You guys know I am half Igbo right? A friend of mine would read this and say, you always know when to claim your Igbo roots, very convenient. I am Delta Igbo and my people do NOT like being called Igbo, goodness knows why. My cousins would proudly proclaim that they are not Igbo, my Uncles would give you a good side eye if you ever dared call yourself Igbo. We are Delta Igbo you hear, errrrrrrr, trying not to roll my eyes, ‘biko’ (please) what is the difference? I think the need to experiment with food from different parts of Nigeria must be due to my family heritage. My taste buds have developed from lots of places. That heritage is quite conflicting because my first name is Yoruba, middle name, Yoruba, surname, you can’t place where, and just assume, Yoruba. This piece is linked to how something, in this case food, may look one way on the outside, but contain ingredients you would not have suspected.
Funny story. To apply for a Passport, you need a letter from your State of Origin. At the Delta State Liaison Office in Abuja, I confidently walked up to the desk and submitted the form. The look on the woman’s face across the desk was priceless. “Young lady, did you miss your way?” Ogun and Ondo State Liaison offices are across the road. I replied “no Ma, I am from Delta State”. She looked at the form, looked at me and said “you must be joking”. She called out her colleagues to come and see this Oladunni, claiming Delta. Then it became a circus. It was funny at first, because I get such comments all the time, then they became rude and annoying, which made me ask if the Delta State Governor issued a cheque for every Deltan and they think I am fraudulently claiming their state for monetary reasons. Oh dear, wrong move. They were seriously offended and called more people to come and hear this “small girl” insulting them.
Gesticulating and talking at the top of their voices, foaming at the mouth, “you are not our daughter”, “we know our children”. Such inane comments. I was told to call my mum, which I refused initially, but gave in. Another wrong move. These total strangers accused my mother of brainwashing “their son”, to give his child Yoruba names. “How can her Igbo name be her third name, and more. At that point, I was close to walking out. Next call, I put Daddy on the phone, and the “chief accuser” spoke to my dad in Igbo, which he barely speaks, hahahahahahaha and that compounded the matter. I was hearing words like “outrageous”, “abomination”, “lost generation”, “send her to the village”, “it is not too late to learn Igbo”, “she must marry a Delta man”. For heavens sake, on top of a stupid letter. I was their entertainment for the day. My saviour in the form a much older man, came in and must have taken pity on me because he told them to take a good look at me, I look like a Delta Igbo girl (whatever that means). Huh? Where, how, I am the splitting image of my mother. Of course, woe betide me to deny his claim. He must have spoken magical words, because they suddenly stopped, looked at me as if they had never seen me before, and started nodding their heads in agreement. Yes, my eyes, my forehead, my skin, my hairline, I must be Delta Igbo. I had to lock my jaw in place, to stop my mouth from opening in amazement. That was how hours later, this Delta girl with Yoruba names got a confirmation of State of Origin letter issued. Phew!!!!
This is my Paternal Grandmother’s Efo Riro. She herself half Ashanti, half Benin. The Benin side of the family also has Delta and Yoruba connections. I am yet to see anyone cook Efo Riro with the ingredients that she used .Efo riro being classically Yoruba, she gave a twist using aromatic ingredients, so despite it being a Yoruba dish, it is not what you would expect and it was delicious like you wouldn’t believe. I am only revealing one today, the rest will be stored in the ‘isale apoti’ (deep recess) of my memory. One of her key ingredients, Efinrin. Let’s Cook
You will need
1 bunch of Efinrin – scent leaf, nchawu, ntong. Substitute with Basil
2 – 3 bunches of Efo Tete – spinach, greens
1 bunch of Efo Shoko – callaloo, hospital too far, efo iyana ipaja, substitute with kale
Tatashe – red bell pepper
Ata rodo – scotch bonnet/habanero pepper
Chopped red onions
Beef Stock –
Eja Sawa –
Eja Osan – smoked fish
Panla – stockfish
Iru – fermented locust beans
NO SEASONING CUBE – oh yes, I mean that. Zilch, none, nada
1. Blend the tatashe and rodo till you get a smooth consistency and boil in a pot till it becomes very thick. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: There was something she did, which you will notice in the final picture. 80% of the pepper was blended to a smooth consistency. The rest 20% she used a grinding stone. Errrrrrr, just roughly blend in food processor or blender just and set that aside. When the pepper mix has boiled through, in a pot, heat up palm oil and fry chopped onions till it softens, then you add the pepper and fry till it starts to take on the look of well fried stew. This should take you quite some time, because you need to really fry this pepper.
2. Add your meats, and lots of it. You need enough meat to almost take over the pepper, as if you are trying to make the peppered meats, served at parties. Funny, this is how both grandma’s cooked their Efo riro. Don’t ask, I have no idea myself. Considering they never got along, it is quite strange. Hehehehehehehe.
3. Add the washed iru, ground crayfish and a little of the water used to wash the Iru. Give it a stir, and let it fry, to allow the meats absorb the flavours of iru and crayfish.
4. Add beef stock, enough to dilute, add the smoked fish, and stockfish. Lower the heat, cover the pot and just leave it to simmer. This is all you need. You need to try this efo riro without seasoning cubes, to really understand how good it is. To get really rich beef stock, boil your meats with enough smoked fish and stock fish, and really let that stock reduce till it becomes very intense.
5. This is what you should get roughly after 5 – 7 minutes. it should have thickened, with oil peeking out on top
6. Add the first batch of vegetables. 80% of the Efinrin and Spinach. Give it a stir, with the heat still lowered.
You need to add spinach and efinrin together because as the spinach wilts, it releases water, which makes it easier for the flavour of the efinrin to permeate the meats and other contents of the pot. By this stage, you should be able to smell the efinrin. If you can’t smell it, it just means that you haven’t added enough.
7. You know that roughly ground pepper that you set aside? You should have about 2 cooking spoons of it. The rest of the efinrin too, Now it is time to introduce them to the pot with your efo Soko or callaloo, or efo iyan ipaja or in this case Kale. Stir and cover the pot. Give it a couple more minutes
then take it off the heat, and leave it to continue cooking in its residual heat. When you open the pot, the scented aroma should hit you with a pleasant sweet smell. That people, is Iyenekere’s Efo Riro. If you need to add salt, add a teeny bit and finish off with ground crayfish.
if you are left with more liquid pepper stock than you would like, don’t sweat it. Just leave the pot covered and walk away. The vegetables will absorb more water, the longer they stay un-disturbed. Besides, it is based on preference. I like a little of that liquid stock to soak up Eba or Pounded yam with, in fact the essence of the efinrin is mostly present in the liquid stock.
Try it sometime, and you will wonder why you haven’t been making efo riro like this, all your life. Can you see that roughly ground pepper, peeking out among the greens. This is one of the reasons why her Efo didn’t just taste great, it looked great.