No Nigerian home is complete without a bowl of stew in the fridge/freezer, usually shamelessly posing as ice-cream. (Stew disguised as Supreme ice-cream has left many a Nigerian child with trust issues.) Stew is a crucial part of Nigerian cuisine. We eat it with rice, we eat it with beans, we eat it with yam. We use it to accompany soups like ewedu and okro. Even the celebrated jollof rice is basically funkyfied rice and stew. Nigerian blood is probably at least 5% stew. And why not? Nigerian stew is the best thing since before sliced bread.
But for all its greatness, I have one big problem with Nigerian stew – the way it is made. Nigerian stew is basically fried tomatoes, and the key to great stew is frying the blended tomatoes in lots of oil until the oil starts to float on top. But the thing is, by the time that happens the tomatoes will have been cooked on very high heat for a ridiculous amount of time. Tomatoes are not beans; the nutrients they contain cannot withstand such intensive cooking. The result is that what we are left with when the stew is done is basically fibre and oil. Don’t get me wrong, the stew still tastes good, because we add spices, chemicals (i.e. MSG) in the form of seasoning cubes, and meat/meat stock. But the essence and nutritional value of the tomatoes is dead and gone. And then imagine eating this stew with white rice which is also nutrient deficient. It’s just downright unhealthy.
Seeing as I no longer cook with seasoning cubes or meat, and in an attempt to restore the nutritional value and natural taste of stew, I decided to experiment with making it in a different way. And what a successful experiment! It looked and smelled wonderful and really tasted like tomatoes. Score! I was so happy with the result that I finished the pot of stew in two days. Sometimes I would randomly wander into the kitchen and just take a spoon straight from the pot.
This method has three major things going for it:
1. reduced cooking time preserves the nutritional integrity of the tomatoes – total cooking time was about 25 minutes for me, but of course it will depend on the quantity of tomatoes you use
2. minimal oil content – I used about a fifth of the amount of oil the traditional method requires
3. no MSG or meat and it still tastes wonderful
By now you must be wondering, what is this amazing new method Itua is claiming to have discovered? Lol. There’s nothing so special about it o. What’s special is the outcome. Anyways here’s how to make the New Nigerian Stew.
What You Will Need
This makes a small pot of stew, about 1 litre
+ 10 medium size tomatoes
+ 6 tatashe peppers
+ 2 large atarodo peppers
+ 1 large onion
+ 8 cloves of garlic
+ 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
+ spices: 6 large dried bay leaves, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1 tablespoon curry, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon dried thyme
How To Make It
1. Blend the tomatoes, onions, garlic and pepper with ½ a cup of water. Taste the mix; if the pepper is insufficient add more atarodo.
2. Pour the tomato blend into a large pot and leave uncovered to cook on medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes.
It’s important that the pot is large enough that the tomato mix doesn’t go more than 2 cm high in the pot. You want to have a large surface area to allow water evaporate quickly and keep cooking time to a minimum.
3. When the tomato mix has thickened and darkened, stir in the oil, black pepper, curry and salt. Add the bay leaves. Cover the pot and leave to fry on medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Dazall! Sprinkle the dried thyme over the stew after turning off the heat.
Tip: Don’t take the bay leaves out of the stew; leave them there to infuse the stew with flavor and only take them out when serving. Use solid, big leaves to avoid them disintegrating or getting lost in the stew.
So there you have it; a new way to make an old classic. Next time you make stew, give this method a try and see how you like the result. Even if you don’t, at least your kitchen will smell amazing! 😀