Today I am taking you on my journey of changing perceptions regarding some foods. To my brothers and sisters from the East, my apologies if I have marginalised you guys. I realised last week, that I hadn’t written about dishes from the East, so I am changing that with this post. I will be relishing in the delights of Bitter leaf soup. If you are from another ethnic tribe and you have never tried making bitter leaf soup before, you’ve got no excuse now. Lol. If my grandma can see me now, she will be very surprised. Growing up, I did not like anything bitter leaf at all. I mean, which child would. Moving on into my adult years I still carried with me, this bias towards bitter leaf. Banga soup is the most popular dish where my dad is from and bitter leaf is the recommended leaf for it. When I met my friend Joy, from Calabar, she introduced me to the Atama leaf which is used by the Efik people for their banga soup which they call Atama soup. Since then, I have been preparing my Banga soup with the Atama leaf. My grandma would probably call me a traitor for this, but hey if I can’t enjoy a dish I cooked, what is the point. Sorry grandma. Lol. If you want my recipe for Banga/Atama soup, click HERE.
My displeasure with bitter leaf changed when a friend of mine Amaka A. taught me how to prepare this dish. I had always complained about bitter leaf soup to her hearing, and she said she will change my perception, by teaching me how to prepare it. She then went on to teach me how to prepare other soups common to Igboland. So, Igbo Kwenu! Kwenu Kwezo Nu! I really salute you my countrymen from the East, because your soup finally won me over to eating bitter leaf. Ofe Onugbu is the only thing I can eat with bitter leaf in it.
So, if like me you don’t particularly like anything with bitter leaf, I encourage you to give this a try. If you are the kind of person who is sceptical about preparing dishes from other cultures. I will also encourage you to try something new today and expand your cooking repertoire. This is one very very tasty meal.
You will need
5 pieces of cocoyam – i used the specie of cocoyam that look like big pebbles. I don’t know what it is called in Igbo.
1 1/2 cups of chopped bitter leaf
500g of assortment of meats, poultry and fish- i used beef, chicken, saki, cow leg and stockfish
1/2 cup of smoked prawns
1 wrap of Ogiri
3 pieces of Ata rodo – scotch bonnet/habanero pepper
1 piece of Tatashe
1 1/2 cooking spoons of Palm oil
1/2 cup of ground crayfish
1 middle piece of smoked fish – i used Eja Osan
Seasoning cubes – knorr chicken cubes preferred
Pictures of the ingredients can be found on the Ingredientspaedia page HERE
Depending on where you live, your options for bitter leaf will either be the leaves in its original state or already chopped and washed. If you are a pro, you will probably go for the first option which will involve picking the leaves off the stalk and then “washing” the leaves by rubbing it between your palms and fingers while it foams and you later decant the dark green liquid, fill the bowl up with clean water and continue washing. You will repeat this process many times till the concentration of the bitterness reduces to a tolerable level and the water is much clearer. As a Delta girl, mama taught me how to do this. Very tedious process I remember. She would never buy the already washed one from the market because she also wanted to keep some of the greenish water for medicinal purposes. Two uses in one purchase. Lol. I shudder, remembering the taste of some of her herbal concoctions. Mama had herbal remedies to cure everything. My cousin used to say the smell and taste of the stuff was enough to chase away even evil spirits. Lol.
For easy street cooks like us, we go straight for the already washed option. Life is too short, please. Lol. If your leaves are still bitter, boil it for 5 – 10 minutes in plain water and decant the water into the sink.
1. Boil and season the meat, chicken and stock fish with with salt, seasoning cubes and chopped onions. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: if you have always been boiling your meats with enough water to drown it, I will advise that you reduce the volume of water, so as to get a rich tasting stock. A rich tasting stock is the base of a successful dish. When the meats have almost softened, add the smoked prawns and shredded smoked fish.
2. Once the meats have softened, boil the cocoyam with the skin on for roughly 15 – 20 minutes. You could also do this right about the time you add the smoked prawns to the boiling meats to save on time.
3. Test the cocoyam for softness with a fork. it should go right through without resistance. Once it is soft, take it off the heat and dunk it in cold water for a few seconds to cool it down, to allow you peel the skin off. Then add to a blender. My traditional Igbo cooks are about to fly off the handle here. Lol. Traditionally, you are supposed to pound the boiled cocoyam till it forms a smooth paste. I don’t have a mini mortar and pestle, and it is not worth taking out the food processor and cleaning it afterwards. Besides, a blender will guarantee you no lumps. Just blend with a little water. The blender will resist at first, simply mash it with a spoon for easy blending. Here is my result
4. You should have roughly the volume of 2 – 2 1/2 cups of stock with the meats. .Add pepper to the pot and let it boil for 2 – 3 minutes, followed by the wrap of ogiri and palm oil which you allow to boil for at least 5 minutes so as to prevent any curdling sensation on your tongue and to also dissolve the ogiri. You will know the ogiri has dissolved when you can smell and taste it in the stock.
5. Scoop the cocoyam into the pot in spoonful size increments and watch while it swells up in size, after which it will dissolve completely to give a smooth creamy sauce. Personal preference will come into play here. Some people prepare this soup with a little more stock so as to make the soup watery or they take out some of the cocoyam. I leave all the cocoyam in because I prefer a creamy consistency. So, whatever works best for you. Cooking is personal.
Once the cocoyam has completely dissolved, add the crayfish and stir. Taste for salt and seasoning cubes, and re-season if necessary. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: Crayfish also works like a thickening agent, so I add it to the pot after the cocoyam has completely dissolved so as not to interfere.
6. Lower the heat, add the bitter leaf to the pot and stir. Personal preference will come to play here again. Some people chop their bitter leaf less finely, so you can pick the leaves with your fingers and chew. I don’t, because the best way I can tolerate bitter leaf is by not having to chew it. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: i lowered the heat, so as not to thicken the creamy sauce further
Leave the pot to cook for 5 minutes. Add more stock if you wish. I added a little
……….and that’s it. Serve with your choice of starchy additions. I enjoy Ofe Onugbu with yellow garri.