4(+1) Best Hacks & Tricks for Cooking Your Favourite Nigerian Foods
I'm such a huge fan of Nigerian food. I'm one of those people who think that the entire world should be fans of Nigerian food too. If I had a few million dollars today, one thing I'd definitely set up is a Nigerian food chain. There's no way it wouldn't succeed - Nigerians love their food. And even non-Nigerians often take a liking to it. Food brings us together in more ways than one. And I've heard incredible stories about people's love for Nigerian food that honestly just makes me gasp! From missing flights due to food, to travelling with packed dishes of frozen stews and soup. I've also seen so many Nigerians make food such a big deal in their lives that even I, the foodie, actually wonders if it isn’t just food.
I'm not sure whether I love Nigerian food so much only because that's mostly what I've been exposed to - at least for the first 24 years or so of my life. I remember leaving Nigeria for the first time and sincerely wondering how I'd survive - thankfully, I passed through immigration hitch free with a suitcase full of the essentials. And even before I left the shores of Nigeria for Cambridge I had asked for the African food store, and it was one of the first places I set my foot into. Similarly when we moved to a new city, one of the first questions I asked was where can we buy plantain and yam? It was so funny when a new family recently moved to our city and asked us the same question!
Despite my profession of undying love above, the line is often drawn when it comes to actually preparing these foods. I mean, you really do ask yourself if a three hour time in the kitchen is really worth all of the stress - for the food that will be gobbled down in 30 minutes or less. If someone else is cooking, then by all means, yes.
But growing up, it didn't seem worth it, and I’ll rather lay hungry on my bed than have to prepare food. Oh the gruelling tasks, some of which I very thankfully escaped, leaving my younger sisters to sort those out - somewhat to their disdain.
Well, being married now (with no younger sisters available) and still very much in love with Nigerian food, I have no choice but to make them! But ain't no way I'm spending more time than necessary in the kitchen. And thanks to social media, Nigerian food bloggers are doing incredibly well in sharing all of their hacks, tips, and seriously plugging in the need for a new Nigerian food movement - obviously without comprising on the taste, quality or essence of the food it appears. So let's see what some of my fave hacks are. You can probably relate with all of them
1. Picking and Peeling Beans
I remember one of the few times I felt incompetent in relation to cooking. My siblings and I had to spend the weekend at our cousins’ as my parents were out of town. Quite early in the morning, my aunt pretty much set a bowl of beans in water before me and asked me to wash it clean, ready to be ground into a paste for some Akara to be made. I think hot tears nearly went down my face. I’d never ever done it before. And although I’d seen people do and had a fair idea of the mechanics, it just seemed like one of those gruelling unnecessary tasks - one which my mum had thankfully always done herself. I made an attempt, but it didn’t take long for my aunt to see that I wasn’t going to make any headway, and took the bowl away. In fairness, the process of actually peeling the beans could take less than half an hour - if you know exactly want to do.
Fast forward a few years later, I was spending the afternoon at Tee’s house and I peeled a bowl of the most perfect beans ever. The intention is to remove the brown skin, and there was not one piece of brown skin left. It was so good I had to take a picture, before proceeding to cook one of the most delicious Moi Moi I have ever tasted. Like the Yoruba people would say this Moi Moi truly 'had seven lives' - filled with egg, fish, prawns, corned beef! Maybe I need that just to redeem myself in my mind, because I have had no desire to do that again.
So my hack for this is three fold:
i. Use a food processor (or blender) to take the skin out:
The beans in a lot of water and the knife blade of the machines cause the beans to rub against each other mimicking the option of actually rubbing them against our palms as in the manual washing. As in the manual system, you will have to clean out the brown skin filled water a couple of times. I’ve tried this loads of times, and while it’s a great hack - the process of replacing the water from the food processor could be a bit annoying. I stumbled upon this from food blogger - Dooneys Kitchen.
ii. Buy already peeled and packaged beans:
This is one which has been simply peeled and dried. There are so many things we buy that are already packaged to a degree, so why not beans? My friend introduced me to this, when she saw me showing off my number i hack above on Instagram stories. Trust me, if you can, this is a good one. When you place the beans in water, it still gives off that fresh aroma of beans and doesn’t feel processed at all.
iii. Flour paste:
Well, if you’re extremely time conscious - with no time to simply blend the already peeled one in number ii, then you can use beans flour, dried and ground already. I’ll be honest - I’m not a huge fan, as it just feels over processed. But at least it’s an option.
