How to Stock a Nigerian Store

Each Nigerian home has a store of pantry items that is a mix of local, regional, and global ingredients. These pantry staples are the key to Nigerian cuisine—from preserves, ferments, dried herbs, spices, and legumes to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Overhead view of all the essential ingredients needed in a pantry to cook a range of Nigerian dishes. Ingredients range from spices to roots to tinned food and fresh spices, organized in a neat grid
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

In Nigeria, we don't have pantries. What one calls a pantry in Europe and North America, we call a "store," and no two are the same. Each home store is a melange of local, regional, and global ingredients. Some ingredients—palm oil, crayfish, fermented seasonings—speak volumes about all the ways Nigerians are similar despite our many different languages and cultures.

The store is where we house and preserve many of the ingredients that give us flavor and sustenance, and it's where you'll see a mix of influences, from local and regional exchanges to the deep-seated legacies of colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade. It is also where you'll find forms of personal expression, both large and small, like preserves, ferments, dried herbs, and more.

Nigerian meals tend to be made up of mixed plates of starches, soups/sauces, and proteins, and the store reflects that. There will likely be an abundance of starches in the form of grains, legumes, and flours; there are oils and fats like unrefined red palm oil, groundnut oil, and shea butter; there's a stunning array of greens used in meals—leafy, herby, in a range of colors, both fresh and dried; there's a plethora of spices, like grains of Selim, calabash nutmeg, and alligator pepper, as well as a range of spice blends; there are dried seafood products like "crayfish" and smoked fish, oysters, and periwinkles; and there are fermented seasonings and condiments, nuts, seeds, and gums.

There's a lot to explore and enjoy.

Fresh Ingredients

While the store is typically stocked with shelf-stable goods ready to be turned into a meal or a snack at a moment's notice, a good store would be incomplete without a variety of fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruit, many of which should be familiar to cooks all over the world.

Roots, Tubers, and Rhizomes

Top down view of a yams, cocoyam, ginger arranged in a straight line on a marbled grey background
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Tubers and rhizomes like yams, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, cocoyam (taro), ginger, garlic, and turmeric are frequently used in a wide variety of dishes.

Fresh Fruits

Plantains on a grey marbled surface
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Fresh fruits are eaten all year round, and there are a few fruits, like baobab, tamarind, dates, which are often used in their dried forms as well.

Bananas, pineapple, sugar cane, pawpaw, and mangoes are some of the most commonly eaten fruits. They are eaten out of hand and are rarely cooked. Fruits like tomatoes and plantains are, on the other hand, quite frequently cooked and essentially treated as vegetables.

Vegetables

Top down view of amaranth, tomatoes, and dried pumpkin greens in a small bowl arranged in a straight line on a grey marbled backdrop
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Tomatoes, (red) onions, and peppers—sweet and hot—are some of the most ubiquitous ingredients in our stores. Leafy vegetables, greens, and herbs like amaranth (callaloo), pumpkin greens, sweet potato greens, water leaf, and spinach are common, and are used fresh or dried.

Dried Ingredients

The store will also typically have a wide array of dried ingredients, everything from dried seafood and meat to dried grains and legumes, meals and flours, nuts, fruit and vegetables, as well as spices.

Dried Seafood

Dried crayfish in a white bowl on a marbled grey background
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

There are many kinds of dried fish used in Nigerian cuisine: (Scandinavian) stockfish; dried fish, called "dry fish" (catfish is popular); dried oysters; dried periwinkles and whelks; and last but certainly not the least, dried "crayfish." While we call them crayfish, they are actually pink and brown prawns completely unrelated to the North American crawfish—how that name emerged is still something of a mystery. Crayfish come in various sizes; they are often sun-dried, although sometimes they're smoked. The large ones are often used whole or broken, and the smaller ones are typically ground. I never cook Nigerian soups without ground crayfish—never ever. Crayfish is to Nigerian cuisine what fish sauce is to Thai: it brings that sweet fermented funk and seafood essence that many Nigerian pots would be lost without, from slow-cooked dishes like egusi soup to traditional rice dishes like native Jollof rice.

Other dried fish products, like large crayfish heads, catfish heads and bonga/shawa fish (bony freshwater shad, also eaten as a snack), are ground and used as a seasoning, much as we use crayfish.

Dried Meats

Dried Kilishi and tinko in two white bowls on a marbled grey background
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

There are a number of dried meats, including kilishi, tinko, dried kpomo (a fresh version exists), that have long shelf lives and are eaten as snacks, and some of them are used in cooking. Although dried meats are mostly made from beef, you’ll also find smoked and dried game from animals like antelope and grass cutters.

Kilishi is a beef jerky snack from the north, but it's popular across the country. Thin sheets of lean beef, sliced by hand, are dunked in a wet spice paste made with nuts and sun- or oven-dried, after which they're finished by passing over an open fire. They are sold in small and large sheets, individually wrapped in paper or transparent bags and they can keep for six months or longer.

Tinko (chunks of beef) and dried kpomo (cow skin) are cooked, dried, and smoked. They are rehydrated in water or stock and used in soups and stews, like egusi.

Grains, Cereals, and Legumes

Top down view of cassava, rice, black-eyed beans, and gari on a marbled grey surface
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Grains, cereals, and legumes are the bedrock of the Nigerian store. Mostly dried, you’ll find them whole, cracked, ground, or milled into powder and flour. Rice, beans, corn, cassava, millet, guinea corn (sorghum) are steamed, made into doughs, fritters, and stirred into soups and sauces.

