I think it is very apt that the very first recipe I post is stew. Why stew? Well, it is ubiquitous in Nigerian cooking. Wherever in the world a Nigerian is, there is bound to be stew in the fridge. Even people who don’t cook, manage to make stew. The Yoruba’s are commonly known for slightly watery oily stew. In fact the Ibo’s have a term for it “Ofe nmannu”. Which is probably because stew in Yoruba land is usually accompanied with Ewedu, Okro or Vegetable soup and eaten with a starchy addition such as Eba, Amamla or Pounded yam. So the stew needs to be light, to ensure some fluidity during eating. In my personal experience, my people from the East on the other hand, tend to have thick well-fried stew, which usually works best eaten with boiled rice, yam or friend plantain.
So, this post isn’t just about stew, but BUKA stew. That legendary stew, which sets itself apart from home cooked stew. That stew that has the power to evoke strong delicious memories that trigger your appetite, and cause you to salivate in minutes. People talk about buka food with such fondness and nostalgia. Everyone has their favourite buka spot, whether for Peppersoup, Amala, Gbegiri and Ewedu, Isiewu, Nkwobi etc. In fact, I am already salivating writing this. If you have never tasted the sheer goodness of buka food, I can’t even begin to describe what you have been missing. Lol
Behind most of the things I cook, there’s usually a story. One of my cooking heroines Aunty Beebe is an AMAZING cook. She is an advocate of home cooking, so if she eats something outside that she enjoys, she finds a way to replicate it at home. Over time, she picked up a few hints from cosying up to the buka madams and watching them cook buka stew. The madams are quite secretive about their recipe (who wouldn’t), but fate stepped in one afternoon and she bumped into one of her buka madams shopping for pepper in the market. The secret behind buka stew is not just palm oil (if only it was that simple), neither is it MSG seasonings. It is the ratio of tatashe (bell pepper), rodo (scotch bonnet) onions and tomatoes backed by simple ol’ economics. You see she doesn’t have a daughter, so she passed on a lot of her cooking wisdom to me. Lucky me eh?
Tatashe (Green and red bell pepper). Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: You are going to need a combo of more red than green
*Buka stew is usually darker than home cooked stew, so choose very dark red and green tatashe especially the ones that have started softening around the edges. Not rotten though
Rodo (scotch bonnet/habanero pepper)
Vegetable oil, or whatever oil you prefer. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: I’ll stay away from strong tasting oils though, like peanut oil or virgin/extra virgin olive oil as it will influence the taste and reduce the buka flavor. Bland oil is key
Salt and seasoning cubes (Knorr Chicken cubes preferred)
A variety of meats and assorted meats (orisirisi). Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: Think of the massive bubbly pot of stew in the buka. It has all kinds of meat in it, so go to town. Lol. Any kind of meat, or part of the animal you enjoy, please use
The measurements for the pepper mix for Buka stew can be found HERE. Sorry for the lack of pictures. I will cook this again and update with step by step pcitures
So, here we go
1. Blending your pepper – Here it gets scientific. I call it Buka science. I mentioned good ol’ economics above, this is what I meant. When you and I shop, we don’t consider things like profit, but buka madam’s must. Tomatoes are expensive while tatashe and rodo are cheap, especially when they have started softening making it even much cheaper. So, ration your pepper mixture heavily on tatashe (red and green) and rodo. If you are worried about it being too hot, don’t be. The bell peppers will neutralise some of the heat, so will the palm oil. Besides, buka stew is a little zingy on the taste buds. I’m working with 1250ml (one blender jug full) of pepper. Boil your pepper till it reduces to about half its volume.
2. Season and boil the meat(s) till tender. Reserve the stock, and proceed to fry/grill the meat(s). Including the assorted meat? Yes. Fry/grill till its slightly dry. Set aside.
3. Depending on the volume of pepper you have, one cup of chopped onions should suffice. Heat up 2 cooking spoons of oil in a clean pot, and fry the onions till they are translucent. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: You are going to add palm oil later so use vegetable oil sparingly
4. Frying the onions, will flavor the oil nicely. Add the boiled pepper. Cover the pot and simply let it fry. Let it fry for about 10mins or more. Stir regularly so it doesn’t’ burn. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: It is inevitable so see some burn bits, don’t stress about it, it adds to the flavor. Lol
5. Add as much of the stock as you can. A lot of it if you have. If it makes the stew watery, don’t worry about it, as long as the pepper doesn’t become translucent you are fine. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: If you are left with little stock, substitute with water, and further season with salt and seasoning cube
6. Let this cook until it starts to boil. Taste for salt and seasoning. Add the meats and cover the pot. Let this boil for another 10 minutes. Stirring regular as the dense bits of the pepper will sink to the bottom of the pot. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: This is why I wrote fry/grill the meat till its slightly dry. Remember the meat in buka stew? It is always so soft, easy to pull apart. They achieve this by boiling, frying and boiling again. Please don’t ask me why. Lol
7. Add palm oil – Depending on how thick it is, I’ll suggest between 1 ½ – 2 cooking spoons. You see, vegetable oil is expensive compared to palm oil. So, palm oil is used to augment, thicken the soup and also add its own unique flavour. Let this boil for 10minutes or more, till you see the colour of the stew darken, and palm oil is floating to the top. By now I’m sure your stew will smell and taste different. Let the stew boil for another 5 minutes till the palm oil is well combined and floating on top.
If you would like to see how this is done in pictures. Click HERE
So there you have it. Buka Stew. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: Remember Buka stew is a little watery, so don’t be tempted to thicken it.
So, what do I eat freshly made Buka stew with? Amala, Gebgiri and Ewedu of course, or simply Amala and Ewedu. To re enact the afternoon buka trips I made years ago, I pack a bowl of plain white rice and a side of fried plantain and boiled beans, topped generously with buka stew and meats for lunch during the week. My dinners are a mixture of fried yams (dundun), sweet potato, fried cocoyam and dodo, accompanied with a chilled bottle of a malt drink, and I’m a happy bunny.