My sister taught me how to make the Aganyin stew over the phone. She in turn was taught by a friend, while she was at University. I was living in Abuja, when she called excitedly to tell me, she had cracked the Aganyin recipe (or so she thought, until coincidence + providence smiled on me a few days ago). We both squealed with delight. Mummy didn’t allow us eat “outside” while we were growing up. Ewa Aganyin and Ojojo were the only two exceptions she made because they were served hot, so less chance of food poisoning. We spent the most part of our early years on Shipeolu Street in Lagos, and the Togolese women who sold Ewa Aganyin lived closed by, so we were usually one of their first customers. The clanging noise of a metal spoon hitting a pot, which heralded the approach of the Ewa Aganyin seller is an unforgettable memory of my childhood. It is one of those things that sadly my children will never get to experience. As soon as we heard that unmistakable noise, we literally flew outside with out plates.
Ewa Aganyin was pricey. I remember that 20 Naira (which was a lot of money) wouldn’t buy you that much, because your plate was empty in minutes. Lol. Ewa Aganyin is not complete without Agege bread. Match made in foodie heaven. Writing this is just flooding my head with memories. Memories of my late grandma, my uncles that I haven’t seen in over 15 years, my aunties, my cousins, friends and neighbours I haven’t seen since we moved to Ikeja. Funny, how food has the power to evoke past memories. Ewa Aganyin was a weekend family breakfast the whole house and even community enjoyed. My childhood home was one of the first houses on the street, so when the Aganyin woman dropped her pot, you had people from neighbouring houses rushing over to our house, because all her stock will be sold at our doorstep. Things were good then, security wasn’t a problem. We had what you would call a porch, and no big iron gates, so the front of our house was open and free to anyone passing by. Even people from other streets were on the queue. Sometimes, to settle disputes the Aganyin woman had to ration the beans per house, just so it could go round. It was truly a neighbourhood meeting point. It created communal time, and we got to gist and catch up. Parents, grandparents and children alike. Good, times, good times. Sadly, Shipeolu Street is not the same anymore. It makes me sad anytime I go home, and I see how much things have deteriorated.
There are many myths about the Aganyin stew, I will be debunking some of them now. Adding fresh pepper of any variety, including tomatoes I believe is a Triple NO. All the peppers used are in their dried form. I know I have rambled on a bit, but I have to tell you the funny bit of making this. My sister taught me to use Cayenne pepper (dry pepper) and dried shombo pepper. Which I have always used. Never truly gotten the taste right, but it was close. I’ve had Ewa Aganyin on my mind since last week, and I searched my entire store, kitchen cupboards and couldn’t find dried shombo pepper. This occupied my mind greatly. I have read The Secret many times, and one of its key points is, when you think certain thoughts with so much intensity, they manifest faster. Aaaah. During my search I came across Cameroon/Ghana pepper. I thought to myself, this could work too you know. Another reason why my mum must never read this. She brought this for me in 2011 – first time using it. Shortly before I started, I suddenly remembered my raw brown beans. You see, I didn’t have the need to open the beans container, because I already had boiled beans, (albeit white beans) in the freezer. And there it was, sitting pretty amongst my raw brown beans – dried shombo pepper. Whoop, whoop. Saved. I should have discarded the Cameroon pepper, but I said to myself, Cameroon is not that far away from Togo is it? (I can hear my Geography teacher fainting, because I got an A in WAEC. Lol). This may just be that something extra that I need to get the correct taste. I truly believe it was.
Ewa Againyin has three characteristics
- The beans are mashed proper and I mean proper, you can’t see any whole beans
- The stew is dark almost black and very oily – emphasis on dark and not “orangey” like stew
- The stew is gritty or crunchy to taste
I got all three
You will need – Serves 2 – 3 people
3 cups of white beans – why white beans? you are about to find out
1 teaspoon of dry pepper
1/2 red onion
2 pieces of Cameroon/Ghana pepper
1/4 cup of dried shombo pepper –
1. Pick the beans and boil in water till it absorbs all the water. If you cook white beans in enough water, it retains its pale colour. What I did to darken it was to let it absorb all the water just as with rice and continue cooking. If you’ve ever forgotten a boiling pot of white beans on the cooker before, you will know exactly what I mean. Sure, it will burn a little, but it shouldn’t be a problem as you get the added bonus of a smokey flavour which is part of the Ewa Aganyin taste
Once the beans have darkened as you can see from the colour above, the beans will still be whole, which is not what you want. So, scoop it out of the pot into another pot, add more water and continue boiling. Why another pot? Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: the bottom of the first pot contains burnt bits of beans. By adding more water, you will lift those burnt bits off the base of the pot, and it will ruin your beans, so use another pot to be on the safe side.
2. With the beans now boiling in another pot, leave it to boil until it begins to form a thick creamy sludge. The heat will break bits of the beans down to form a creamy sludge. This sludge will not form if there is too much water in the pot. If after a while you haven’t achieved this it means you have too much water in the pot, decant some of it and let it continue boiling. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: this picture below is the consistency you should be aiming for. With the beans having absorbed the water but still soggy and sludgy. Unfortunately, I cannot give you timings because this was already boiled beans from the freezer. Just follow the recipe and observe the beans
3. Use a wooden spoon and mash the beans against the sides of the pot. Do this until you have a paste. If you remeber Ewa Aganyin well, it always tasted like baby food save for the gritty sauce. I could never see the beans whole. Ewa Aganyin was soft, and smooth on the tongue.
