Our Recipes for peace series features a range of inspiring dishes to celebrate the varied - and tasty - ways in which food can play a role in building peace.
This recipe comes from Nigerian chef and food consultant Nky Iweka, also known as The Executive Mama Put, who has spent the last few years redefining Nigerian food and challenging how it is cooked and presented. She is author of Quintessentially Efik Recipes, which showcases the dishes and culture of the Efik people in southern Nigeria. Nky has also spent several months in Nigeria developing menus for a boutique hotel in Lagos.
Nky Iweka’s Ofe Nsala soup
I love this soup. It’s one of the easiest and quickest Nigerian soups to make, particularly if you make it with fish, as is traditional in Igboland.
Cooked without any oil or onions, it is known as Ofe Nsala by the Igbos - one of Nigeria's largest ethnic groups. The Efiks - another group located mainly in southeastern Nigeria - eat a similar soup called Afia Efere (white soup), which is actually a dark tan soup. However, the latter tend to make theirs with chicken or goat meat rather than the fish favoured by the Igbos. They also use uyayak as the main spice. Interestingly, the Igbos from Orlu also use the same spice in their Nsala.
These days, I tend to add uyayak to my Nsala.
Amongst the Igbos, it is regarded as particularly beneficial to new and nursing mothers and is viewed by the people of my maternal hometown of Onitsha (south of the River Niger) as ‘their soup’. I have many childhood memories of going to my mum’s village and eating this soup at traditional ceremonies. In my opinion, it’s best eaten with pounded yam.
This is my slightly non-traditional version. You can omit the spring onions for a more traditional soup.
Ingredients (serves 6 people)
- 1kg prepared fish, cut into large chunks (catfish* is traditional but any firm fleshed fish such as tilapia, cod or bream will work. A combination of different fish is also very nice)
- 12 king prawns to garnish (optional)
- 1-2 Scotch bonnet chillies (8-16g)
- 1.5l of fish stock (you can use water instead, I sometimes use stockfish for added depth of flavour)
- 4 tablespoons of crayfish, finely ground
- 400g yam or cocoyam, peeled, boiled and mashed to a smooth dough (achi, yam or cocoyam powder may be used as a substitute to thicken the soup)
- 2 ehuru seeds, toasted and finely ground
- 1 piece of uyayak
- 1 piece of ogiri (ogiri okpei which is more pungent than normal ogiri is traditionally used)
- ½ teaspoon of uziza leaves washed and finely sliced (fresh or dried utazi may be substituted)
- 2 spring onions, finely chopped (optional)
*If using catfish, cut into 1-inch thick cylindrical pieces and remove the intestines. Place the catfish pieces in a large bowl and pour some boiling hot water over them. This helps toughen the catfish as well as removing its slime. Leave for a few minutes and wash well with cold water.
- Bring the stock/water to the boil with the chillies, crayfish, uziza, ogiri and uyayak.
- Keeping the broth on a fast simmer, add the mashed yam or cocoyam a little at a time, stirring to get rid of any lumps. Stop adding the yam when you get your desired thickness - this will take about 10 minutes or so.
- If using a mixture of fish - add the toughest one first, simmer for a few minutes before adding the rest. This prevents the fish from breaking up too much in the broth.
- Check the fish is almost cooked after about 5 minutes and then add the prawns if using together with the uziza and ehuru (I always add the latter at the last minute as I find it keeps the scent).
- Garnish with the spring onions and serve with pounded yam.
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Photo © Nky Ewika