Some of my best childhood food memories feature either banga soup or black soup. Give me banga soup with pounded yam on a Sunday afternoon and I am absolutely content for the next 24 hours. In my euphoric state I would let my younger sister rinse the dishes while I washed (everyone knows rinsing is the better gig). I would even wake up early for school the next day.
Banga soup is made with a pulpy extract of the palm fruit, traditionally made by boiling and pounding the fruit, then rinsing it in hot water to get the pulp and juices. No need for that tedious process these days though, the extract now comes in a can and it’s just as good as the one made the traditional way.
For me the best part of banga is the heady mixture of aromatic spices used. It is absolute perfection. In those days you would buy the spices separately and grind them up in delicately balanced quantities, but now you can buy the prepared spice mix in shops. Canned extract, prepared spice mix. Can someone say a big Amen to the Modern Nigerian Kitchen?
People make banga with different combinations of leaves, some with none at all. I decided to use uziza, scent leaf and bitterleaf in this recipe; the combination of flavours and aromas from these three leaves really makes the soup bowl-licking good. And for some texture in my vegan banga I added dried shiitake mushrooms and mung bean dumplings.
What you will need
For the dumplings
*makes 6-8 dumplings
+ 1 cup cooked mung beans (or brown lentils)
+ 3/4 cup flour (wholewheat or oats)
+ 1 tablespoon tapioca starch (or cornstarch)
+ 4 tablespoons liquid aminos (or vegetable stock cubes)
+ 1 tablespoon soy sauce
+ 1 teaspoon baking powder
+ 3 teaspoons minced garlic
+ Spices: curry powder, chilli powder, salt
For the soup
*makes about 10 servings
+ 1.5 cups palm fruit puree (one 400ml tin)
+ 4 large dried shiitake mushrooms
+ 1/4 cup chopped uziza leaves
+ 1/4 cup chopped scent leaves
+ a generous pinch of chopped bitterleaf
+ 1 teaspoon banga spice mix
+ 2 tablespoons liquid aminos (or vegetable stock cubes)
+ chilli powder, salt to taste
How to make it
Step 1: Blend the mung beans in a food processor with a little water. Add the flour, starch, 2 tablespoons liquid aminos, baking powder and spices to taste and pulse the processor to combine. It should form a very thick, sticky batter.
Step 2: Add three cups water to a pot along with the rest of the liquid aminos, the soy sauce, garlic, a tablespoon of curry, and some salt and pepper. This is the stock you will use to cook the dumplings. Bring the liquid to a boil, then drop in the dumpling batter one heaped tablespoon at a time. Space them out carefully to avoid sticking. Cook in boiling stock for 5-10 minutes, or until the dumplings firm up and float to the surface. Remove the dumplings with a slotted spoon and reserve the stock for another use. (Vegan gravy, perhaps?)
Step 3 (optional – skip this step if you want soft dumplings): To give the dumplings a crust so that they do not break down easily in the soup, bake at 180 degrees Celsius on a lined baking tray for 20 minutes or until well browned, turning them over halfway into the time. When baked they keep much better, so you can reserve some of the dumplings to use in other soups or sauces.
Step 1: Pluck the uziza and scent leaves, wash, then chop into small pieces.
The leaves tend to be really sandy when I buy them from the market so I wash them in a sieve with a bowl underneath, under a running tap. I rinse until the water in the bowl no longer has sand in it.
Do the same with the bitterleaf, then wash the chopped leaves several times to get some of the bitterness out. It helps if you have a hand mixer or food processor with a dough mixer attachment – just put the leaves in a bowl of water and run the mixer for a few minutes. Drain the water and repeat 5 or 6 times.
Step 2: Soak the mushrooms in a small bowl of hot water. Add the palm fruit puree to a large pot with about 1 cup water. Stir well to dissolve into a smooth liquid, and let cook on medium heat for 10 mins.
Step 3: Drain the mushrooms, reserving the water. Chop the mushrooms into large pieces and add to the pot along with the water. Add dumplings, banga spice mix, liquid aminos, chilli powder and salt. Leave to simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. The soup should be the consistency of light pap. If it becomes too thick, add a little bit of water. If it’s too watery just leave to simmer some more until it thickens.
Step 4: Add the leaves, turn off the heat and give the soup a good stir. Done! Your kitchen should be smelling like a party by now. Enjoy the soup with a swallow of your choice. Banga is traditionally eaten with a ball of cassava starch, but as that is a refined food I’m not keen on it. My personal preference is pounded yam, but it goes really well with eba too 🙂