The Palm nut tree is local to Nigeria and a few other countries I think. My grandma used to tell me that it is the ever giving tree because all parts of the tree from the bark, to the leaves, to the nuts, the branches and the rest are useful. There is actually a prayer in Yorubaland attached to this tree. I can’t remember the exact word, because it is said in proverbs, but it is along the lines of your source of wealth, strength, love, health etc shall be continuously replenished just all the Palm nut tree is ever giving. If anyone can remember that proverb share please, as it is a very good prayer.
As regards food, the juice extracted from the Palm kernel is used for soups across Nigeria and indeed West Africa. The famous Banga Soup for one which is local to the people of Delta, Atama Soup is the Efik version (recipe HERE). It is also used in Black Soup which is native to the people of Edo State (recipe HERE). I am sure there are many other soups that the juice extracts used for. If you know of other examples, please share. Today I will be writing about Ofe Akwu which is native to the Igbos and is commonly eaten with rice, whilst the other soups I mentioned are eaten with starchy solids.
I have been making Banga Soup for a long time, from the days of learning how to from my Grandma. On relocating to Abuja, I made new friends and one of them Amaka, introduced me proper to Igbo soups, and I mean proper. Amaka is from Anamabra State and she schooled me real good. I owe most of the Igbo soups I know how to cook to her. Ofe Akwu is quite simple to make. Very simple in fact, and the vegetables used are quite easy to source. I was not doing too great this past Sunday and I had friends coming over to check up on me. Even though I had some food in the freezer, I was craving something freshly prepared, and visitors coming over was a very good motivation to make something. I enjoyed it, they enjoyed it, everyone was happy. I will like to pass on some of that happiness to you too.
You will need
200g can of Palm nut cream – this is what I have at home. if you would like to extract the juice from scratch, there are videos on youtube that will help explain the process
1 wrap of Ogiri
Small bit of Nchawu – scent leaf/efinrin/basil
1 handful of chopped Ugu
Fresh pepper – i used ata rodo (scotch bonnet/habanero pepper)
1/2 cup of ground crayfish
1. Boil and season your meats with the stockfish. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: this is the first base to a successful pot of soup. Get your stock right and it is home sailing from there. If you have a dense and chunky smoked fish that won’t disintegrate in the pot on boiling with the meats, add it too.
2. When the meats and the other components have softened, add the ogiri. Ignore the smell, the taste is in the eating. hehehehe. You will soon notice the change in aroma and taste.
3. Add fresh pepper. The quantity depends on your tolerance level. I added half a cooking spoon at first, and let it cook with the stock but added more as I wanted it to be more spicy.
4. Once the pepper has dissolved properly into the stock, add the palm nut paste and stir. Once thoroughly combined, lower the heat to medium allow the palm nut paste to cook properly. If you are using fresh palm nut extract, no need lowering the heat as you will need high heat for the extract to thicken.
With every few minutes, taste and you will notice a change in flavour, from a harsh concentrated palm nut taste to a more subtle one which compliments the flavour of the ogiri nicely. This should take right about 10 minutes, and you will notice that the soup has thickened considerably with patches of oil floating on top. Ofe Akwu is not watery like Banga soup, it is a little thicker, hence eaten with rice. Try to find a happy medium though. Not too thick, not dripping watery.
5. If your beef stock was rich and intense, you would not need to re-season. Before you get tempted to re-season, add crayfish first, stir let it cook for a minute or two then add salt. If you are still not happy, add 1 seasoning cube.
Once you are happy with the taste, add chopped Nchawu (efinrin/basil). I used dried Efinrin because I did not want to drive to the store to pick up fresh basil, and what better than to use the native Nchawu, albeit the dried version. As it was dried, i simply crushed in between my palms and added to the soup.
Give it a minute or two for the essence of the Nchawu to permeate through the soup, add the chopped Ugu, lower the heat further to allow the Ugu to cook without unnecessarily thickening the soup. Once the ugwu is soft yet crunchy, take it off the heat.
Considering that the picture above was taken after lunch was over and the pot was almosst empty, I feel like I should add a little warning, especially for someone who will be making this for the first time. Ugu is a very naughty leaf. Yes, I used the word naughty. Due to its high fibre content, it absorbs water very quickly, hence your lovely bubbly pot of soup, will turn to a much thicker consistency if not served immediately, especially if your kitchen is cold. Not to worry, add a little water, lower the heat and warm it back up again.
…………..and here is my Ofe Akwu. Sunday Lunch went down as a hit. They were too shy to take pictures, nevertheless, thank you guys for coming. I appreciate the concern.
…………..and that’s a wrap. Enjoy with white rice or prepare a starchy solid if that is your preference.