Reverend (Mrs) Esther Gold is a lover of native dishes prepared the traditional way. The Head Librarian at the Baptist Building, Ibadan, takes BLESSING EKUM on a journey through the aromatic and rich cuisines of the people of Delta State.
What are some of the foods common to your place of origin?
I am from Delta State and some of our dishes are pepper soup, ogbolo soup, banga soup, egusi soup, oghwo soup, bitter leaf soup. Most of these soups are also prepared among other ethnic groups but the Delta way is different. For instance, oghwo soup and banga soup.
How is oghwo soup prepared in the native Delta way?
To prepare oghwo soup the Delta way, attention needs to be paid to the ingredients used because this would make all the difference. Special palm oil is used in preparing the soup. Potash is also used, but not the common potash. The one to be used is the variety that shines. This variety gives the required thickness to the soup. Starch should also be added to the soup while cooking. These are tips that are not commonly known but bring out the native flavour and taste of oghwo soup.
Which was your favourite while growing?
I loved banga soup. I still enjoy it especially when it’s prepared the Delta way.
How does the Delta recipe differ from others?
The spices used make a big difference. We also don’t add onions to the soup. Onions may be used to season meat but it is not an ingredient for the soup.
Can you share the recipe for this?
The ingredients needed are fresh palm nuts, assorted dried fish, fresh fish, ponmo, crayfish, seasoning, salt, pepper, assorted meat, native spices such as beletete, aidan fruit, ataiko, irugege, oburunbebe.
Place palm nuts in pot, add water and leave to cook. When palm nuts are well cooked, remove from pot and place in a mortar. Using a pestle, gently pound to separate the outer skin from the nut. Palm oil would be extracted this way. Decant to a clean bowl. Place pot on fire and cook meat. Add decanted oil to pot of meat alongside meat stock. Allow to cook. Add spices, salt, ground crayfish, pepper. If you are making use of fresh fish, add this last so it doesn’t break. By now, the unique banga aroma should fill your kitchen. Leave to simmer. Serve.
In the absence of a mortar, how else can palm oil be extracted at home?
Recently, my daughter showed me a method she came up with using a glass bottle and a plastic bowl. First place a napkin beneath the bowl and then gently mash the nuts using the glass bottle. I tried it and it worked.
How does one choose the best palm nuts?
There are actually different kinds of palm nuts and they have different effects on the outcome of the soup. There is the agric palm nut and the native palm nut. With the native palm nut, you get palm oil that easily congeals, so you hear people say the oil is ‘sleeping.’ It is also doesn’t have distinct layers of oil. However, with agric palm nuts, you notice that the oil has two layers: a thinner level which floats and a thicker sediment that settles. From my experience, there is no difference in the taste. It’s just in the thickness, so I prefer to mix both varieties.
What is banga soup best served with?
Starch. Other alternatives are eba and pounded yam.
What is the must-add ingredient for dishes from Delta State?
Native spices. These have loads of health benefits. First, it reduces bad cholesterol. Also, it is the best ingredient to add to a new mother’s meal, especially the one called oziza seeds. New mothers are usually served pepper soup and these spices (which are the main ingredients) help with contracting and flushing the uterus. She doesn’t need the hot water pressing which is allegedly supposed to do this.
Nowadays, there are lots of changes to the way native dishes are being prepared and in fact, some of these meals are gradually fading from menus. What’s your perception of this trend?
It is not something that should be encouraged and I hold mothers responsible. Mothers ought to teach their children, both male and female, the art of proper cooking. I have met young ladies who can’t cook any other dish besides noodles and I think that is a disappointment. Mothers need to take time out to teach their children how to prepare both native and foreign dishes. This should be done very early in their lives.
What dish trends most in Delta State during the rainy season?
Pepper soup served with pounded yam. The native spices in pepper soup not only provide aroma and flavour, but also keep you warm.