Discover the delights of Nigerian cuisine

  • 15 April 2015 | Christine Marot
The most popular Nigerian dish is Nigerian jollof rice – find the recipe below. Image courtesy of jypsygen

Nigeria has more than 250 ethnic groups, which translates into a wide range of traditional dishes that vary from region to region, most often cooked outside in large pots over an open fire.

A common ingredient is starch, with various grains used in different ways. Mielies (corn), for example, is used in cornmeal dishes, for batters when frying, and in regional cuisine. 

Northern Nigerians tend to favour meat kebabs made from pork and veal, seasoned with hot, spicy sauces and accompanied by grain-based side dishes.

Those living in the south prefer seafood dishes, such as fish stews, shrimp, crab and lobster, with rice and vegetables as side dishes.

Cooking in large pots over an open fire is a common way of life for Nigerians. Image courtesy of Rosie Lodge

At home one might find a family eating a peppery stew washed down with glasses of palm wine made from the abundance of palm trees that grow wild in Nigeria. Oxtail is also eaten, but the preparation takes much longer, as the meat has to soften in a pressure cooker.

In central Nigeria, populated in the majority by the Yoruba people, meat stews are traditionally served with mashed yams (sweet potato) or mashed cassava (a starchy tuberous root).

Western Nigerians use cassava flour to create many fried dishes, the most noteworthy of which feature snails or dried shrimp. Yam porridge or asaro is another popular dish, which is made by boiling and mashing yam in rich tomato, chilli and red pepper sauce with palm oil or vegetable oil.

Nigeria is a hot country in which fresh meat goes off quickly. Due to a historical lack of refrigeration, preservation was done by means of salting and smoking, a method still in use today.

A grocery list of special ingredients and condiments is used in Nigerian cooking. These include: black-eyed-peas, ukazi leaves (tough and glossy leaves resembling those of the orange tree, that imbue a slightly bitter taste), beletientien (a herb similar to tarragon), bitterleaf (a bitter-sweet leaf vegetable used in soups, also known as ewuro, ndole or onugbu), chilli peppers, bananas, breadfruit (large, round starchy fruit usually roasted, baked, fried or boiled before eating), snails, cassava (used to make fufu, a dough made from boiled and ground plantain or cassava).

Palm oil, corn oil and groundnut (peanut) oil are used for frying plantains (a type of banana) and fritters.

Nigerian meals are conventionally served in large wooden dishes, with deeper dishes used for traditional soups and fish stews.

Nigerians agree that their most popular dish is jollof rice. Follow the recipe below to make it yourself:

Nigerian jollof rice (serves 6)

Ingredients

4 cups of rice

2kg of chicken (or meat of choice)

1 cup of crayfish meat (optional)

1 to 1.2 litres pureed fresh tomatoes

40ml to 100ml ground, fresh pepper

Spices (curry, thyme, delice, nutmeg – as desired, to taste)

4 beef stock cubes

2 onions, sliced

200ml to 300ml vegetable or groundnut oil

Salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon)

Method

In a pot, add enough water to submerge the chicken/meat halfway and parboil with one sliced onion, three of the beef stock cubes, salt, curry, thyme and other spices of your choice (the more you use, the tastier the dish).

In a separate pot, parboil the rice for three to four minutes in three cups of water. Drain and wash thoroughly with clean water, then set aside.

Remove the chicken/meat, setting aside the cooking stock for later use, and deep-fry the meat in vegetable/groundnut oil for about 10 minutes. Set aside to rest.

Drain the excess oil before adding two-thirds of the remaining sliced onion and fry for one minute. Add the ground pepper and half the pureed tomatoes and fry until the tomato loses its sourness.

Add the retained cooking stock, two extra cups of water, the crayfish meat (optional) and the remaining beef stock cube

Stir and spice to taste before adding the parboiled rice. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Add the remainder of the pureed tomatoes and sprinkle the rest of the sliced onion over the top.

Cook until the rice is soft, adding water as needed to keep it moist. Finally, place the fried meat on top and cover the pot for the last five minutes of cooking time.