In making Moi Moi, we probably all agree that it’s best in the green Moi Moi leaves (Uma Leaves). Another thing I cannot do till today is perfectly wrap those leaves. I should redeem myself soon. But in place of the leaves, it’s super easy to use ramekins, foil plates or baking trays, and bake these in the oven. With baking trays you save a lot of time and make a huge one rather than a lot of smaller ones.
2. Jollof rice in no time
First off, I was disappointed that when typing this post, my computer kept changing Jollof to Jolly! Like how can that word not be in the dictionary yet. When I speak to non Nigerians about food, I simply say Jollof not bothering to explain, because surely, they know what it is right?
It’s interesting to see how Jollof has suddenly become a huge deal. Remember the Jamie Oliver scandal? I’d always preferred the Nigerian fried rice, but now - it’s a tough battle. And perhaps I preferred this because my Jollof wasn’t always great. As Tee confirmed in this Husband Tag post, my Jollof is pretty good on any given day (touch wood!).
This past weekend, after a long day I was famished and really wanted some Jollof rice. In pretty much less than half an hour, I was well on the way to having some freshly cooked one. Tee had to remark “you really have this process down to a T don’t you?”
Well, my hack which I got from food blogger, 9ja Foodie is - no need to parboil the rice. I know some people are rolling their eyes thinking of all the extra starch content. Well the ball is in your court. But yes, I simply rinse the rice and pour into the already cooking tomato paste. Easy peasy.
This second one is not so much a hack, I think and probably everyone already knows of it - as I saw it on one of these international 30 seconds food preparation video. It’s simply putting a foil over the pot while cooking it, before placing the lid. I think this just lets the rice cook or steam better, with all the flavour being retained.
3. Perfect Nigerian Stew
A lot of Nigerian food involves a blended mix of tomato, chilli peppers, and red bell peppers. And in this time, when a lot of people are cutting down on palm oil - they refer to this mix for an alternative rich red colour.
The first time I saw a friend use a grinding stone to actually crush the tomato and pepper, I though she was genuinely being punished by her parents. But apparently the older generation preferred it that way. Sigh. These days, many people simply use a blender. But what I’ve found is that this still retains so much water in the vegetables that you then have to dry out by cooking for a while, to get a rich paste.
The hack? Simply place all of the items to be blended in a baking plan and roast in the oven for about 30 - 40 mins. The effect of this is two fold: It dries out any excess water and it actually adds a bit of smokey flavour to it. So once blended, you already have a rich paste - no extra time wasted drying out! Saw this from 9ja Foodie, and I think i've also seen Kitchen Butterfly do it as well.
iv. Pounded Yam anytime
I had actually never eaten as much pounded yam in my entire life as I have eaten in the past 2 - 3 years. Pounded yam, was one we never tried out at home to be eaten as a meal. I think even my mum drew the line at that kind of task, and she would only pound very little to be used as a thickening agent for Igbo soups such as Oha, Nsala (white soup) and Onugbu (Bitter leaf soup). Many of my friends also say that the yam pounding was often left to their brothers, as it required major physical energy.
But fresh pounded yam is such a delicacy. And like processed beans flour, I have never really been a fan of processed yam flour, and so never really bothered.
But then I stumbled on this hack from Dooneys Kitchen again and literally I’m able to have fresh pounded yam in 20 minutes!
It’s simply to use a food processor - not the knife blade this time, but the dough blade. So you’d have to boil your yam as normal (without salt) till it’s slightly soft, place in the food processor and use the dough blade - which whips it up perfectly. If you think about it, it makes sense using the same mechanism the dough blade is able to make a round ball of flour dough.
That’s pretty much it for specifics. But one general hack is to invest in a food processor with multi attachments! When we got married, it was definitely one of the first kitchen equipments I got. The knife blade helps in chopping leafy vegetables, okro and a bunch of other things. The various grating blades help with grating carrots, and cabbage for salad or coleslaw literally in a jiffy - which I’m so thankful for, as chopping vegetables with a knife is really not one of my favourite tasks!
And that's it. Are you a fan of Nigerian food? Share your favourite hacks and tricks that make it all easier (or if you’d rather stick with the traditional methods!), and oh please share your interesting food stories.
pS: The above photo is courtesy of Kitchen Butterfly and she's hosting an amazing Jollof Festival this weekend (Friday the 18th of August - Sunday the 20th) It's left me drooling and just think of all the amazing kinds and flavours of Jollof you've never experienced. If you're in Lagos, you should go. Find out more info here!