The Classic: Nigerian Garden Egg Sauce
This recipe extols the creamy virtue of garden eggs. Their ability to form a soft, tasty sauce, redolent with eggplant flavours, imbued with hints of smoke, and delicious with plain, boiled vegetables like potatoes, yams and plantains.
Discovering the delicacy that’s garden egg sauce in Nigeria.
This is the start of an exploration. Starting where I know. And then moving on. Moving beyond. To the unknown.
Point A is a classic sauce of sauteed vegetables, the triumvirate that are tomatoes, onions and chilli peppers – sliced thin and cooked till soft.
Followed by garden eggs that have endured fire, flame and steam before being peeled like smoked red bell peppers, then puréed, and added to the sautéed vegetables.
Seasoned with dried crayfish and flakes of dried fish (fish slow-smoked beyond reason, till the skin is chewy and blackened). Till it is one hue with all other fish smoked. The difference in variety and type of fish obvious only by shape and taste, not by skin colour.
My mom said she ate lots of it growing up, in Ondo state, Western Nigeria where she always had it with boiled yam. ‘Great for your digestive system’ she said to me.
The white garden eggs, are preferable to the green ones as they aren’t as bitter.
Nigerian Garden Egg Sauce
Ingredients10 – 12 medium-sized white garden eggs, about 750g; washed 2 – 3 teaspoons of oil – palm, olive or vegetable
3 medium-sized tomatoes, sliced thinly
1 large red onion, sliced thinly 1 chilli pepper, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons smoked/ dried fish 2 teaspoons ground crayfish Salt, to taste
Tips & Advice
Leave the stalks on, just as when purchased. This will help when taking off the skin in the next step.
You could skip this step of fire-roasting – it isn’t necessary to create a great tasting sauce. Go directly to the next step of steaming them in ‘Preparing the garden eggs’.
Fire-roast the eggplant
Place the garden eggs directly over the flames of a gas burner or grill. Continuously rotate them every minute or so, until they are thoroughly charred all over and all are roasted. Turn off the burner and set them aside while you prepare the steamer.
Prepare the garden eggs
Set garden eggs in a steamer and cook for 20 – 30 minutes till they soften.
You could also boil them in water for roughly the same amount of time though a steamer is preferable as it doesn’t leach out the nutrients in the garden eggs.
A fork should piece the fruit or a small pointed knife, should glide in with ease.
Once garden eggs are soft, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
Once cool, remove the thin, charred skin of the garden eggs. Don’t rinse them.
Trim off the head and stalk and chop roughly.
If you’ve only steamed the eggs, and not fire-roasted prior start to take off the skin – begin at the stalk.
Pull the stalk off and then starting from the top, peel the skin in strips downwards, along the length of the garden egg.
The green steamed garden eggs appear a bit easier to peel than the steamed white ones.
Finally mash with a fork, or purée using a hand blender. I did the latter, and got roughly 2 cups of purée.
Cook the sauce
Place a pan on medium – low heat.
Add the oil, and the sliced vegetables – tomatoes, onions, chili pepper. Salt and sauté for a couple of minutes, stirring continuously so the vegetables don’t burn.
Note, the oil you use will determine the final colour of the sauce. The palm oil turns the finish orange, while olive oil leaves it at a green-hued sauce.
Add the pieces of fish and crayfish – allow to cook for another minute. Finally, add the puréed garden eggs, stir and leave to simmer, uncovered on low heat for 3-5 minutes.
When I cook things that have elements of bitter, I never put a lid on the pot or pan. Something I’ve done most of my cooking life on the theory that the (apparent) bitterness is concentrated when the dish is covered during cooking.
Turn off heat and set aside to cool down for a few minutes.
Serve with just boiled plantains – I went for green, unripe ones. For dinner.
Make your breakfast the breakfast of champions. Serve with boiled yam.
The flavours and textures of the sauce are wonderful – creamy, with a hint of eggplant flavour. You get a melded flavour of the garden eggs, sweet soft onions, and a kick from the chili pepper. The dried crayfish, which works like Thai Nam Pla, Fish sauce enriches it. As for the flakes and bits of dried fish – they are amazing. They provide nuggets of rich flavour well-distributed in the sauce without being fishy or making the sauce overly rich. I would definitely leave them in for the element of surprise.
Point B: Green Garden Egg Chutney. To come soon.
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