Nigerians love rice, from the homegrown Oryza glaberrima species often named after their growing locations—Abakaliki, Ekpoma, and Ofada rice (which is fermented during the processing)—to imported Oryza sativa species, particularly long-grain (converted) rice, as well as basmati and Thai jasmine. Rice and stew (a rice dish made with a specific tomato-based sauce), jollof rice, coconut rice, and Nigerian fried rice are pillars in Nigerian cuisine.

There are so many varieties of beans in Nigeria, with black-eyed beans and other cowpeas being the most common. You’ll find them simply cooked, stewed in red sauces, puréed into soups, and turned into pottage with corn, yams, plantains, and/or sweet potatoes.

There are many flours and meals made from cassava and garri is one of the most popular. This gluten-free flour comes in a range of colors, from cream to sunny yellow, and a variety of textures, just like cornmeal. I love its flexibility—dry and crunchy, you can sprinkle it over stewed beans or fill the hollow of a ripe avocado. The flavor? Sweet and sour—from mild to strong. "Soaked" with cold water, it makes a cereal-like snack which we enjoy in a variety of ways and with add-ins, like coconut (fresh or flaked), roasted peanuts, peanut crackers, and more. Some like it with salt, others with sugar, and still more with both. Hot, it gelatinizes to form a soft, sticky dough called eba, which is a classic complement to thick “soups” (stews). I love it as a replacement for breadcrumbs as it delivers unparalleled crunch.

Various types of millet, fonio, guinea corn, and corn are popular. The dried grains and kernels are steamed, boiled, popped, and cooked in soups and pottages. They are also processed into fermented starches that are sold as firm blocks or as powder, which are used to make breakfast gruels and porridges that are called pap, ogi, koko, or akamu (they're similar to Mexican atole). Served with milk and sugar, they are common accompaniments to akara, a kind of bean fritter, and moinmoin, a steamed “pudding” made from beans.

Flowers

Zobo and hibiscus sabdariffa next to each other on a grey marbled surface
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Zobo (hibiscus sabdariffa), which is also known as agua de Jamaica and red sorrel, among other names, is one of the most popular edible flowers in Nigeria. It comes in a variety of colors, from off-white, cream, and light brown to deep red-purple, and it's sold dried and used in a couple of ways.

The off-white, creamy, brown version is rehydrated and used in obe ishapa, a soup popular in the southwest that also features egusi seeds. The dark red version forms the base of a drink, often combined with dried ginger slices and whole cloves. To sweeten it naturally, some people cook it with pineapple juice and/or the fruit's flesh and skin, others add tamarind and sweeten it with sugar or honey. It's served both hot and cold.

Nuts and Seeds

Close up view of seeds and nuts on a grey plate
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Nuts and seeds serve many purposes in Nigerian cuisine. They’re eaten alone as snacks, like boiled groundnuts (peanuts) and candied sesame seeds, but also incorporated into a variety of dishes.

Many soups are thickened with pastes from sesame seeds and groundnuts and with nut or seed powders, like the ground meal made from egusi, the seeds of the bitter melon. Egusi is sold in several different forms: whole, with their brittle, mustard-colored shells; shelled; and ground. Ground egusi is distinguished further in many markets as being ‘hand-’ or ‘machine-’ processed, where the ‘hand’ varieties are more expensive, a testament to the craft of shelling. Egusi is incorporated into seasoned stocks to make egusi soup, which is often finished with greens, both leafy and herby.

Fermented nuts and seeds are used as an umami-rich seasoning, similar to miso paste or Chinese black beans. They bring an intense savoriness along with distinctive flavors and aromas. Iru is a small-batch ferment of locust beans, used to season soups, stews, and other dishes. Available in markets, it comes as a soft paste, which readily dissolves in sauces, or as firm, distinct split beans. Other fermented seeds made from castor seeds, sesame seeds, soybeans, melon seeds, and more are common across the country.

Spices and Seasonings

Spices nicely arranged in white bowls on a marbled grey backdrop
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

There is a huge variety of herbs, spices, spice blends, alkaline salts, and stock/seasoning cubes used in Nigerian cooking. They fall into two key categories: traditional Nigerian seasoning, which includes yajin kuli, pepper soup spice, and banga spice, and imported seasonings, like "curry powder" and dried thyme. They deliver a whole spectrum of flavors from peppery to woodsy, floral, bitter, nutty, warm, and more. Used individually, or in specific blends, they are mostly incorporated into savory dishes, used as rubs for meats and fish, and added to rice dishes, soups, and stews.

Ground dry pepper is one of the most popular ingredients. Fine and coarse blends are ground from slim, dried red chiles with single or multiple varieties of hot red peppers, including cayenne, bird’s eye, as well as others. Think of it as our equivalent to black pepper: It brings heat to everything, and is used all the time, added to taste when seasoning eggs or broth. Even when fresh chiles are used in a dish, you’ll find us sprinkling a pinch of dry pepper over it. The closest substitute for it is cayenne pepper not "chili powder" which is composed of an assortment of spices.

The definitive taste of pepper soup spice is a tribute to the genius of the Niger-Deltans in the south of Nigeria who combine whole, toasted spices in specific ratios to tease out a complex blend that lends its name to Nigeria’s most popular broth. Some of the most common spices used are calabash nutmeg, uda (grains of selim), alligator pepper (grains of paradise), and uziza (African cubeb pepper). This soup works well with seafood, meat, and vegetables and is commonly served as a starter at Nigerian parties and on special occasions, although it's also often made at home.