You are probably still wondering, Dunni why white beans? This wasn’t intentional, but sheer providence because I have always used brown beans. I was having a weevil problem with my white beans, so a few weekends ago I decided to pick the whole lot, boil plainly and freeze. Way better than having weevils chew through everything. This meant no need to boil a fresh batch of brown beans. I simply brought out the beans from the freezer and started from Step 2. After seeing the colour and tasting the end product, I strongly believe that the Aganyin women use white beans and not brown. I may be wrong, but the taste and colour of the beans on its own was different from my prior trials with brown beans, and it closely matched the beans the Togolese women hawked in their pots. It even smelled the same. Henceforth I will stick with white beans as my recipe.
While the beans are boiling, crack on with the pepper sauce
The Aganyin fried sauce
1. Soak the dried components in water to soften, which makes it easier to blend. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: use water sparingly, just enough to cover it because some of the essence of the pepper will drain out into the water, which you will also use in blending.
Once the peppers are soft and plump. Roughly blend. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: even though it is a rough blend, the seeds must also blend, if not the Aganyin sauce will be full of pepper seeds and it wont taste nice.
Add more of the water you soaked it in, just a bit to dilute the thickness. Do NOT boil this pepper.
2. Bleach the palm oil in a deep pan. I used roughly 1/4 cup. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: use more, way more. I will explain shortly. Let the palm oil bleach under high heat until it turns dark brown. NOT Black.
3. Dice the onions while the palm oil is bleaching.
Once you have achieved the dark brown colour, turn off the heat and throw in the onions. If you don’t turn of the heat, the onions will burn very fast.
Let it fry till the onions till it starts to burn then add the cayenne pepper. This will cause the oil to form bubbles. Turn the heat back up TO LOW and sprinkle in salt. NO SEASONING CUBES. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: if you use high heat, it will burn without you knowing it and ruin you sauce. This happened to me a lot, until I decided to try low heat and BOOM!. Frying cayenne pepper with the onions is one of the reasons why the sauce is gritty. As soon as you start to fry, the aroma will start reminding you of the Aganyin sauce. Lol.
4. Still under low heat, add the blended pepper in bits every 1 minute. By doing this, you are boiling and frying in a cyclic process. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: In Step 3, I wrote down add more water after roughly blending. I always fried the pepper as a thick paste just as you would with stew and the sauce always tasted burnt. I added more water on this attempt and I got a better result. Apparently making the pepper into a runny watery paste allows it to boil in the oil before frying. The boiling process will also soften the fried onions, making it taste sweet. I noticed the difference with this trial and the aroma told me I hit the jackpot with this change in method. Another dancing in my kitchen moment. Lol.
This method plus the introduction of the Cameroon/Ghana pepper saved the day. Ghana borders Togo anyway (I got that bit of geography right, lol), so they must share the same pepper – me thinks
5. When all the pepper has been introduced into the pan, keep stirring and simply let the sauce fry. As it fries you will see the colour getting darker, and the sauce getting grittier. You will also be able to notice the change in aroma. The heat is low, so just continue frying till the palm oil floats to the top with bubbles.
Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: this is why the palm oil I stated above is too small. As I fried, the volume of oil kept reducing. I am going to come out and be honest here. In a bid to create the Aganyin oily effect, I added water and fried it again, but it just went on a bend after that. I am telling you my mistakes, so you don’t have the same problems. It tasted okay, but the aganyin flavour got lost. As I had to re-season with a sesoning cube (wrong move) and re-fry, it ended up tasting burnt. So, make sure you have PLENTY palm oil.
I redeemed myself and made another batch yesterday.
I followed the same method and I did not need a seasoning cube at all. Just salt, and I only added it once. I also did not add any water and I got the Aganyin taste I was looking for, including the taste of the oil and the gritty sauce. I still used a little palm oil because I only wanted to replicate the taste, so I didn’t mind that compromise especially as I had a big oily batch in the fridge from the day before. From the picture below you can see what I meant by the more you fry, the less oil you end up with. This picture is a great example of what you will end up with if you don’t have enough oil. The pepper absorbs it all.
Here is what I noticed. As you are frying and the pepper is absorbing the oil and is still frying, you have to be tasting very frequently because this sauce will burn and you won’t even realise. I was being paranoid about ending up with a burnt taste, so with every stir, I was tasting. At some point, you will get that perfect taste, crunch and sweetness of the onions. Go too much further and you will migrate into burnt zone and there is no coming back from there. I used about half of the measurements above and I stopped right about the 4 – 5 minute mark.
If you remember, the Togolese women sold Ewa Aganyin with more oil than the gritty sauce, I am guessing partly for economics and partly because this sauce is very spicy, so to enjoy it you need to end up with more of the oil than above, unless you are a guru with pepper. Bleaching another batch of oil and adding it to the sauce at the end is a no no. Don’t even attempt it. The oil in the sauce has already been flavoured with the rest of the ingredients. So, remember to start with enough oil or have a glass of milk by your side to take care of the heat.
……………Here is my Tower of Ewa Aganyin. Bon Appetite
I hope I am bringing some of that Ewa Aganyin magic into your homes, especially for Saturday morning breakfast tomorrow. If you had a similar Ewa Aganyin experience as mine, you probably had an amazing childhood. If per chance, you lived on Shipeolu street, I am sending big hugs down to you. We may have played in the same compounds. Have a nice weekend people.
Off to the Nigerian food store to pick up Agege bread on saturday morning