Traditionally Banga soup is made with fresh fish, especially catfish. My father would swear up and down about the origins of Banga Soup, Urhobo to be specific. Whoever lays claim to it, one thing is certain, it came from an area where fresh fish was a staple of the local cuisine. So if you see a recipe using meat, personal preference maybe but I’m a modern cook, who respects tradition.
For my recipes, I don’t just list ingredients, but I slip in why I use them and how to delicately balance the flavours. Nigerian food may be rustic in nature, but the flavour profile stays rich and deep.
1. Catfish – I love Catfish, and I’ve noticed that it’s usually not cooked properly. Foodie peeve alert!!! Like most fish/seafood, its flavour is delicate, and with so many bold flavours coming together in our soups, the flavour of catfish is mostly lost. One of the ways I prevent this, is to use use what I call flavour boosters from the same food family
Below are my flavour boosters:
2. Smoked Eja Osan (locally called). Its my choice, because it usually stays intact, unlike some other dried fish that disintegrate on cooking
3. Smoked prawns or Eja Sawa
5. Ground crayfish (optional – I’ll explain why later)
Dooney’s Kitchen Tip #1 – Any dried fish would do, if you can’t find Eja Osan. You may wonder why I didn’t use stockfish? Its flavour is too strong
Uyayak (Aidan fruit)
I listed this for the food purists. Anyone reading this would think, where in the world will I find these spices? Here comes a Dooney’s Kitchen cheat. Besides the difficulty in sourcing, local spices can be quite tricky to combine. So, if you find a trusted seller whether at home or abroad, ask her to blend all the spices for you or buy pre packed Banga Spices from the African food store. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip #2 - I would advise you make a very small batch for starters, to test the potency of the pre packed Banga Spice
Your choice ranges from:
I’ll be using dried Atama as a personal preference. My grandma would insist on bitter leaf though
Whole Palm nuts or canned Palm nut cream
If you are brave enough, use the nuts and start from scratch. Dooney’s Kitchen Cheat – Use the canned version. Same difference! (one of the very few instances I’ll advise using a canned version over starting from scratch)
Condiments and Seasoning
Seasoning cubes (preferred: Knorr Chicken)
Rodo (scotch bonnet/habanero pepper)
Tatashe (red bell pepper)
Prep Time: 10 – 15 minutes
Cooking Time: a little over 30 minutes
Dooney’s Kitchen tip #3: NEVER stir with a cooking spoon. Simply shake the pot in a circular motion. You don’t want to break down any of the components.
So here we go
1. Blend one bell pepper, scotch bonnet(s), and one red onion, boil until it thickens.
2. For this recipe, I am using one medium sized catfish cut into 5 pieces. So, add 1 cup of palm cream and 1 cup of hot water. Let it cook for 5 minutes, then add, shredded Eja Osan and Smoked prawns (Why now? To soften, and infuse their flavours into the soup)
Dooney’s Kitchen tip #4 - Rinse the smoked prawns, dry it with a clean dish towel, dry roast it for 1minute in a frying pan to intensify the flavour
3. Let the palm nut cream cook for another 5 minutes until oil floats to the surface (add half a cup of hot water if needed)
4. Add 2 tablespoons of ground spices (depending on your taste, you may prefer a little more – let your tastebuds guide you). Which will thicken the soup very quickly
5. Add 1 cup of periwinkles and 1 small/medium Uyayak
6. Add your seasoning cubes (I prefer to use 2 Knorr chicken cubes) and salt
7. Let this cook for another 5 – 7 minutes whilst the aroma of the spices wafts into your kitchen
Dooney’s Kitchen Tip #5 – knowing when to add the catfish isn’t necessarily about timing. Keep tasting in short intervals, until you get to the point where you can taste the ingredients in perfect sync i.e. the palm nut cream, eja osan, smoked prawns, the spices, seasoning cube, salt etc. Trust me, you’ll be able to tell
8. Add the catfish. Shake the pot in circular motions till the soup coats the catfish
Dooney’s Kitchen Tip #6– Cover the pot and turn down the heat to low immediately you add the catfish because intense heat destroys the flavour. You may wish to add half a cup of hot water if the soup is too thick
9. Let the fish simmer for 10 minutes. Halfway through, crush a handful of the dried leaf of your choice in your palm and add to the pot.
10. Turn off the heat, and simply let it sit for a few more minutes.
You would taste the catfish flavour by now. It may be subtle or strong, depending on the concentration of the spices, and the balance of the other ingredients.
Dooney’s Kitchen Tip #7 – Well, this is grandma’s tip. She always said leave Banga Soup to sit for at least an hour, and then reheat shortly before serving. Who am I to argue?
You may ask, Dunni, you left out the crayfish? No, I didn’t. Though crayfish is the holy grail of most Nigerian soups, when I cook Banga soup, I leave it out. After many trials, I found that it overpowers the catfish. If you are addicted to the taste of crayfish, and you can’t do without it in your soup. By all means add it. What do you do with any leftover palm nut cream? Freeze it. It can last for months.
Traditionally, Banga soup is eaten with Starch. I could go down that route, but I have something exciting to introduce today. Pounded yam made extra super easy! No, I’m not talking about flour. I mean authentic pounded yam made with 100% yam. Everybody knows that the typical Nigerian will always pick FRESHLY pounded yams over poundo flour, so my fellow BellaNaijarians you no longer need a mortar and pestle! In fact you also don’t need to suffer needlessly with flour (not to mention the unknown ingredients in it). No matter where you live – Lagos, Nigeria or Queensland, Australia, all you simply need is, wait for it (cue James Bond tune playing in the background) A FOOD PROCESSOR!!!
Turning your nose up already? Let me explain. Think of dough used in baking. It’s soft, its smooth and it can be stretchy/elastic. Think of pounded yam, and you’ll apply those same words, no? So, the dough blade of a food processor will produce the same result with boiled yam.
Attach the dough blade to your food processor, put in 4 – 5 small pieces of yam straight from the boiling pot, press the button and simply watch magic happen. Let it spin for a 30 seconds – 1 minute and you’ll have smooth, silky, elastic pounded yam with no lumps. TRUST ME! Once you taste this, you will NEVER (somebody say N.E.V.E.R) go back to flour again.
So, let’s start a Dooney’s Kitchen revolution – We are never eating poundo flour again. Can I get an AMEN!
So, there you have it, Banga soup served with hot Pounded Yam.
I’ll hope you’ll try this out, especially making pounded yam in a food processor. Don’t panic if your first trial doesn’t turn out well, I’ll suggest start with 2 – 3 pieces of yam.
Email me your pictures – dunni_obata(at)dooneyskitchen(dot)com when you do try it out, and I’ll add it to the blog.
On a final note, if any non-Nigerian is inquisitive about Banga soup, simply tell them it’s a Nigerian curry made with palm nuts. I’m afraid that’s the best answer I could come up with on short notice. I’m still scratching my head trying to explain Eba. Any thoughts?
Dunni Obata is an IT Project Manager by day and a cook the rest of the time. She loves entertainment and one of her bad habits is feeding people. When she’s not cooking, she’s watching the Food Network. Dunni is very passionate about Nigerian food and believes they have a lot to offer globally. Visit her blog – www.dooneyskitchen.com