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West Africa’s Greatest-Stored Secret | Saveur


For hundreds of years, iru has been a staple condiment in a number of Nigerian dishes generally loved by the nation’s Yoruba and Edo folks. Over time, different West African international locations have caught on to the ingredient’s wealthy umami style. Outdoors of Nigeria, iru goes by different names, together with netetou, kainda, and soumbala, all plain references to the fermented seeds of the African locust tree, botanically often known as Parkia biglobosa. Its wealthy essence and sophisticated taste make it the most effective issues to ever occur to African delicacies.

My earliest reminiscence of meals is a definite mixture of aromas that includes burning charcoal, iru, and stockfish as my grandmother cooked open air in our hometown in Western Nigeria. My mom carried on this tradition of utilizing iru, and I’ll admit that it was not at all times my favourite—I discovered the scent too pungent and the style too sharp. However all the pieces modified with one dish specifically. Iru was the star ingredient in my mom’s efo riro, a conventional Nigerian soup which incorporates shoko leaves (a leafy native vegetable akin to spinach) and bell peppers. The extra I ate it, the extra I fell in love with iru’s full-bodied taste, ever so current on this scrumptious meal. My mom’s signature dish impressed “Mummy’s Efo riro,” a recipe I shared in my cookbook

Iru exists in two varieties, recent and dried, the previous of which is extra generally utilized in Nigeria and characterised by its pungent scent. The latter model is salted and dried to extend shelf life, then added to liquidy dishes or in any other case hydrated by soaking in sizzling water for a couple of minutes to melt. No matter selection it is available in, iru is our secret for infusing soups, stews, and sauces with a lift of taste. Due to its punchy scent, iru could not appear instantly interesting, however the magic lies within the style. Its pungency is barely paying homage to cheese, whereas its thick texture is sort of much like that of chocolate. Its deep umami serves as a taste enhancer and provides an elusive richness to a variety of conventional dishes. The extremely versatile ingredient adapts simply to savory recipes however also can complement candy and starchy meals. 

Moreover, iru is extremely nutritious, wealthy in wholesome fat, carbohydrates, protein, and calcium; Nigerians have lengthy thought of it a key factor in a healthful eating regimen. For my latest cookbook, I included it as a key flavoring part in a number of conventional Nigerian dishes corresponding to ofada—a spicy pepper sauce with succulent chunks of meat—and ewedu— a soup ready utilizing ewedu leaf, in any other case often known as jute or molokhia. Listed here are some methods you possibly can attempt cooking with iru in your personal kitchen.

Season A Pot of Mummy’s Efo Riro.

Efo riro is a basic Nigerian soup, and my mom’s rendition options a lot of seasoned meat (both rooster, oxtail, or goat), in addition to shoko leaves, Scotch bonnet and bell peppers, and the signature trio of stockfish, dried crayfish, and palm oil that seems so typically in Nigerian cooking. Iru seals the dish by bringing collectively all of those flavors. 

Add Iru to Spicy Soups and Stews.

The richness of iru pairs effectively with the warmth of chiles, so including a sprinkling to your spicy broths is at all times an incredible thought. Attempt infusing soups and stews—from meat shares to, say, a spicy chowder—with the flavour of iru. Not solely will the beans carry their very own complexity to the dish, they may even assist steadiness and heighten the accompanying flavors. 

Use Iru as an Fragrant.

Sautéeing aromatics like garlic, ginger, or peppercorns? Toss in some iru in the beginning of the cooking course of. That is a straightforward and efficient method to introduce the ingredient into your cooking which permits its style to prominently infuse a dish—from stir fries to meat sauces or casseroles. The iru softens with the warmth from the pan whereas emitting an aroma that’s second to none.

Improve Vegetarian Meals With Iru’s Wealthy Taste.

The pungent taste of iru superbly offsets the starchiness of tubers like candy potatoes and yams, or of grain-based dishes like fried rice. Drizzle iru-infused sauces over them to introduce each moisture and complexity. My good friend Sia Alexander, an African artwork curator on the gallery Pure_Lagos, recommends iru for amping up vegan protein sources; when blended along with tofu, the dense texture of iru helps produce a tasty floor meat various. Or, when getting ready sautéed greens like collards or kale, add a teaspoon of iru to spice them up with an extra-savory observe. There may be a lot to attempt with this particular condiment, so don’t miss out!

Tola Akerele is the co-founder of Bogobiri Home and writer of The Orishirishi Cookbook.


Efo Riro

Efo Riro Nigerian Stew
Images by Linda Xiao; Meals Styling by Christine Albano; Prop Styling by Dayna Seman

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