Fats and Oils

Palm oil in a bowl on a marbled grey surface
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

The Nigerian kitchen is full of plant and animal fats and oils, which are use for cooking but they're also incorporated into dips and spreads. Plant-based fats and oils come from palms, seeds, and nuts and include unrefined red palm oil, coconut oil, groundnut (peanut) oil, shea butter, atili (the African olive) oil, sesame oil, soybean oil, and a host of others. Palm oil is one of the most popular ones and there’s nothing like the rich, thick oil from the red-orange palm fruit of Elaeis guineensis, a native African palm—not to be confused with the highly industrialized palm (kernel) oil listed in practically every product across supermarket shelves and aisles in North America. Though you can approximate the color by steeping annatto seeds in vegetable oil, the smoky, vegetal, slightly fermented flavor is hard to replicate. This is the base of many pots of soup and stew eaten daily across Nigeria and in Nigerian homes across the diaspora.

Animal fats like man shanu and tallow are particularly popular in the pastoral north, where spoonfuls are commonly added to pots while cooking roots, tubers, and rice, from steamed white rice to Jollof. Man shanu, a creamy-light yellow fat, is a fermented and unchurned spread made from fresh cow milk with the consistency of soft butter. Tallow from beef and lamb is also commonly used.

Canned and Bagged Ingredients

A package of tinned sardines and a can of evaporated milk on a marbled grey surface
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Many preserved items are available in a variety of sizes and packaging, from tins and cans to sachets and cartons. It's very common to find tomato paste and a range of canned vegetables like sweetcorn, green peas, and baked beans in a store.

Though fresh milk and dairy products are common in the north, they aren’t as common down south, in the east, or west. Preserved milk—evaporated, condensed, and powdered—are used for cooking and baking as well as in drinks. Beverages like tea, instant coffee, and chocolate drink powders like Bournvita, Milo, Nesquik, and Ovaltine are popular and sometimes form half of a perfect bread meal, where slices or pieces of bread are dunked in cups and mugs of sweet, hot beverage.

Canned protein—fish like sardines, mackerel, and tuna, as well as products like corned beef—are popular, and they're turned into compound butters or pates and used as spreads for bread, sometimes with vegetables folded in. They are also added to fried and stewed eggs, sauces, and incorporated into rice dishes, as well as pottages made with yam, plantain, and potatoes.

Sweeteners

A small bowl of honey on a marbled grey backdrop
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

White sugar and honey are the most common sweeteners, for everything from cups of tea to sweetening cereal and baking. Honey comes in a variety of colors and flavors, from dark, wildflower varieties to those with a fermented profile, which are often the product of bee hives that are close to palm trees.

Less common is delicious mazarkwaila, heavy, compact discs of brown sugar, cooked down from sugar cane juice, and processed in a similar manner to piloncillo or jaggery. In the north of Nigeria, where it's made, it's a popular addition to drinks and is also eaten as a snack, bits broken off and chewed or licked.

Where to Buy Nigerian Ingredients

You can find all of these ingredients in a variety of stores online and in African, Afro-Caribbean, Caribbean, and even in general grocery stores. So, when you get a chance, try out some Nigerian recipes with ingredients from our store.

Velvety Nigerian Peanut Stew Recipe

A mainstay of Nigerian cuisine, my groundnut (peanut) stew features chicken and chunks of beef simmered in a velvety, aromatic peanut sauce. Spoon it over rice, plantains, or sweet potatoes for a filling meal.

Overhead view of nigerian peanut stew
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

My memories of groundnut stew—the West African stew of simmered meat and vegetables coated in a velvety, thick groundnut (aka peanut) sauce—are always sparked by cold weather. I connect this hearty, savory, and sweet stew to my time in the Netherlands, and the kindness of a Nigerian friend, 'Layide. ‘Layide and I are FFFs, Friends for Food, a very Nigerian saying that speaks about friendships embroidered with the enjoyment and discussion of food—essentially food as a love language. We’d long established that if anything would cause a rift between us, it would likely be food. Fortunately, over 17 years of friendship, we haven’t had a single food-related disagreement.

In 2007, ‘Layide and I and our families lived on the same street in Wassenaar, a small village between the Hague and Amsterdam. Our friendship was a lifeline for many reasons, including a shared pantry. When either of us ran out of sugar, salt, or eggs, it was no big deal because we could head up or down the street to borrow some. Occasionally, we would order large batches of Nigerian food—egusi soup, jollof rice, fried rice, fried meat, and ewa riro (stewed beans) from Bose, our resident Nigerian caterer—to share. 

Overhead of nigerian peanut stew
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

For one order, 'Layide got a batch of creamy, darker-than-beige-but-not-quite-brown groundnut stew from Bose. We ate this stew with delight, savoring its creaminess, nuttiness, and spice. We ladled spoonfuls over freshly boiled white rice, licked the pot and spoons, gnawed on the chicken bones, and didn't rest until the pot was clean. With this recipe, I’ve set out to recreate that stew and its perfect combination of freshly roasted groundnuts, various meats and vegetables, and a restrained hand with the spices so the sweet and nutty flavors of the peanuts shine.

What Are Groundnuts?

In Nigeria, groundnuts (Arachis hypogaea) are the same plant as peanuts in the U.S. The term groundnuts simply refers to the fact that they grow underground. There are records of groundnuts in West Africa since the 18th century and in early cookbooks. In the 1960s, Nigeria was home to the groundnut pyramids, constructed from sacks of groundnuts, piled high close to rail lines in preparation for export. It is no surprise that this ingredient memorialized as an attraction is loved and used in many ways, from snacks to sweetmeats, soups and stews, spice blends, drinks, and creamy porridges, many of which I enjoyed growing up and continue to enjoy today.

