Green. That’s what we call it.
‘Buy me Green’, I say. Being Nigerian, she understands. No need to explain to my ‘home assistant’ what I need her to get.
I like ‘green’, for its neither too tough nor too soft. It cooks in minutes and retains some character, not turning to slimy mush like waterleaf (if cooked on its own).
It goes by many names. Green. African Spinach.
It’s a vegetable from the Amaranth family with soft leaves and thick woody stalks called Green Amaranth. Yes, the same Amaranth that is ground into wholesome grain.
I think it shines when sautéed with tomatoes, onions and chilies. Think of it as mirepoix for the Nigerian kitchen – the base flavor, lending texture and a subtle aroma to our dishes.
Every now and again, I cook up a huge batch of sautéed greens, and feast on it all week long.
In lowland areas of West African countries such as Nigeria, Amaranth greens are commonly eaten boiled. Its mild flavor and tender texture complements many starchy dishes well.
Young plants can be eaten whole, and young leaves can be harvested continuously from mature plants. A nutritious vegetable, amaranth leaves are high in vitamins A, K, B6, C, riboflavin and folate; and essential minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese.
Due to its high iron content, it is recommended for those at risk for anemia. It is also an important source of protein. Some African populations rely on amaranth leaves for as much as 25 percent of their daily protein intake during its growing season.
Like the Southern dish of Collard Greens where bacon bits add some richness, I make my version with chunks of dry fish which bring umami and create texture in contrast to the softened vegetables.
Cooks of all kitchens again using varied ingredients to achieve the same aim – FLAVOUR.
The Yorubas of Western Nigeria make a version called Efo Riro, where a number of different green, leafy vegetables are combined with meats and fish to make a tasty sauce.
A tasty side perfect with steamed boiled rice, yams and or plantains prepared all ways, with steamed bean cakes/puddings MoinMoin and a host of other things.
I’ve made the dish and finished it with crushed peanuts for texture and a riff on the regular. I’ve combined a base sauce of Wara, cheese curds with greens for a tasty sauce too.
Here’s how to do it:
I begin by plucking the leaves off the stems after a thorough wash. I have 2 bunches of ‘Green’, each bearing 5 or 5 leafy stalks. These get roughly chopped and set aside – I have roughly 5-6 cups of greens. I don’t worry about not attaining perfection in how I slice them, for they’ll cook down and you’ll be none the wiser.
Next, the essential Nigerian ‘ingredients’: Tomatoes, Onions and chilies, sliced thinly for quick cooking.
I sauté them in a wide saute pan, in teaspoon or two of palm or vegetable oil – mood depending; and the tiniest pinch of salt.
I use a saute pan so the ingredients fry, not steam and I have enough surface area for the greens to cook quickly and evenly, retaining their vibrant colour.
After a few minutes stirring, I sprinkle a teaspoon of dried, ground crayfish and then let it cook for another minute.
The chopped leaves follow with a pinch of salt, and chunks of fish. I put a lid on the pan, leave it be for no more than a couple of minutes in which time the leaves would have wilted.
Lid off, I stir to combine, check for seasoning. Adjust. Let cook for another minute with the lid off…
…and voila, we’re ready.
Quick & Easy sauteed greens, Nigerian-style.
Do you have greens often? What’s your favourite way to have them?