughly about a tablespoon or slightly more. You just want a slightly bitter twinge, so don’t over load it.
11. Still with the heat on low, simply let the soup cook until oil starts to float to the surface. This is essential. If you serve my grandma Banga soup without her seeing the oil on top, she would send you right back to the kitchen, with stern words and that woman had a mouth on her. Lol
Once this happens, your Banga Soup is done, and ready to be served. How beautiful does that look. How much does 9ja food really rock?
As for the Oburunbebe stick, it still has enough flavour in it for 2 or 3 more soups. So, don’t throw it away. Rinse it off and freeze. It is better to freeze than leaving it in your spice cupboard, to prevent it from growing mould.
Dish your Banga soup and serve hot.
Deltans will tell you that, there is no better pairing with Banga Soup than Starch and I so agree
I will be posting a tutorial on how to make Starch, so be on the lookout for that.
One more thing. To celebrate one year of you being on the journey with me, I am going to be giving away a Kitchen Gadget. Think Pounded Yam, that is all I am going to say for now. I’m afraid, it won’t be a game of luck, some effort on your part will be involved, and the most worthy contributor will win. So, get ready.