Recipes to Get You Started

I grew up in Warri, on the southern coast of Nigeria, consuming, ingesting, and having fun with Nigerian meals. Whereas I cherished our meals, I hardly considered it as worthy of celebration, and boy, did I take it with no consideration till it was nowhere to be discovered. It wasn’t till the late Nineties, once I was in my twenties at college in England, that I understood meals as greater than consuming―not simply as a method to fill my stomach, however as a method to soothe my soul, join with residence, and expertise a way of belonging. 

By the point I moved again residence to Warri after commencement, my appreciation for Nigerian meals had grown. And nonetheless, I had no concept that edible traces of Nigerian delicacies existed throughout the Black Atlantic, all through the Caribbean islands and Latin America, because of the transatlantic slave commerce. 

Severe Eats / Maureen Celestine

I moved to The Netherlands for work as an exploration geologist in 2007. A number of years later, in 2009, my Brazilian supervisor, Santiago, shared a narrative about Afro-Brazilian acarajé—a fritter that may be a direct descendant of the Nigerian bean fritter often known as akara. That singular dialog opened up a world of meals historical past, heritage, legacy, and analysis that continues to fascinate me. It’s motivated me to unravel, unearth, and doc all of the methods we, as human beings, are comparable—not simply folks of African descent, but additionally different cultures and cuisines the place there are connections, be they geographical or primarily based upon shared histories (e.g. Nigeria and India by way of British colonialism). 

With that discovery, I had quite a few conversations about connections by way of meals. These conversations additionally had me wanting inward―at residence, to our delicacies―attempting to grasp who we, as Nigerians, are and the way we eat. Broadly talking, many of the meals we eat every day are nationally acknowledged dishes with regional variations. There are recipes and components with clear origins from one a part of the nation which can be a part of the every day lives of Nigerians everywhere in the nation, so nationwide appears solely becoming to explain them. 

Completely different areas have variations of the identical dish. As an illustration, egusi soup (also called agushi, egushi, egunsi) is beloved throughout the nation. The variations in regional variations embrace how the egusi seeds are ready: uncooked or toasted, dry-milled or wet-ground, mild and creamy or thick with curd. The greens, herbs, and seasonings used are additionally distinctive to particular localities, however even with these other ways of making ready the soup, it is all the time immediately recognizable with its signature concentrate on the creamy, nutty taste of the melon seed. You’ll discover this true for a lot of dishes throughout Nigeria—they take barely totally different form in every place whereas retaining their important character.

How a Nigerian Meal Is Structured

Nigerian meals tradition doesn’t characteristic a number of programs. The principle dish is normally the star of the present, and relying on the time of day, might be something from akara or moin moin to rice, beans, and cooked greens with stew. A lunchtime meal at residence would possibly appear like rice and stew with dodo and efo, or some mixture; or it could be a soup with nuts, seeds, and greens served with a swallow, like eba or lafun, together with zobo or different drinks. At a celebration, you would possibly start with a plate of small chops like puff puff, then take pleasure in some jollof or fried rice with moin moin and dodo.

Benefit from the vary our palates embrace—candy, salty, smoky, umami, spicy, and all the things in between.

For ease, I’ve grouped the recipes right here into fritters and fried doughs; swallows; soups, stews, and sauces; rice; cooked greens; snacks; and drinks. They seize the framework of our delicacies, and the vast majority of the 200-plus million folks in Nigeria would acknowledge most of them in a single kind or one other. Contemporary fruit and greens, in abundance all 12 months spherical, are additionally the go-to for folks wanting a candy chew.

Severe Eats / Maureen Celestine

I need to say although, these recipes are only a handful of the tons of of Nigerian dishes that exist and reside and thriving throughout the nation. Nonetheless, they offer you some perception into what Nigerians eat; when, the place, and the way; from north to south and east to west. Benefit from the vary our palates embrace—candy, salty, smoky, umami, spicy, and all the things in between.

Fritters and Fried Doughs

Fried meals are extraordinarily widespread throughout Nigeria, for each meals and snacks. Constituted of contemporary and fermented batters and doughs, you will discover them on the streets or at residence. Nonetheless, not all fried meals are of the deep-fried selection. Within the shallow-fried meals class, there’s masa, crunchy fermented rice truffles cooked in a particular pan referred to as a kasko; they can be made with corn, wheat, semolina, and different cereals. 

Severe Eats / Maureen Celestine

Puff puff is one in every of many deep-fried, golden brown Nigerian treats. There are additionally buns leavened with baking powder as an alternative of yeast, and a number of other varieties of rolls, from fish to egg rolls—much like Scotch eggs in that the boiled eggs are dough-wrapped and deep-fried. And naturally, there’s akara, made out of beans, which is as a lot a Saturday morning residence breakfast as it’s a road traditional on a regular basis of the week.


Swallows are every day necessities for a lot of Nigerians. They’re tender, cooked doughs, not designed to be eaten on their very own however as an alternative paired with soups and stews. Swallows will be made with a single ingredient or a collection of components mixed, like cereals, roots, tubers, and greens. 

