This is my comfort zone, this is the owo soup I grew up eating. My grandmother was half Bini, half Ghana, so this was something she cooked often and cooked well. She also lived in Benin. She had her stack of very big smoked fish which she brought out anytime she made Owo soup. I remember the fish being huge and very black. I am guessing now that it was probably smoked catfish. Once in a while, when she truly had special visitors, she used bush meat and smaller pieces of Eja sawa. Oh Lordy, Lordy, Lordy, we looooooved those times. Bush meat just rocks something awesome. As much as I enjoyed owo soup, it is also linked to a memory of eating something I hate – green plantains. In fact, someone left a comment on my Owgho soup post (the urhobo version) about eternally hating green plantains. Yes, I agree with her. Ugh!
Whose genius idea was it to eat green plantains? Couldn’t they wait for it to ripen? Was hunger really that bad at that time, and they thought oh, let’s just pluck the plantains off the tree and eat it. Ugh. I would like to find the person or at least a descendant or descendants of that person and have a good word with them. That thing was the bane of my existence. Still hate it. Gosh my mother tried serving it with garden egg sauce. Imagine my pain. Two things I hate. Oh we had a good battle of wills over that one, she gave up. My grandma on the other hand, naaaaaah, no child could try her. She would give you a look that is enough to melt steel. As tiny as that woman was, she was quite formidable and feared for good reason.
After serving owo soup and boiled green plantains, I would eye the green plantains, descend on the soup and then find a sneaky way to bin the green plantains. Nothing got past that woman, she had eyes like a hawk and probably at the back of her head too. As I am tiptoeing to the kitchen, trying to avoid being noticed, she would call out Uche!!!!!, let me see your plates. I would stop, frozen in my tracks, carefully turn around with trepidation and walk slowly towards her, hoping by some miracle, the green plantains would have evaporated. Those are the times you wish you had some sort of super power. Alas, no such luck. She would look at the green plantains lonely on my plate and say, ‘what did you think you were going to do with those’? I would look down to the floor and say nothing. With my grandma, I tell you silence is golden, because anything you say would DEFINITELY be misconstrued, and you would be in more trouble.
She had her own special dictionary of interpretation and your words would come out of her mouth sounding like you were insolent, and she would look at you daring you to correct her. After a few minutes of staring me down, with me avoiding her gaze of course, I would go back to the table with my tail between my legs fuming. I would chop the plantains into little bits and swallow like a pill with water. Mama didn’t care how it went down, as long as your plate was empty. If my Aunties were around, they would say ‘Iyenekere’ not fair o, at least give her some extra soup to finish it, and she would grudgingly agree. Phew. Still hate green plantains.
Oh, I would like to tell you the time I dared to tell her to add sugar to the green plantains while she was boiling it. I told her with so much confidence, even mentioning that my mum added sugar to yams, and that was the only way she could get me to eat yams. Ooooooh, I definitely shouldn’t have, definitely, definitely shouldn’t have, considering she and my mother did not get along well at all. Oh dear. She froze a little, turned around, and the look she gave me was EPIC. She said slowly, soooooooo, your ‘alakowe’ (sarcastic way of saying educated in Yoruba) mother adds sugar to yam. Ehn ehn, tutun niyen o (that is new o). Did I mention that she spoke Yoruba fluently? Abajo naaaa (no wonder) whatever the heck she meant by saying abajo na, I didn’t dare ask. She then musically sighed Uhmmmm hmmmn, and shook her head. I would have paid top dollar to find out what was going on in her head, but I knew it wasn’t good and I had just unwittingly given her more arsenal against my mum. hahahahahahaha. I was too terrified to tell her that it was never my mother’s idea, but that of the maid who used to sneak in sugar into our yam. My mother discovered by accident one day and thought what the heck, if that will get Ola to eat yams and stop frustrating my life at mealtimes, so be it. I doubt it would have mattered even if I did, they had the proverbial acidic mother-in law – daughter-in-law relationship. My mother and I laugh about it now, even though sometimes she shudders a little at the memories and she prays I don’t experience such. That woman was difficult and unreasonable most times, but hey that could be said of many Nigerian mothers with sons. I hope I get lucky in that department. I had to let someone go for that particular reason cos I wasn’t interested in repeating my mother’s experience. Mumsie approved. Or I probably should just marry ‘oyinbo’ as some friends have advised. Loooooool. Anyway, back to food. I hope you enjoyed the stories.
You will need
Goat meat or assorted meats
Chilli pepper – ata rodo
Lots of dense smoked fish – i used Eja Sawa
For the Grilled Green Plantain
Owo soup is more like a palm oil sauce, why it is called a soup, I am still scratching my head about it.
1. Boil and season your meat. Once they have sufficiently cooked with some stock left, add your blended tomatoes and pepper. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: Bini Owo soup has a characteristic sweetness to it, the tomatoes bring that to the dish.
2. Add the crayfish and smoked fish. I used Eja sawa, as that was all I had at home.
Bring the contents of the pot to a gentle simmer.
3. Dissolve potash about the size of half – 3 quarters of a seasoning cube in water and add to the pot and bring to the boil. The presence of the tomatoes, will mean it wouldn’t bubble up as much.
4. Leave it to cook and in a few minutes, you will notice that the addition of the potash has caused the prior watery stock to thicken a little. Take it off the heat and let it cool down a little.