Key Ingredients in Groundnut Stew

Throughout West Africa, a thick, velvety and spicy peanut sauce is a key feature of groundnut stew, but the stew can contain a range of meats and vegetables. Some versions will have just chicken or beef, while others include both, and some have no meat at all. I’ve had versions with tofu, mushrooms, and hearty greens as well.

Overhead view of meat
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

In this recipe, I use both chicken thighs and beef chuck—I like the flavor combination of the two proteins and they are a good match since they both benefit from simmering until spoon tender. You can use all chicken or all beef if you prefer. If you make the stew with all chicken, the cooking time will be shorter by about a half hour.

To finish the stew I prefer a combination of sweet carrots, aromatic onion, and earthy baby bok choy for a variety of fresh flavors to balance the rich peanut sauce. I add the vegetables at staggered stages once the meat is mostly tender to ensure they retain a bit of texture and don’t fall apart.

Tips for a Velvety and Nutty Groundnut Stew

Start with skin-on, shelled groundnuts. Roasting your own groundnuts is easier than it sounds, and the freshly roasted deep nutty flavor is well worth the effort. In the U.S. these are sold as red-skin peanuts, also known as Spanish peanuts, and can be found in grocery stores and online—just look for peanuts labeled raw, as this variety is also sold roasted. (Note that if fresh shelled peanuts are unavailable, you can use store-bought roasted peanuts or unsweetened peanut butter in a pinch; just skip the nut roasting steps in the recipe.)

Take the time to brine the groundnuts. Soaking the peanuts in warm salty water draws flavor deep into the groundnuts before you roast them. Not only does this soak season the peanuts, it also neutralizes some of the phytic acid (like with beans), improving the digestibility. I tend to soak mine for no less than eight hours. 

Roast the peanuts and watch them closely. Roasting the peanuts develops the stew’s signature nutty, savory flavor. As the peanuts roast, it’s important to turn them every 10 minutes for even roasting, until some begin to crackle and pop, and check on them to prevent overcooking. I err on the side of caution and remove them earlier rather than later as they continue cooking out of the oven and if left longer, easily burn. 

Remove the peanut skins. After they cool on a rack, I rub the peanuts to remove the skins. I recommend using a kitchen towel to rub them vigorously for more friction to speed up the process. Once that’s done, I put them in a colander set on a tray and shake so the skins fall through the holes, rubbing them further if need be. Alternatively, you can set the groundnuts directly on a plate or tray, as we do in Nigeria, gently tossing them up and blowing to remove the skins.( It’s ok if a few skins remain; they will dissolve into the stew when cooked.) 

Blend the peanuts well for a silky smooth stew. Once the skins have been removed, blend the peanuts with a generous amount of homemade chicken stock or store bought low-sodium chicken broth and aromatics to make the flavorful sauce for the stew. Once cooked, the stew should have the consistency of heavy cream. You can adjust its consistency by cooking and reducing the stew further for a thicker texture, or thin it with additional stock. It should be velvety and thick enough to cling to the meat.

Serve with your favorite sides. Spoon the stew over rice, or serve it with cooked plantains, roasted sweet potatoes, or your preferred flatbread—I love it with Indian roti and naan.

In a colander, rinse peanuts well under running cold tap water. Drain and transfer to a large heat-proof bowl and add 1 teaspoon kosher salt, then cover with boiling water by about 2 inches. Cover loosely and let soak at room temperature until all the peanuts sink, have absorbed some water, and the liquid is cooler, at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours. 

Overhead view of peanuts soaking
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

Adjust the oven rack to middle position and heat the oven to 350°F (175℃). Lay a clean kitchen towel over a rimmed baking sheet. Drain peanuts under running water, rinse well and transfer the peanuts to the kitchen towel-lined baking sheet and pat to dry.

Overhead view of peanuts on rimmed backing sheet
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

Remove the towel and roast the peanuts on the rimmed baking sheet, stirring the peanuts 2 or 3 times during roasting, until lightly golden brown and fragrant, about 25 minutes. The nuts will have started to brown and you'll hear an occasional pop and crackle. Remove from oven and let cool slightly, about 10 minutes. (There will be more popping and crackling as they cool and shrink a touch.)

Overhead view of roasting peanuts
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

Once cooled for 10 minutes, remove the peanut skins by using a clean kitchen towel to rub the peanuts vigorously until the skins come off in bits. Transfer to a colander set over a large bowl or tray and shake until most of the skins are removed. 

Shaking peanuts
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

Discard the skins and transfer the peanuts to a blender jar and add 1 cup broth. Blend on high speed until creamy, about 1 minute (some grit may remain). You will have about 2 cups of the pureed peanuts; transfer to a large bowl and set aside. Wash the blender.

Overhead view of creating peanut paste
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

In the now-clean blender, make the stew mix by blending the roughly chopped red onion, bell pepper; tomatoes, half of Scotch bonnet or habanero, if using, and 1 cup broth. Blend on high speed until finely puréed, about 30 seconds; set aside.

Two image collage of creating stew base in blender
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

In a large bowl, combine 1 tablespoon salt, ginger, garlic, thyme, pepper, and 1 tablespoon oil. Add the chicken and beef and rub well to season the meat; set aside.

Two collage of overhead view of marinating chicken
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons (30ml) oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the sauced meat, and cook, turning occasionally, until browned all over, 10 to 15 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer meat and any bits of ginger and garlic to a bowl.

