The beauty of being Nigerian amongst other things is the tons of relatives you have. Ask any Nigerian, we have enough relatives to fill a football field many times over. I guess it has to do with our grand fathers and great grand fathers marrying many wives and having many children, who then went on to proceate the earth as per The Lord’s command. Lol. With inter tribal marriages, you now have a wonderful blend of relatives to boot, and with that comes exposure to different languages, cultures, dressing, traditions and of course food. Y’all know that I am half Delta, half Ogun, what I would like to let you know is that there is also a little Edo thrown in the mix and Ghana too because my paternal grandma was half Ghanian, half Edo (Benin to be precise). I even have a Ghanian name – Amma, which means a girl born on Saturday. The Edo side of the family meant I spent many Christmases and holidays in Benin because of relatives who lived there. I have first and second cousins from Edo State. There are lots of Edosa’s, Efosa’s Esi’s, Ohimai’s, Osas, Ikponwosa’s, Adesuwa’s, Efe’s, Ehi’s, Osayigbovo’s, Isoken’s, Oghogho, Osaretin’s, and Uyi’s that I am related to. If you guys see your names here, I am shouting out to you.
As regards food, what I was introduced to from that side of the family was Owo soup with boiled green plantains which always caused trouble for me because I would eat all the soup licking my fingers in glee and eye the green plantains which I hated. Another soup I was introduced to was Black Soup, which Mama served in a black earthenware pot. My cousins and I used to joke that it looked like Juju food. Juju meaning black magic. Hehehehe. It really did to us kids because the colour, the slightly bitter taste plus the pot it was served in, did not help matters. Especially when in those home videos we were never allowed to watch, the witch doctor always had some simmering dark looking concoction in a black earthenware pot. She always cooked it with huge chunks of bush meat which I think was the only reason we ate that soup. That meat made up for everything else. My experience with this soup is part and parcel of knowing how to wash bitter leaves. I did not think it was funny then. Just my luck I had two grandma’s who made sure I knew how to wash those leaves till your fingers were raw. Luckily she left the stone grinding of the vegetables for her and my Aunties to do. Phew.
It is called Black soup because of the colour. The vegetables she used (bitter leaf and efinrin) are stone grounded and added to a palm nut meaty and fish stock base. My grandma loved anything bitter. Geez. She had an entire array of bottled herbs which she made us line up and each drink a tablespoon of. The grandchild that will decline had not been born yet. She had herbs for EVERYTHING, with tales of how it will make you grow big, strong and healthy. Not to mention tall. The irony, because the woman was barely 5ft 4. I shudder when I remember those herbs, with their nasty brown and sometimes green or even black colour, with Lord knows what floating it in (sticks, vegetables, whitish stuff, ugh), for Lord knows how many years.The liquid in those bottles will put the fear of God into you. You just misbehave and she threatens you with a spoonful of herbs, you will obey with immediate effect. Don’t you dare cough or sneeze beside her, you will get a spoonful, or per chance a sudden rise in temperature, she will whip out a bottle with stern looks daring you to not open your mouth or feel the lash of a whip she aptly placed by her side. Grandma’s are just the same everywhere and I would love to hear your own stories about yours.
Enough of stories, let’s get to cooking
You will need
1 1/2 cups of blended bitter leaves
1 cup of Efinrin – basil is a good substitute
Assorted Meat – i used goat meat and beef
1 big piece of stockfish
1 piece of smoked fish
2 – 3 pieces of at a rodo – scotch bonnet/habanero pepper
1/2 cup of crayfish
1 1/2 cooking spoon of Palm nut cream
Seasoning cube – knorr chicken preferred
I have a big batch of bitter leaves which my mum brought for me, and in my experience it loses its potency after a while in the freezer, so I am using it in as many dishes as I can to exhaust it. I am preparing this soup from memory. If I missed anything out, you the good people of Edo State please point it out.
1. Boil and Season your meats. if you are using offals like liver, heart and kidney boil in a separate pot. For saki and cow leg, boil in the same pot as the meats. Remember to cook the meats with a strong tasting smoked fish variety like stockfish, smoked red prawns, eja sawa etc. I wanted a really strong and rich stock, so I used stockfish and later added smoked fish before the meats were completely soft.
2. Whilst the meats are boiling, proceed to washing your bitter leaves. I explained the process HERE. Once the leaves are less bitter, pour in a blender and blend till smooth. Set this aside.
3. Pick the efinrin or basil leaves off the stalk, rinse and blend too, then set aside
4. Blend the ata rodo and add to the pot of cooked meats and stock. By now, you should have added the offals to the pot of meats.
5. Once the pepper has dissolved into the stock, add the palm kernel cream. I used 1 heaped cooking spoon and a half. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: you can use palm oil too, but palm nut cream is so much better for this soup. It adds a certain authentic and local flavour to the soup. I used the canned version. If you can’t source it, use palm oil
Let the palm cream dissolve. This should take about 3 – 5 minutes, depending on your cooker, then add crayfish. Taste the palm nut stock, you want it to be really strong and rich . My personal tip, slightly salty. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: This is because bitter leaf has a really strong and over powering flavour, hence you need a stock that is rich enough to match it, otherwise all you will taste is bitter leaf and nothing more.
6. Once you are happy with the stock, add the bitter leaf to the pot. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: add the bitter leaf one cup first and stir, if it is not enough, add 1/2 a cup more. Like I said in the tip above, you don’t want a pot of soup where you have this strong bitter leaf taste like a herbal concoction. Stir and watch the soup change colour. Green at first, then it will darken. Give it 2 – 3 minutes bubbling up before you taste. Bitter leaves have a lot of fibre in it, and you will notice that the soup has thickened considerably, not a problem. Dilute slightly with beef stock or water and continue cooking. When it has darkened in colour, taste again and you should notice that the bitter leaves have combined beautifully with the stock. If it is still tasting really strong and herbal, lower the heat and let it cook some more.
7. Add the efinrin. I remember Mama’s Black soup being bitter with a strong hint of the efinrin flavour too. I am guessing that the quantity of the bitter leaf must have been a little more than the efinrin hence my 1 1/2 cup bitter leaf to 1 cup efinrin. Once you add the Efinrin, stir and lower the heat as high heat will deplete its flavour fast. Remember that efinrin is added lastly to pepper soup? This is why. Give it another 3 – 5 minutes cooking on low heat, stirring every minute or so. Taste as you go along and half way through add a little more crayfish to finish off. When you are satisfied with the taste overall, take it off the heat …………..and you are done.
Black soup is really delicious. The aroma is heavenly. Efinrin is such an amazing herb, it makes everything better. The bitter leaf will have a bitter but sweet after taste to it. Honestly the taste of this soup is something better experienced yourself. I hope you try it out. A coincidence my Grandma would find very amusing. I have not been feeling too well for the past few days and I had this and it really did make me feel better. I guess grandma and her herbs, there really are some magical healing properties to it.
In honour of my Grandma, I served it in a black ceramic square bowl. I don’t have the black earthenware pot, so I thought this would serve.
White plates also showcase this soup fabulously
I have shared my grandma herbal concoction experience, I really would like to hear yours. Hehehehe. Let us all reminisce and have a good laugh about the woman who gave our mothers’ or fathers’ life.
P.S – up next from Edo state from me would be Owo soup