Now, this is where things got veeeeeeeeery interesting. I know I have typed a lot so far, but you want to read this. Up until this stage, I followed Mama’s recipe but, and a very big but, I have encountered some problems with this soup in the past, and before I had the courage to post it, I knew I had to fix that problem. One thing I pride myself with my recipes, is that they work. Whether you are a beginner cook, mid level or a pro, my recipes work. Even better, if you are preparing a dish for the very first time using my recipe, you can be rest assured it will work. So when it got to this Owo soup, I knew I had to do something.
The traditional way of making Bini Owo soup is what I have just listed, the next stage was quite fascinating to me as a child. Mama would slowly pour in palm oil with one hand and stir with the other hand, and slowly but surely, the red stock will start to change colour to orange, then it will get paler and paler till it gets to yellow, but the kind of yellow with a slight orange hue. It was like watching magic. She said it was because of the potash. Now, when I made it this way, this would happen like clockwork, but a few times it didn’t. I would stir in the palm oil and the flipping thing will even get redder and redder, annoying the heck out of me. By then the soup would have had so much palm oil in it, it tasted gross and off to the bin it went. A solution I now believe would work would be dissolving extra potash in water and adding to the pot, continue stirring and the colour should change, but mostly at that point when I am cooking, the thought would not even occur to me, as I am already irritated.
I was going to use that as my back up when I made this just in case, until my brain had an ah-ha moment. What ah-ha moment you are wondering? It occurred to me to go the Igbo way, still wondering what, what Dunni, say it. Okay, okay. Ngo sauce used to make Nkwobi (recipe HERE) and Isi – Ewu. The beauty of Nigerian food is the inter-linkagesit has across cultures. Bini’s and Deltans are not the only ones to use the Potash-Palm Oil combination. Igbos do it too for Ngo sauce, and the colour is pretty close. So, while the contents of the pot were cooling down, I proceeded to make the Ngo sauce.
Dooney’s Kitchen Caveat: note, this is not the traditional way of making the soup, I have made that very clear, but this is your back door cheat way to do it that guarantees that on your first try, you will nail the soup right. The beauty of being a cook (and not a baker) is that you can switch things around, reverse the order, to get the same result. You need potash and palm oil to interact to change colour right? It shouldn’t matter in what order, as long as you get both of them to react. I have been told Owo soup can be quite tricky (i didn’t get the colour right for the Urhobo version), and you need a pro to teach you with several trials to get it. Well, not with my newly devised method. You don’t need to be a pro, it will work 10 out of 10 times. Open your mind to the possibilities. I made this soup on the same day I made the Urhobo version, because I wanted to compare the taste of both.
5. Make the ‘ngo’ sauce by pouring palm oil in a bowl and slowly dripping potash solution into the palm oil giving it a stir with your other hand. In a few seconds, the palm oil will change from red to yellow and also thicken. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: You only need a little of the potash solution to make this happen, so don’t go overboard otherwise you would have a potash overload and the soup will taste metallic. Because I wanted to still stay a little on the side of tradition of adding palm oil to the pot, I didn’t fully go all the way, hence the palm oil blotches you can see in the sauce, but it gets interesting at the next step.
6. Add the ‘ngo’ sauce to the pot which has now cooled down a bit and stir. The presence of potash in the stock already, would even further assist the soup.
The ‘ngo’ sauce added would further thicken the stock and the Pièce de résistance, the colour would change to yellow. The next two shots were taken under two different lighting conditions, but you can see the yellow.
Put the pot back on the heat, to warm it up a little and then serve with Yams or Boiled Green Plantains.
You have read how much I hate green plantains right? I still went ahead and bought one, just so that I could jazz it up a bit, and jazz it up I did. If you hate green plantains like me, this makes it tolerable.
Take the green plantain and peel off the skin.
Sprinkle with dry pepper, and salt
rub with vegetable oil
Make slashes along the length of the plantain to allow heat to seep through
place under the grill and turn when each side has browned. Ta daaaaa. Even the dreaded green plantains can be sexy.
Now, the soup made a looooooot of sense with this green plantain. I can now see why Owo soup is served as such. The green plantain definitely works with it. You would see in the pictures below that I really couldn’t wait to taste, I chopped off the tail bit of the plantain, and dipped in the soup. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. My Grandma, would not have believed this. Me, eating green plantain with so much relish. See what happens when you inspire yourself to deviate from the traditional way of cooking? You surprise yourself.
Here is my bowl of Owo soup and Green plantains, which inspired the choice of my colour of bowl.
Since I had already taken inspiration from the Igbo culture, I decided to throw in a little Asia, and serve with chopsticks. Think about it, you can slice the plantain into rounds, pick with chopsticks and dip in the soup. No?
How extremely chic and sexy is that green plantain?
Another cheat I just picked up from Facebook from Evbuomwan Osarogie Esimi-Usiahon. She said, instead of making the ngo sauce and adding to your pot, I am going to give you an expo(less stressful). As soon as the contents of the pot thicken in Step 4 (see above) turn off your the cooker and remove the pot from the burner. Then add your palm oil and DO NOT STIR immediately. Allow to cool down while you prepare your plantain. When the plantain is ready, then you stir and tadaaaaa….. it is ready. She also attached a picture and the signature Yellow Owo colour was present.
Isn’t that just amazing how we foodies always find a way round difficult dishes. Bless you Osarogie. For anyone who wants to try this soup, you now have two cheat options. Funny how I knew I couldn’t have been the only one struggling with this soup. Someone left a comment on Facebook saying she is a Bini girl and Owo soup is somethings eh can’t make despite several lessons from her mum. Hers always turns out looking like stew. The colour never changes to yellow. Now, problem solved.