Overhead view of meat cooking
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons (30ml) oil to the pot and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion cut into 1/2 inch pieces, bay leaves, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring until onion softens, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 2 cups broth, stirring with a wooden spoon to remove any bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the remaining Scotch bonnet or habanero half, if using, and bring to a boil, uncovered. Stir in the puréed stew mix, and bring to a boil before reducing heat as needed to maintain a simmer and cook, partly covered, for 30 minutes.

Four image collage of building stew base
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

Carefully remove 1 cup of the stew broth and whisk into the reserved peanut paste until well combined. Return the mixture to the pot, stir well, and bring to a boil before returning the meat to the pot, add 3 cups of broth, and season with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Stir well, and return to a boil before reducing heat to low and simmer, partially covered, adjusting heat as needed to maintain simmer and stirring often, until meat is tender, 60 to 90 minutes. Taste and add dried pepper to taste, if desired.

Four image collage of building peanut stew
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

Add carrots, stir, and continue to cook until the carrots are just softened, about 8 minutes. Add bok choy and the sliced onion. Cover and cook until the bok choy leaves soften and begin to wilt, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the lid, stir and cook until the stew is thick and creamy and onion is just softened, about 5 minutes. Let sit off heat to cool and thicken slightly, about 10 minutes. Adjust the stew’s consistency with additional broth to desired texture, if needed, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the pepper half and serve soup with plain rice, Nigerian plantains, or your preferred flatbread—I love Indian rotis and naans.

Four image collage of finishing soup
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

Special Equipment

Colander or sieve, Large pot or Dutch oven, Blender

Notes

You can use 1 cup of already roasted peanuts or 1 cup of unsweetened peanut butter and start recipe at step 5. 

In place of the Nigerian red dry pepper, you can use cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes.

You can use other proteins, such as fried tofu, in place of the chicken and beef, and add additional vegetables such as sweet potatoes, roasted mushrooms, plantains, and/or greens; adjust cooking times as necessary.

Make-Ahead and Storage

You can make the peanut blend (step 5) and stew base (Step 9) ahead and refrigerate them in separate, airtight containers for up to 5 days. The finished soup can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Reheat gently on the stovetop or in the microwave. 

Turn Applesauce Into a Savory, Spicy Delight With These Unexpected Ingredients

This savory applesauce is full of apple flavor and celebrates my love of sweet, sour, and spicy—all in one bite. Pair it with roast pork, chicken, good cheese, or even pancakes.

Side view of applesauce
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

I love applesauce now but I didn’t always. It wasn’t a part of my childhood in Nigeria, and it wasn’t until my early twenties (while studying geology in the UK) that I first had applesauce—that first experience was with jarred Bramley applesauce paired with roast pork for Christmas dinner. Later, when I moved to the Netherlands for work, I discovered that applemoes (applesauce) is a table essential that most Dutch people develop a love for at a young age. It’s served with everything—pancakes, boiled and fried potatoes, sausages, and even chicken, and no children's menu at a restaurant is complete without it. 

I was determined not only to learn to enjoy applesauce but also how to make it. My conversion to the ranks of applesauce fans stemmed from my three young children who encountered it often when we lived in the Netherlands, particularly my son who went to a Dutch kinderopvang (kindergarten). At birthday parties, Pannenkoekenhuizen (pancake houses) and restaurants, school trips to orchards, and weekend activities, my world of apples and possibilities expanded—I tried applesauce with mayo and fries, pancakes, meats, and more. Back in my kitchen I explored new recipes with apples for cakes and bakes, toddies, tarts, curds, and—you guessed it—sauce. 

Overhead view of apple sauce in a bowl
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

The resulting applesauce that I’ve grown to love and make at home is a thick, brown, speckled sauce, full of apple flavor. It celebrates my love of sweet, sour, and spicy notes combined in one bite. It’s balanced, comforting, and decidedly savory enough to pair with a variety of meals but it can also be enjoyed all on its own as a snack. I particularly like it served with cheese and roast pork. Here are a few tips to make my ideal version of applesauce at home.

The Best Apples for Applesauce

In theory, applesauce can be made with any type of apple. They’re just chopped and cooked down to mush, so how much does the apple variety really matter? But this assumption is wrong. To me, selecting a variety of apple that is both sweet and tart is important for applesauce that can be paired with a variety of spices. My preferred apples for this applesauce recipe are Cripps Pink apples, also sold as Pink Lady apples. A popular winter apple, this variety is my favorite for eating out-of-hand and for cooking—they have crisp, firm yet juicy flesh and when cooked down into applesauce, a refreshing sweet-tart flavor that pairs well with the warming spices and aromatics . 

Hit a Wide Range of Flavor Notes with Warm Spices and Savory Aromatics

While the Dutch applesauce I had grown to love was simple, with no seasonings except for an occasional sprinkle of cinnamon, I prefer to add a variety of warm spices and aromatics to my applesauce to create an unexpected savory and complex flavor. The apples are enhanced with warming spices such as cinnamon, coriander seeds, ginger, and chiles; aromatics like red onions (use shallots if you like) and garlic; and acid from apple cider vinegar and fresh lemon juice. Angostura bitters add a hint of bitterness and complexity, echoing some of the warm and spicy flavors of cinnamon and cloves.