Swallows are made in two other ways: The primary is by boiling, then working the cooked ingredient(s) right into a tender, sticky dough (suppose mashed potatoes however stickier and stretchier, although solely these made with tapioca starch have that mochi-like stretch); the second is by cooking tremendous and coarse flours or meals in water into cohesive doughs, very like polenta or mashed potatoes with out butter or seasoning. Within the north of Nigeria, cereals like rice, millet, Guinea corn (sorghum), and corn are the commonest components in swallows; within the south, east, and west, swallows are usually made out of root crops and greens like yams, plantains, candy potatoes, and breadfruit.

Severe Eats / Maureen Celestine

Eba and lafun are two swallows made out of cassava meal. Regardless of having this ingredient in frequent, they’re utterly dissimilar, each in look and style, as a consequence of their variations in processing. Whereas eba has a contact of grit, lafun is tremendous easy, because of the gelatinized high quality of its pure starches. Apart from eba imoyo—a specialty of the Eko folks of Lagos—which is cooked in a seafood inventory, most swallows are cooked in water, and are neither sweetened nor salted in order that the flavour of the ingredient shines by way of.

Soups, Stews, and Sauces

Soups, stews, and sauces are the mainstay of Nigerian delicacies, from mild ingesting broths like pepper soup to thick stews (which we name soups in Nigeria) like egusi and efo-riro and stew, a particular purple dish generally made with a puréed base of tomatoes, onions, and peppers, of which there are a lot of variations, together with obe ata. With a pot of stew or soup, there are such a lot of potentialities, and you might put a meal collectively pretty shortly. Sauces are a mixture of meat curries—much like Japanese or Korean curries—to ofada sauce, an Indigenous purple sauce with bite-sized items of meat, a number of iru (fermented seeds), and a sweet-hot pepper base. 

Severe Eats / Maureen Celestine

Most soups and stews sometimes start with a seasoned inventory and quite a lot of plant, seafood, and animal proteins. This seasoned base is thickened with floor leafy greens, legumes, gums, nuts, and seeds. Soups are usually flavored with unrefined purple palm oil; fish powder or dried and floor crayfish; and inventory cubes for umami, which altogether ship advanced flavors. Conventional stews are sometimes made with a purple tomato-pepper base, however can be made similarly to soups, or with dried thyme, vegetable oil, and a British colonial-era seasoning like curry powder. 

These are eaten with quite a lot of dishes—rice, bread, or swallows, and cooked greens like yams, plantains, or candy potatoes which can be boiled, grilled, roasted, or fried. Stew is usually a dip for fried meals, or extra liberally spooned over rice and beans. Soups will be eaten on their very own or paired with swallows. Eba and egusi are private favorites, as is lafun with each efo and obe ata.


You’ll discover rice all over the place in Nigerian delicacies—at residence, as road meals, and at events and celebrations. Most rice dishes will be paired with an assortment of sides, from white rice and stew with beans to dodo and jollof rice, or fried rice with moin moin and coleslaw. Jollof rice and Nigerian fried rice dishes are notably saved for particular events.

Nigerians love rice—long-grain rice particularly. And right here, it isn’t a facet dish. As an alternative, it is the primary: fragrant varieties much like Thai Jasmine are utilized in swallows, and transformed or parboiled rice is served with stew or soups or used to make jollof and Nigerian fried rice.

Severe Eats / Maureen Celestine

My favourite varieties of rice are the indigenous, red-streaked types of oryza glaberrima, particularly these from Abakaliki (east), and Ekpoma (south). I like them for his or her candy taste and perfume when the rice is solely boiled, but additionally when it’s made into coconut rice (with contemporary, selfmade coconut milk)—that’s a top-10 in my style reminiscence. There’s additionally ofada rice, which is fermented and processed rice that fills the air with probably the most blue-cheesy pungence through the cooking course of, none of which interferes with the attractive, advanced, candy flavors on the plate and the palate. It’s served with ofada sauce.

Cooked Greens and Legumes

There are such a lot of greens that take the type of a major or facet. They’re boiled, fried, roasted, cooked into thick stews, and extra, from plantains used in any respect levels (inexperienced and unripe to yellow-black and ripe, and even over-ripe) to yams, taro, and each common and candy potatoes. Fried plantains, often known as dodo, are all the time a crowd pleaser, as are fried yams. Put aside some stew to dip it in, plus some fried eggs to the facet, and you’ve got a fast and satisfying meal.

Severe Eats / Maureen Celestine

Legumes are merely cooked and stewed, but additionally made into wraps, much like tamales. Beans are sometimes soaked, skinned, and pureed for dishes like akara, however are additionally scooped into ramekins or wrapped in broad leaves.


There are a myriad of snacks, from contemporary fruit and greens—coconuts, corn, carrots, and cucumber are widespread snacks subsequent to meaty dishes like suya—to meat pies, that are parcels of dough full of seasoned minced meat and baked to perfection; and chin chin, a snack of tiny cookie-cracker-crunchy bites, made out of deep-fried, seasoned dough, and loved by the handful all 12 months spherical, however particularly at Christmas.


Nigerians serve a number of each cold and warm drinks. There’s zobo (which you would possibly already be acquainted with as hibiscus tea), tender drinks, non-alcoholic malt drinks, alcoholic beers and spirits, bitters, shandies, palm wine, and kunu, quite a lot of milky drinks made out of tubers and cereals.

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