Nigerian food is one of the most healthy in the world, my mother would often chant. Myth or not statistics wise, Nigerian Food ranks the best in my book, not just flavor wise, but health wise and our soups embody that element. The leafy vegetables we use, often mixing more than one vegetable in one soup contain lots of vitamins, minerals and other medicinal benefits. Anyway, here is the list of the top Nigerian Vegetables and Tips on using them in Soups.
Ugu leaf can be argued as the most popular of the Nigerian vegetables, as it’s not only great in soups, it is diverse in the way it can be used. Before I knew anything about Kale or Green smoothies, I watched my mother as a child, squeeze out the little liquid she could from Ugu, mix it with milk and drink to “give her blood”. I now understand why she did as Ugu leaves are rich in Iron but also calcium, Folic acid, and other minerals. Although the Igbo name Ugu is the popular description in Nigeria, its English name is Pumpkin leaves for you Ajebutters out there, not spinach. Ugu can be used or substituted for many leaves used in Nigerian Vegetable soups like Edikaikong and Efo Riro. It can be also used as stand alone’s in other soups like Egusi and Okro Soup.
Tips For Using Ugwu Leaves in Soups:
- Add Ugu Leaves to your Soup, when you’re assured your soup is done with. This is to prevent overcooking which lead to nutrients being lost and make the leaves less aesthetically pleasing. Ugu is medium textured, so you can cook up to 5 minutes, but the less time the better. In fact sometimes, when Ugu leaves are added the heat can be turned off.
- Ugwu tends to absorb liquid as opposed to infusing more liquids in Soups, so adjust liquid as necessary.
As the name implies it’s a very bitter leaf. This Nigerian Vegetable definitely tastes like medicine and works as one, as it is great for treating diabetes and reducing fever. Bitter leaf is just as rich in Vitamins and minerals as any other top Nigerian vegetable on this list. This leaf is more intimidating for people to work with, because of the taste and the work that comes along with it. It is used in Egusi Soup especially in the eastern region and in the popular soup named Bitter leaf soup.
Tips For Using Bitter Leaves in Soups:
- Regardless of the soup, keep in mind you’re going for a hint of bitter, like lemon to water, not Bitter water where the taste is overwhelming.
- Wash, Wash, Wash. Washing serves to get rid of dirt in all vegetables but in the case of bitter leaf, it’s also to reduce immensely the bitterness. There are several ways to washing Bitter Leaves whether raw or dried.
- Cut and Scrubbing: As the name implies, this is simply when the leaves are chopped, washed, scrubbed and squeezed till the bitterness wanes.
- The Boiling Method: This step usually starts with boiling, followed by scrubbing the leaves in cold water till water used to wash turns clear. Some even boil twice to avoid having to scrub the leaves for too long, while some add potash while boiling which gets rid of the bitterness even quicker. Note that when boiling dried bitter leaves (especially for those in diaspora), you’re boiling to remove taste as well as to soften the leaves and this affects the time you should boil for. After Boiling put in cold water and then squeeze the water out. If you’re worried about nutrients being lost, you can keep the liquid squeezed out and drink it (HA!).
- The Machine Method: Due to how time-consuming and tedious the other two methods are, people have resorted to finding faster ways to clean bitter leaves. Different machines though not designed for the intention of ‘washing’ bitter leaves work just fine. For example, a juicer designed for extracting will extract the bitterness from the leaf, and you can do it as many times as possible till you reach satisfaction. Some people also use Washing machines for washing vegetables (LOL, I know right?) and more recently foodie blogger Dunnie for Dooney’s Kitchen has a method of using food processors for this purpose. Click here to read How to Wash Bitter Leaves Using a Food Processor. Using machines also address the criticism of natives who don’t approve of boiling bitter leaves for the purpose of getting rid of the bitter taste.
- One can allow for cooking time with bitter leaf to infuse flavor.
As the name implies this vegetable is high in water content, 90.8gm per 100gm of the leaf. The plant is rich in Vitamin A, B, C and high in protein. It has earned its spot in the Top Nigerian Vegetables list considering it’s a staple in a lot of Nigerian Soups like Afang Soup, Edikaikong and Water leaf soup.
Tips For Using Water Leaves in Soups:
- As previously stated the water content in the leaf is very high, so once the leaf is added there will be a substantial infusion of liquid to the dish.
- Water Leaf shrinks as it dispels it’s liquid content while it’s cooked.
- Cooking time for Water leaf should be minimal. Water Leaf is Soft and gets slimy when overcooked, however, some don’t mind that texture.
- To get rid of the sliminess of Water Leaf, after the initial washing to remove sand and dirt, you can wash again before or after slicing (scrubbing motion) to remove slim and then rinsing. Some add salt to aid during the second washing to reduce both the sliminess and water content of the leaf.
Okazi Leaf / Afang Leaf
Okazi leaf is known as Wild Spinach leaf in English and is identified as Afang leaf in the South eastern part of Nigeria. It has a hard, glossy texture. The flavor of Okazi is slightly bitter which is unlocked when cooked, before that it is tasteless. Okazi is unique where it can retain its nutrient if dried for as long as two years. It’s used in Afang, Egusi and Okazi Soup. Okazi leaf is known as a good source of Amino acids among many other medicinal properties.
Tips For Using Okazi / Afang Leaves in Soups:
- Firstly, understand Okazi needs more cooking time than most of the other Nigerian vegetables on this list because heat doesn’t drastically change its texture or aesthetics like the others. In fact, some cook it for longer than 20 minutes. You’ll have to determine how best to do this without affecting your soup, especially when combining Okazi with other vegetables that don’t need to be cooked for long like Water leaf when cooking Afang soup. To soften the leaf, you can soak in hot water and allow to sit, you can boil in hot water (and use the liquid for the soup, don’t let those nutrients go to waste,) you can add the leaves to meat stock and then take them out before starting the cooking process. The latter technique is great when cooking soups that do not require lots of liquid.
- Determine how you want your leaf, shredded/ sliced, pounded, or blended, sometimes this decision is based on tribe. Depending on what you choose, it definitely affects the texture of the soup. A lot of times, this leaf is sold shredded/ sliced mostly because it is easier to cook in that form. There’s more flavor infused in the soup when the Okazi is pounded or blended before cooking. However when blended Okazi leaves thicken the soup immensely.
If I didn’t add this leaf to the Top Nigerian Vegetables list, I know people who would have given me hell for it, as it is the pride of Efo Riro, a popular vegetable soup from the Yoruba tribe. Efo Soko despite flourishing in other tropical regions like in South America is known as Lagos Spinach (Celosia argentea). The flavor palate is slightly bitter. Efo Soko is a good source of Vitamin A and C, as well as Calcium and Iron.
Tips For Using Efo Soko Leaves in Soups:
- Based on preference, wash with hot water for a minute, then followed by cold water to squeeze to remove water.
- A little bird says compared to Spinach, Efo Soko has less water content.
- Keep Cooking time to a bare minimum.