This recipe calls for toasted mustard seeds, which lend some spice to the mix. When cracked and mixed with liquid, as in this recipe, mustard seeds become pungent. If you don’t like the classic funky aroma (think kala namak, a.k.a. black salt), leave them whole. If you decide to crack them in a mortar and pestle, know that this is an art—one I have mustared :) over the years! Place your nondominant hand over the top of the mortar, leaving a slot between your thumb and forefinger for the pestle;this will secure the mortar in place. Then grind, applying pressure in a circular motion to ensure all of the small seeds are cracked in the process. 

Mash the Applesauce Any Way You Choose

Cripps pink apples hold together well when fully cooked so you won’t be able to tell when the apples are done just by looking at the cooked mixture. The best way to check to see whether the apples are fully tender is to press a few apple pieces against the side of the pot with a spoon or spatula; when fully cooked, the apples will turn mushy and fall apart easily. At this point they are ready to mash. For a chunkier applesauce like I prefer, use a potato masher or the back or a wooden spoon to break the apple pieces into a chunky applesauce. Or, if you prefer applesauce with a silkier texture, transfer the apple mixture to a food processor or blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Just make sure to remove the cinnamon stick before blending.

Side view of applesauce
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

What I especially enjoy about this recipe is that you can adjust the seasonings to suit your preferences and still end up with delicious applesauce. Serve with cheese or meats, bake it into savory tarts and pies, or enjoy it all on its own, just like I do.

In a large Dutch oven or large heavy-bottomed pot, heat 2 tablespoons butter until melted, then add cinnamon stick and coriander seeds, and toast, stirring constantly, until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Add onion, jalapeño, garlic, ginger, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion just softens, about 2 minutes. Add sugar, stir, and continue to cook, uncovered, until sugar is dissolved, about 30 seconds.

Four image collage of cooking spices in pot
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Remove pot from heat and let cool slightly for 2 minutes. Stir in the apple cider, apple cider vinegar, Angostura bitters, if using, and mustard seeds. Return the pot to medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, stir in apples, then lower and adjust heat as needed to maintain a simmer. Cover pot and simmer until apples are tender and liquid has thickened enough that the base of the pot is dryish when you pull a spoon across the bottom, 30 to 35 minutes. (Test the apples texture by pressing apple pieces against the side of the pot with a spoon or spatula; when fully cooked, the apples will turn mushy and fall apart easily.)

Two image collage of cooking apples
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Taste applesauce and adjust the flavor to taste by adding brown sugar for more sweetness; vinegar for more acidity; and/or jalapeño for more heat, if needed. If adding ingredients to taste, continue to cook for 1 additional minute after the additions, then remove from heat. Discard the cinnamon stick.

Two image collage of adding sugar and removing cinnamon stick
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Depending on your preference for consistency, mash the applesauce with a potato masher, blend with an immersion blender, or purée part (or all) in small batches in a blender or food processor. 

Overhead view of mashing apples
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Return mashed or puréed applesauce to the pot, cover, and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until heated through and the flavors meld, about 10 minutes.

Overhead view of applesauce in pot
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold. 

Overhead view of adding butter and lemon
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Special Equipment

Kitchen scale, potato masher, immersion blender, or food processor

Notes

If you can’t find Cripps Pink, you can substitute Cortland, Honeycrisp, Fuji, Jazz, Gala, Braeburn, or Jonagold apples and add one or two Granny Smiths for tartness. 

You can use a serrano chile or a Thai green chile in place of the jalapeño, varying the amount to suit your taste. When mincing the chile, you can leave the seeds and ribs in if you like your applesauce spicy, or remove them to temper the heat. I recommend using gloves when handling chiles.

Variations

Sometimes, I fold in pickled red onion slices and diced pickled red or green jalapeños after it is cooked for color, flavor, and textural contrast.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Once cooled to room temperature, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 1 year. To use from frozen, thaw overnight in the fridge. Serve cold or at room temperature, or transfer to a saucepan and gently reheat over low heat.

Make These Creamy Nigerian Stewed Beans for the Legume Lovers in Your Life

Ewa riro is full of soft, creamy beans stewed in a thick slightly sweet and savory sauce of red peppers, palm oil, and crayfish.

Overhead view of Ewa Riro
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

My food journey fascinates me. My love of ewa riro, Nigerian stewed beans, did not start in my Nigerian home. No, it started with Heinz sweet baked beans, and even that took years for me to like—it wasn't until I was nine years old that I had any interest in food at all. (The meal that converted me to a lifelong food lover, a sweet baked beans lover, and then, yes, a Nigerian ewa riro lover, was a meal at a Wimpy’s in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1985 while on holiday with my dad and older sister. Life…is strange!)

Today I can't imagine not being passionate for stewed beans made Nigerian-style in a sweet pepper–and–palm oil sauce. The Yorubas from Nigeria’s southwest call this dish ewa riro, “ewa” meaning “beans,” and “riro” meaning “mixed” or “stirred.”

Overhead view of Ewa Riro beans
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Ewa riro is full of soft, creamy beans in a thick slightly sweet and savory sauce of red peppers, palm oil, and crayfish. There is a range of possible textures, from thin and souplike to thick (and even thicker), depending on whether you leave the beans whole once cooked, or crush or puree some portion of the beans for a thicker, creamier version. In all cases, the beans should be soft, falling apart easily when pressed between two fingers.

Side view of pressing beans
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine


It was a dish I began to enjoy (post our Edinburgh trip) either with dodo (fried plantains), fried fish, garri (cassava granules, either sprinkled over the top for a crunchy, sour contrast to the soft and creamy beans, or soaked to make a cereal of sorts with water, ice, and sugar cubes). I loved the contrast between saucy beans and cold, sweet garri.

