Going along to the market with my mother and grandmothers, I learnt to be very friendly with market stall owners, and it was on a visit to white sands market last year that I discovered Ukpo.
I already knew about thickeners like Achi and Ofor (even though I am yet to cook with Ofor), but Ukpo was strange to me. The lady, a Delta woman (who gave me the best peppersoup spice mix i have ever used), said “ah sister, you don’t know about Ukpo, it is very good for soup, Igbo and Calabar people use it”. I was already intrigued. She then went on to say that while Ukpo can be used as a thickener for a variety of Igbo soups, for calabar people, they have a soup on its own, cooked with ukpo and then a little Uziza. She said I should think of it like the Calabar version of Native soup, of which she quickly asked me if I knew about Native Soup. I asked why won’t I know, you look surprised. Her response was funny – ah sister, you know you are one of those ajebutter women and most of them don’t know how to cook, they are always eating outside, including bringing soup from outside for their husbands”. I told her to not make those kinds of generalisations, this “ajebutter”, can cook very well. Then I started reeling out the dishes I knew how to cook, where my father was from and the second I mentioned Delta, she hugged me and said her village is very close to my father’s village, I am family. She warmed up to me immediately, and told me more stuff. She went further to show me even more thickeners and gave quick recipes for them. She gave me an Egusi recipe that I use till date. If you follow me on Instagram, you would have seen my Egusi soup, both in pictures and videos. I have been making pretty amazing Egusi soup since then. I am not sharing that recipe, sorry. Looooool.
The few hours I spent with her, felt like attending a spice and Nigerian ingredient master class. She just did not stop talking, and I just let her, making notes and trying to remember as much as I could. It was from her that I discovered that the peppersoup spice mix for fish is different for that of meat. She would point at items on her stall and say sister, do you know this, if I said no, she would quickly go into details about the ingredient and what it is used for. My mum just sat far away and let us talk. That woman is an asset, and one I intend to use in the nearest future. Don’t ask me for her name or her number. If I tell you, I definitely would have to kill you. hahahahahahaha.
In my head, I stored the information as Ukpo, until doing some research, I came across the Efik term, Ibaba. Efere means soup in Efik, hence the name of this dish. Efere Ibaba. Like the woman in the market said, Ibaba in food terms is THE star of the dish.I had forgotten I had this thickener at home until I went hunting for my Ofor in the place where I keep all my thickeners. A request was made for native soup to be thickened with Ofor, and I came across my Ibaba in a bag, all still wrapped neatly and labelled, and I smiled. I woke up very early this morning to cook it, put my own spin on it using palm nut cream instead of palm oil and BOOM!!!!!! Absolutely gorgeous dish. I looooooove the pale mustardy colour, the taste too, Ibaba is very earthy and slightly pungent. Its earthy flavour pairs very well with the aromatic scent of Uyayak, oh me and my love for Efik dishes. Lol.
I forgot to take a picture of the Ibaba seeds. Here it is below. The black ones at the top. The ones below are Ofor chunks. Both are ground into a powder.
We are the generation of cooking on easy street and while I wont change that for the world, after watching an episode of Master Chef where the contestants were told to identify ingredients in their raw form, many of them failed woefully. Modern cooking has meant we don't get to see many ingredients in their original state anymore because they've been processed for our convenience. It was poignant finding these when cleaning out the store this afternoon. So, let's play a game of "Identify these". One hint though, they are used as thickeners. Go ????????
Time to update your food repertoire with this dish. Lets Cook
- Goat Meat
- Smoked fish
- Palm oil - or palm fruit extract
- Dry pepper
- Fresh pepper
- Etinkirin leaves - Uziza
- Smoked red prawns
- Ground Ibaba powder - Ukpo
- 1 piece of Uyayak - aidan fruit
- Seasoning Cubes
- Ground crayfish
- Season and boil your meats till tender. With the meats almost cooked through, add dry pepper, stockfish, smoked fish, smoked prawns and the Uyayak, to infuse flavour into the stock. This will also soften the fish variants. The picture for Uyayak can be found HERE
- Add palm extract to the stock. I used about 4 tablespoons, but in hindsight, I should have used less. The extract made the soup slightly darker than I would have liked, so use about half of that or 1 and a half cooking spoons of palm oil.
- Allow the palm extract or the palm oil cook properly in the stock, to be well incorporated.Taste the stock and be sure you are happy with it. .
- Now, you need to add the Ibaba powder and stir it in.
- A tip I use with Achi is to add a little ground crayfish with the powder. This helps it to not form lumps in the soup, I decided to do the same with Ibaba.
- Add about 2 tablespoonfuls of this and stir quickly. Dooney's Kitchen Tip: It will not thicken immediately, so don't be tempted to add more, or you will end up with a globby mess. Give it a minute or two, and you will notice that the soup is considerably thicker. You should only add more of the thickener, if the soup is still watery, and again, go in easy. Start with half a tablespoon and progress from there.
- With the soup thickened to your preference, add some extra ground crayfish, lower the heat to allow the flavours to develop. Once you are happy with it, add in some chopped uziza, and if you are like me, that likes some pop of colour in your soup, plus extra heat, add some chopped fresh pepper. Remember to take out the Uyayak, before serving, and that's your Efere Ibaba. Very simple to prepare.
Serve with any starchy staple of your choice. I am having this with some Oatmeal for lunch at work. Yes, you read that correctly, Lunch at work. Aint nobody got time for cold sandwiches, especially when I woke up bright and early at 7am to cook this dish. I couldn’t wait till dinner. hehehehehehe