Nigerian soups have a tendency to make you over excited, with rich and flavourful tastes that compel you to dig in wholeheartedly. You have these top 3 magic ingredients to thank for that!
Palm Oil: This oil is derived from the fleshy fruit of the oil palm, and serves as the base where all other ingredients in a Nigerian soup fuse and flourish. Its bright redness defines the appearance of every dish, while its warm, earthy, and somewhat creamy flavour stands out distinctly with each taste. Like nothing I can achieve with other ingredients, palm oil holds a unique string of memories for me, from a bottle towering other items on the pantry shelf to a bright orange smear on a plate after a meal. As a result, sourcing the best kind of palm oil for our Orishirishi cookbook recipes was as important to me as making the meals themselves.
To know fresh palm oil, there is an unmistakable quality in the smell, taste, and colour. If you can’t perceive its rich aroma right before you take a dip and confirm its fresh and earthy taste, you are probably not buying the right one. Its sight, smell, and taste should remind you of fresh palm trees, and trust me, you will recognize it instantly if it’s the real deal. Palm oil also serves as a core ingredient in other Nigerian foods like some beans, yam, and rice dishes. It can also serve as frying oil for local snacks like ojojo (or water-yam fritters), an interesting recipe I documented in my cookbook.
Crayfish: If you grew up in a typical Nigerian home, there was always that mother or aunty that added crayfish to every meal. I would later understand the power of this taste as I sampled various soups across the country. Crayfish is often ground into a powder and used as a seasoning in most Nigerian cooking, lending a sharp flavour to your meal. Crayfish is actually dried shrimps. In Nigerian soups, they bring on a whole new taste that adds to the traditional aura which your cooking can’t do without. Not only is crayfish great for the taste, it is a nutrient-rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids, protein, iron, zinc, and amino acids. All of these combine to improve your body’s metabolism while ensuring overall health, amongst other great health benefits! While crayfish is a nice-to-have in most of Nigerian cuisine, it is non-negotiable as an ingredient in Nigerian soups, so much that your soup is likely to taste bland without it.
Stockfish: With the way that this magic ingredient has made itself at home in Nigerian cuisine, you would be shocked to find that it first came from the shores of Norway. Stockfish, with its pungent taste and smell, is a favourite when it comes to achieving the distinctive tastes and aromas of Nigerian soups. My grandmother was an importer of stockfish growing up so we were never in short supply!
The stockfish flavour is bold and intense in a way that lingers on the tongue long after each meal. Serving both as a seasoning and as a fish option in Nigerian soups, stockfish is enriching and undefeated in its taste. It blends well in all kinds of soups from Oha soup in the East region to the Banga soup of the South, Efo Riro in the West, and Groundnut soup from the North. While documenting these recipes in the Orishirishi cookbook, it occurred to me over and over how much we love our stockfish in Nigeria. I wouldn’t give that taste in my soup up for anything in the world!
Now that you know the top three, what recipes would you be trying? Check out an extensive selection of the best from Nigerian cuisine in my book "The Orishirishi Cookbook"