The base sauce is a blend of onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers, and hot peppers, cooked down and, if desired, seasoned with ground crayfish, an essential seasoning across regional cuisines in Nigeria (read more about ground crayfish in my article on essential Nigerian pantry ingredients). Crayfish, actually small dried shrimp and prawns, bring sweet, fermented funk—like Thai fish sauce—to Nigerian soups, stews, sauces, and more. Sometimes, people substitute dried fish or smoked fish. You can skip the crayfish if you want, or, if you like, you can add a teaspoon or two of ground seaweed or nori flakes for a similar sea-salty flavor. You can serve this the way I enjoyed it growing up: with dodo, fried fish, and either dried garri sprinkled over the top or soaked garri on the side. You can also eat it with plain, boiled rice; fried yam, sweet potatoes, or potatoes; soft, white bread like Agege bread or milk bread; and more. 

Side view of Ewa riro in a bowl
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

The one thing I don't ever eat ewa riro with is meat. In our house, cooked beans were on rotation twice a week: Wednesdays and Fridays. I’m not sure if there is a reason for eating beans on Friday, but in many Christian Nigerian homes, beans with fish (and no meat) on Fridays is a staple. To this day, I cannot eat these Nigerian-style beans with meat, be it beef, goat, poultry, or any other kind. I am happy to eat ewa riro on its own, though, and if there’s fish, I'm happy to have that alongside.

In a large pot, cover beans with cold water by at least 2 inches. Cover and leave to soak for at least 4 and up to 12 hours.

Overhead view of beans soaking in water
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Drain the beans, then rinse with cold water. Return to pot, top with at least 2 inches of fresh cold water, and stir in 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until beans are soft enough to squish between your fingers but still retain their shape, about 1 hour (note that cooking times can vary depending on age and source of beans); top up with additional boiling water at any point if level gets too low. Drain beans, reserving the cooking liquid, and set aside.

Two image collage of checking and draining beans
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Meanwhile, in a blender or food processor, process the roughly chopped onions, shepherd or bell peppers, tomatoes, and 1/2 cup (120ml) water on high until a smooth puree forms, stopping to scrape down sides as necessary. Set vegetable purée aside.

Two image collage of onion and red peppers in a food processor
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

In a large heavy-bottomed pan, heat palm oil over medium to high heat until lightly smoking and fragrant. Add thinly sliced onion, season generously with salt, and cook, stirring often, until onion is softened but not browned, about 3 minutes. Stir in 1/3 cup ground crayfish, if using, and continue to cook, stirring, until aromatic and the crayfish fries slightly, 2 to 3 minutes.

Two image collage of onions cooking in palm oil and crawfish being added
Serious Eat / Maureen Celestine

Add Scotch bonnet or habanero pepper (if using whole, add the entire pepper; if using minced, start with 1/4 teaspoon, then add more to taste). Continue to cook, stirring often, until chile pepper has softened slightly, 2 to 3 minutes.

Stir in reserved vegetable purée, then increase heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium, partially cover, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly and a light web of oil droplets form on the surface, about 10 minutes.

Side view of adding vegetable puree to onion mixture
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Stir in cooked beans and the remaining 1/3 cup ground crayfish, if using; cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Season with salt and red dry pepper, if desired.

Two image collage of adding beans and crawfish to pot
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

At this point, you can either continue to the next step, or, if a thicker texture is desired, use a wooden spoon to mash some of the beans against the side of the pot or an immersion blender to purée a portion of the beans; how much you mash or purée, if it all, will determine how creamy the final dish is.

Side view of smashing beans
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Continue to cook, covered, stirring and scraping the bottom every once or twice to prevent scorching, until the stew thickens some more and begins to dry at the bottom, about 20 minutes. (If you prefer the beans looser, either don't cook for as long or stir in some of the reserved bean liquid in 1/4 cup increments until you reach your desired consistency). Remove from heat and let stand to allow flavors to develop, about 10 minutes, then serve.

Overhead view of finished stew
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Special Equipment

Food processor or countertop blender

Notes

For the beans:

  • If you don’t have time to soak the beans overnight, use this quick-soak method: Put the rinsed beans in a large pot, add enough water to cover by a couple inches, and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Drain, rinse, then continue by cooking beans as directed.
  • For a quicker method, drained and rinsed canned black-eyed peas can be used instead of dried. You’ll need three 15-ounce cans to replace the dried beans called for i this recipe.    
  • Feel free to substitute other cowpeas or other types of beans such as navy beans or cannellini
  • Red shepherd peppers are sweet, long, thin-skinned Italian peppers, similar to Nigerian tatashe peppers. They have great flavor and bring a deep red color to jollof rice. If you can't find them, red bell peppers can be used instead.

Ground crayfish is made from krill, shrimps, and small prawns that are often sun-dried and smoked. You can find it whole or ground in many West African stores and online. You can replace ground crayfish with an equal volume of dried prawns or shrimp, which are available in Chinese or Asian markets. 

While not traditional, you can substitute the fermented, smoky, seafood essence of crayfish with  ground katsuobushi or bonito flakes or nori flakes—they add a different but enjoyable flavor if you don't have the ground crayfish available. If using one of these other ingredients, start with half the amount of crayfish, and adjust to taste.

Nigerian red dry pepper is made from ground chiles. Cayenne pepper is the closest substitute. You can also use chile flakes, gochugaru, or other ground chiles you like.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Make the plain beans up to 3 days ahead, separating the cooked beans from the bean liquid. Refrigerate both for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 3 months; thaw overnight in the refrigerator if frozen.

