A couple of weeks ago, I was amidst some friends and new people and the topic of food and cooking came up. I was not surprised when the conversation led to cheap pot shots about Yoruba women not knowing how to cook, and of course an argument ensued.
Knowing Nigerians and how we can argue over the smallest of things, the argument escalated. In a bid not to join in, I just sat there and let them have a go at it, all the while having a smirk on my face, and perpetually raising my eyebrow, I was surprised it hadn’t uprooted from my face. At some point one of them suddenly remembered I was seated and he said “ah sorry Dunni, you are an exception, you are even half Yoruba anyway“. As if I escaped half of “the curse”. Mind you my mum and grandma; Yoruba women taught me how to cook. At that point, I saw my chance to lay it into him and the rest of them real good.
Yoruba people get a lot of flack about not knowing how to cook or are culturally deficient in terms of delicious dishes. I really don’t know where that assumption and annoying stereotype came from. When it is time for people to diss cooking, they seem to take easy shots at Yoruba people, especially females. Oh, Yoruba food is this, it is this way, it is one kind. I personally have been at the receiving end of such derogatory comments. I always smile with glee when I get the chance to shut them up. You just let my Aunty Beebee from Ibadan prepare Gbegiri with Ewedu for you and you will drop to your knees, or my Iperu relatives cook a wicked Ifokore, you will sing to high heavens. My late grandma’s Palm oil stew will knock your socks off. Need I mention Ofada sauce which virtually everyone wants to learn how to cook. Moi-Moi elemi meje was named for a reason. My Ondo and Ijesha friends will put my manual yam pounding skills to shame. I don’t even know if I should continue typing. There are so many dishes in Yoruba land, I don’t know where the misconception started from. Pardon me, I am a little vexed. I am about to shut some people up today.
In no part of the world do all the women have cooking on lockdown. It is a myth. Cooking is not a gene that can be inherited. It is a skill like any kind of skill. Some do great at it, some don’t. It shouldn’t be used to judge a person, or their character or damn an entire tribe of people for that matter. You have good cooks and bad cooks. I have tasted many terrible dishes made by women who are from areas famed for cooking in Nigeria. Many, many times. My best ever Tiramisu was served in Paris by a Middle Eastern Chef. Not in Italy or by an Italian.
May the real Efo Riro please stand up? This is one of the glory dishes of the Yoruba cuisine. The Edikang Ikong of Yoruba people. If you have tasted this cooked properly, you will agree with me. Funny story. I have used this particular soup to *cough* *cough* shut up a particular older woman and her entourage of “ebi” who just did not like me because I was Yoruba “aje butter”, so I must be lazy and not know how to cook. The look on her face after tasting this was priceless. Absolutely priceless. She announced loudly in a room full of people. Ah all your sins have been forgiven (which sins?), you haven’t offended me again. We thought you couldn’t cook. She ate the soup with so much relish, the other people in the room flew from their seats to get plates. My ears must have been burning that day from praise. I have never witnessed that much instant transformation from outright coldness to warmth as if I was some long lost child. Suddenly, I was being asked “when are you coming again to see us o”. I just sat there faking a smile on my face, meanwhile inside, I was hissing and rolling my eyes. So, all it took was food. Chai. “I for don cook since na”. A part of me wanted to interject, sarcastically, so Yoruba girls cannot cook eh. My mother would have had my head because she raised me better.
Sorry, but I am going all Yoruba on this recipe.
What You Need
Efo Soko – Soko vegetables, the big daddy of Efo Riro
Iru horo – whole locust beans
Tatashe – red bell pepper
Ata Rodo – scotch bonnet/habanero pepper
Ede gbigbe – crayfish
Eja Sawa – dried fish
Eja Osan – dried fish
Ara Eran – Beef
Saki – tripe
Pomo – cow hide
Epo pupa – palm oil
Alubusa – red onion
Iyo – Salt
Iyo Knorr – seasoning cubes
Yoruba lesson ends here!
Boil and season all the meats with salt, lots of chopped onions and seasoning cube. Halfway through cooking, throw in the Eja Sawa. Eja Sawa is a very dry and hard fish. It is common to soak it in hot water, but this loses some of its flavour, so I add mine shortly before the meats have properly softened so it has a symbiotic relationship with the stock. It is one of the few dried fish that can hold its own against the strong flavours of meat.
The secret to any great tasting soup is the stock. If you get this right, you will not need seasoning cubes at the latter stages of cooking the soups. If your soups have always tasted the same, boil the meats with eja sawa, use the stock and watch people lick their fingers in pure delight. I just gave out one of my secrets. Shhhhhhh. Another option is to boil the meats with stockfish. I use both methods, but Eja Sawa trumps stock fish by miles, in terms of the resulting stock.
Roughly blend the Tatashe (Bell Pepper) and ata rodo (scotch bonnet pepper). Bring this to a boil and reduce till it forms a thick paste. Proper Efo Riro just like Edikang Ikong is not liquidy or dripping.
Give the Iru (locust beans) and the crayfish a good rinse. Remember not to drown the Iru in water in order not to lose the flavour. Rinse the eja osan thoroughly and shred into bits. Dice the onions and set aside. You need all the ingredients prepped before you start.
Heat up palm oil and fry the onions till it is translucent. Add the boiled pepper and Iru and fry for a few minutes. You want this to fry till you have a thick paste, because of the stock which will be introduced to dilute it slightly.
Once it is fried, add the meats, and ground crayfish to the pot. Add stock in cooking spoonfuls to the pot and stir. You have to be really careful with the stock so you don’t end up with liquidy Efo Riro (before you get accused of not knowing how to cook. )
Lower the heat, to allow the meats to absorb the essence of the pepper, Iru and crayfish. Let this cook for 3 – 5 minutes.You also do not want to use high heat, which will evaporate the stock. Keep frying till you have a semi-thick stew that tastes heavenly. It is just about to taste even better. You may not even need to re-season with salt and/or seasoning cube if you get the balance very well. If after tasting you still need to, go ahead.
Add the soko and dried fish. You always add the dried fish with the vegetables for two reasons. 1. So it doesn’t break down. 2. You want its taste to stand on its own. Dried Fish has the tendency to absorb all the flavours around it, so the less time it spends in a pot filled with bold flavours, the better.
Vegetables are absorbent, so once it is in the pot, stir to increase its interaction with the already fried sauce. It will absorb the sauce and at the same time leach out it’s own liquids, creating a beautiful chemistry. Lower the heat further so you don’t lose the nutritional value while you are allowing it to soak up all the delicious goodies. Cook for about 3 minutes, 5 if you are cooking with a larger quantity of vegetables.
………………there you have it.
The next time anyone talks smack to you about your cooking, Efo Riro is your best defence.
Efo Riro and Pounded yam – I can hear the people you are trying to shut up, not uttering a single word for the next few minutes. Prepare for a barrage/onslaught of praise.
Oh before I go, I have some news. I am now bringing The Dooney’s Kitchen Experience right into the comfort of your own kitchen, via a never been done revolutionary service called an e-Cooking Class. From start to finish of any dish of your choice, I will be virtually in your kitchen, guiding you through the steps, as if I was cooking the dish myself. A fun and personal experience that goes way beyond reading a recipe. If you no longer want to just salivate over my food. I now offer a meal drop off and pick up service, including the service of a Private Chef for intimate dinners and small gatherings. Keep in touch!
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