Dishes are all about balance, all about a ‘perfect’ combination and complementing of the elements – flavours, tastes, colours and aromas should work together in delivering a dish – that awakes every sense. Sometimes balance is in the seasoning, other times, it is in the cooking of it and sometimes it’s in the service of it. Here are 5 examples of Nigerian dishes and their flavours
Take Suya, a happy union of heat and spice, of smoky and umami, sour and bitter in an altogether delicious beef skewer, coated in a spicy, peanutty rub, grilled over coals. The end result is smoky and spicy, hints of bitter and meat.
And that’s only one half of it. The other? The serving of it with fresh tomatoes, onions and chilies. Who decided this? Who understood flavours so well that they constructed this dish as such?
When I think about it, whoever decided that selling suya with tomatoes, onions and chilies knew exactly what they were on to. I think about how one of those elements missing reduces the enjoyment of the dish for me.
I remember my mum talking about bitter leaf, and saying that all Nigerian soups needed it in a lesson she gave me on making Banga soup.
In the soup itself, there are all sorts of rich flavours – umami, spice, smoky and bitter. Here, the eba – cooked gari – brings the sour and tempers the richness of the soup.
Thou art our popular, beloved, adored and revered dish…for the perfection that is you, your flavours – smoky, spicy, umami, sour – all the elements that make us linger at the dinner table, that cause us to celebrate and jollificate :).
Cassava & Coconut Salad
One of my favourite things to eat, this combines creamy, somewhat jellied cassava chips/ shreds with sweet coconut, spicy chilies with a spritz of citrus and sour freshness from limes – juice and zest and smoky from the serving of fish.
Now, without the lime, this dish is nought. Absolutely nothing. It is essential to the success of this creation, one I love, love, love.
The classic Niger-Delta pepper soup from the south of Nigeria uses a delightfully aromatic spice blend to create a flavourful broth.
The individual spices that go on to make this blend are a mix of bitter and spicy. Here, I’ve extended the flavours of one thing – okwu oji a spiced peanut butter that sometimes has ehuru (calabash nutmeg) and/or uda (grains of selim) – spices used in our regular pepper soup.
One sunny day, it occurred to me that this peanut butter would be at home in a pot of pepper soup. And so we progressed and it turned out to be delightful. Now while this isn’t the standard, I think it still reflects the elements that go on to deliver a stunning bowl of pepper soup.