Okra is not a fish, but goes very well with fish. Coming back from a trip to Africa, I brought along some ingredients that are hard to come by in Europe and I hope I will encorporate some of these in my future cooking. Okra is used a lot in Nigeria, so coming up is an okra stew, eaten with “garri” or “eba”. Eba is a common filler and staple food in West Africa, made from the flour of the cassava tuber, which is quite tediously produced. The flour is mixed with hot water and stirred into a dough.
As is tradition in Nigeria, the dough is eaten by hand (of course!) along with a soup. You pull some of the eba off and form it into a small ball, with which you can scoop the soup into your mouth. It’s delicious and fun, but takes some practice.
In Nigeria these doughs are made from various flours like “pounded yam”. As a group they are called “swallows”. They of course taste very different and can be an interesting way to keep the meals exciting. For today however, I will be using my favorite, which is eba. As I have a supply of Nigerian ingredients, I hope to make a couple of different Nigerian meals.
Ingredients: (Available in an asian food shop perhaps, or any West-African cuisine store)
300g Garri (-> then made into “Eba”)
2 Tablespoons ground, dried fish
2-3 Table Spoons of Palm Oil
200g Prawns or Crabs/Crablegs(!)
400g Salmon Filet
300g Nigerian Water Leaf, but Whole Leaf Spinach will do
2 Stock Cubes
1 Large Onion
Ground Chili to taste (we like it really, really spicy)
Before you start chopping your okra, wash the salmon. The fish should be cut into sizeable filet-pieces, so they can cook evenly. Boil them in salty water with two of your stock cubes. The amount of water is not set, but maybe about three-quarters of a liter.
As the fish is boiling, start chopping your okra(very finely!). Frozen okra does work and I wouldn’t judge you for it, but fresh ones work best. If frozen is the case, then pour hot water over them and immedeately drain the water… or else they become slimey and that makes the whole shebang harder to chop. Cook the salmon for about eight minutes, according to their size, but not too long, as they will cook together with the okra later!
Young okras are the best, if you have the choice.
Now take out the fish and keep on a plate for later and pour the stock out of the pot into a bowl and keep it for later as well.
Briefly fry your prawns in the pot on each side for maybe a couple of minutes, using a small bit of the palm oil. Take them out and also keep on the plate with the fish.
In the same pot (it is pretty much a one-pot meal), you can fry the onions and your (!) chopped okra in hot palm oil until the onions are see-through. Stirr the ingredients once in a while to prevent burning. Now add chili and salt to taste.Once the onions are cooked enough, start adding your stock to the pot with a ladle. While doing this keep (slowly(!)) stirring on medium heat. You will notice that the okra starts to “draw”. That means it gets thick and if you’re adding the stock slowly and stirring well, the soup is thickening. This is the amazing super power of okra and is imperative to the whole process of eating with your hands and eba. Add your dried fish in now.
Add as much stock as you want, or as much soup as you can handle, I should warn however, that the super-power of the okra is not limitless and can’t handle all the stock in the work. Let us take a minute though to appreciate okra.
Once you have reached your desired quantity of soup, add the fish and prawns and keep that stewing. Wash your spinach and drain it. Add it into the soup and keep stewing for some minutes, while making the eba.
Get your garri and pour it into a large bowl. Boil water and pour it on the garri. Now stir. There is no set quantity here, but check that all the flour has merged into a dough, so there are no left-overs. It’s a gradual process. Also, don’t let your eba get too watery. It’s a challenge, but you can do it!
Serve your eba as a round big ball on a plate and some soup in a serving bowl.
Oh, if the whole pulling off pieces of the eba and making it into sizeable balls is too hard a task at first, you are welcome to use a spoon. But stay at it and get better at eating with your hands, it’s part of the experience and gives a completely different feel to eating.