Exploring Nigerian cuisine is a delightful adventure, from creating to experiencing seasoned tastes with aromatic flavours. For the newly initiated, these are the 10 top things you definitely need to note!
- The salt always comes last - This rule of thumb is applicable to all Nigerian dishes, and should be followed judiciously. After all the ingredients in the dish have been added and brought to a boil, it is now ready for that dash of salt to taste. Never too little, and definitely never too much.
- The best way to eat swallow is with your hands - Swallows are an essential for eating Nigerian soups, as I have written about in my cookbook here. However, the best way to wholly enjoy this meal is by cutting up each morsel with your bare hands and dipping in the soup. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and after this finger-licking adventure!
- There is an art to buying beans - There are over 100 varieties of beans in this world, so it is important to have any idea on what type is best dep-ending on the dish you want to prepare. The most popular beans in Nigeria is the brown beans (cowpea), which comes in white variants. Generally, take note of these four types:
- Oloyin or honey beans - This is the sweetest variant of beans in Nigerian cuisine. Unlike some other bean types, this does not take long to boil. It can be used for dishes like moin-moin, akara, and beans pottage.
- Iron or black-eyed beans - These are the largest among other beans types, coming in white and brown. It is used majorly for making beans pottages and for the traditional dish, gbegiri.
- Drum beans or Olotu - This is basic beans that come in a deep brown colour. It takes a bit longer to boil than Honey beans, and is used for a variety of bean dishes including Gbegiri.
- Small beans: As the name implies, these come in the smallest sizes and colour white, and are similar to drum beans in nature.
- Locust beans is a champion flavour in Nigerian soups - Not everyone understands the importance of using fermented locust beans (or iru) but once you get it, you will never let go. It adds an amazing flavour to pumpkin leaves (ugwu) and a lot of other vegetables. Perfect for preparing dishes like Efo riro, vegetable soup, egusi soup, ogbono soup, and a lot of others.
- Meals generally taste better the next day - For most soups, stews, sauces, and rice dishes, the second time is usually the charm. If you are not feeling the taste of a meal right after preparing, you should wait and reheat the day after. However, most yam and beans dishes are best eaten straight out of the cooking for that instantly fresh and wholesome taste.
- Learn how to season like a Pro - There are a variety of herbs and spices used in Nigerian cooking and mastering how to use them is an essential skill. To get the best flavour, always season your meats properly before adding them to your cooking. Also, use in rations and taste as you go. It’s better for a meal to be under-seasoned than over-seasoned. You can also get someone to taste with you and be the judge.
- The local recipe for any meal is the best recipe - I remember my formative years with great nostalgia and I am thankful for a childhood that experienced dishes of my culture prepared the local way. These days, we have devised more accessible ways of cooking and while this is commendable, there is absolutely nothing like the local way. For instance, cooking moi-moi wrapped in leaves instead of plastic, or pounding yam in a mortar instead of using a food processor. Some people would argue that you won’t fully enjoy pounded yam if drops of sweat didn’t go into it from rounds of rigorous pounding.
- Never lose sight of the 3 Magic ingredients for soups - As I mentioned in my previous article, there are three magic ingredients that can make or break your soup. These are palm oil, stockfish, and crayfish. A blend of all three rounds up the soup’s flavours and enriches its taste.
- Onions are an essential in every dish - Love or hate them, onions play a vital role in every dish. They are used to boil meats, and as a base for frying sauces and stews. They are also nutrient-rich in vitamins and minerals.
- There is a secret ingredient for boosting your yam, rice, and beans dishes!
Here is one last trick: If you want to add even more flavour to your yam, rice, and beans dishes, just add a dash of scent leaves! The effect is instant and potent. You can thank me later!