Refrigerate the cooked, stewed beans in airtight containers for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.

Nigerian Food 101: Recipes to Get You Started

An introduction to cooking Nigerian food at home.

Nigerian 101 Dish roundup
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

I grew up in Warri, on the southern coast of Nigeria, eating, drinking, and enjoying Nigerian food. While I loved our food, I hardly thought of it as worthy of celebration, and boy, did I take it for granted until it was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t until the late 1990s, when I was in my twenties at university in England, that I understood food as more than eating―not just as a means to fill my belly, but as a way to soothe my soul, connect with home, and experience a sense of belonging. 

By the time I moved back home to Warri after graduation, my appreciation for Nigerian food had grown. And still, I had no idea that edible traces of Nigerian cuisine existed across the Black Atlantic, throughout the Caribbean islands and Latin America, as a result of the transatlantic slave trade. 

Overhead view of a serving of beef stew
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

I moved to The Netherlands for work as an exploration geologist in 2007. A few years later, in 2009, my Brazilian supervisor, Santiago, shared a story about Afro-Brazilian acarajé—a fritter that is a direct descendant of the Nigerian bean fritter known as akara. That singular conversation opened up a world of food history, heritage, legacy, and research that continues to fascinate me. It’s motivated me to unravel, unearth, and document all the ways we, as human beings, are similar—not just people of African descent, but also other cultures and cuisines where there are connections, be they geographical or based upon shared histories (e.g. Nigeria and India through British colonialism). 

With that discovery, I had numerous conversations about connections through food. These conversations also had me looking inward―at home, to our cuisine―trying to understand who we, as Nigerians, are and how we eat. Broadly speaking, most of the foods we eat on a daily basis are nationally recognized dishes with regional variations. There are recipes and ingredients with clear origins from one part of the country that are part of the daily lives of Nigerians all over the country, so national seems only fitting to describe them. 

Different regions have versions of the same dish. For instance, egusi soup (also known as agushi, egushi, egunsi) is beloved across the country. The differences in regional versions include how the egusi seeds are prepared: raw or toasted, dry-milled or wet-ground, light and creamy or thick with curd. The greens, herbs, and seasonings used are also unique to specific localities, but even with these different ways of preparing the soup, it's always instantly recognizable with its signature focus on the creamy, nutty flavor of the melon seed. You’ll find this true for many dishes across Nigeria—they take slightly different shape in each place while retaining their essential character.

How a Nigerian Meal Is Structured

Nigerian food culture doesn’t feature multiple courses. The main dish is usually the star of the show, and depending on the time of day, could be anything from akara or moin moin to rice, beans, and cooked vegetables with stew. A lunchtime meal at home might look like rice and stew with dodo and efo, or some combination; or it might be a soup with nuts, seeds, and vegetables served with a swallow, like eba or lafun, along with zobo or other drinks. At a party, you might begin with a plate of small chops like puff puff, then enjoy some jollof or fried rice with moin moin and dodo.

For ease, I’ve grouped the recipes here into fritters and fried doughs; swallows; soups, stews, and sauces; rice; cooked vegetables; snacks; and drinks. They capture the framework of our cuisine, and the majority of the 200-plus million people in Nigeria would recognize most of them in one form or another. Fresh fruit and vegetables, in abundance all year round, are also the go-to for people wanting a sweet bite.

Overhead view of all the essential ingredients needed in a pantry to cook a range of Nigerian dishes. Ingredients range from spices to roots to tinned food and fresh spices, organized in a neat grid
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

I must say though, these recipes are just a handful of the hundreds of Nigerian dishes that exist and are living and thriving across the country. Still, they give you some insight into what Nigerians eat; when, where, and how; from north to south and east to west. Enjoy the range our palates embrace—sweet, salty, smoky, umami, spicy, and everything in between.

Fritters and Fried Doughs

Fried foods are extremely popular across Nigeria, for both meals and snacks. Made from fresh and fermented batters and doughs, you'll find them on the streets or at home. However, not all fried foods are of the deep-fried variety. In the shallow-fried foods category, there's masa, crunchy fermented rice cakes cooked in a special pan called a kasko; they can also be made with corn, wheat, semolina, and other cereals. 

Close up look of interior texture of Masa
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Puff puff is one of many deep-fried, golden brown Nigerian treats. There are also buns leavened with baking powder instead of yeast, and several types of rolls, from fish to egg rolls—similar to Scotch eggs in that the boiled eggs are dough-wrapped and deep-fried. And of course, there’s akara, made from beans, which is as much a Saturday morning home breakfast as it is a street classic everyday of the week.

Swallows

Swallows are daily essentials for many Nigerians. They are soft, cooked doughs, not designed to be eaten on their own but instead paired with soups and stews. Swallows can be made with a single ingredient or a series of ingredients combined, like cereals, roots, tubers, and vegetables. 

Swallows are made in two different ways: The first is by boiling, then working the cooked ingredient(s) into a soft, sticky dough (think mashed potatoes but stickier and stretchier, though only those made with tapioca starch have that mochi-like stretch); the second is by cooking fine and coarse flours or meals in water into cohesive doughs, much like polenta or mashed potatoes without butter or seasoning. In the north of Nigeria, cereals like rice, millet, Guinea corn (sorghum), and corn are the most common ingredients in swallows; in the south, east, and west, swallows tend to be made from root crops and vegetables like yams, plantains, sweet potatoes, and breadfruit.

Lafun in egusi soup
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Eba and lafun are two swallows made from cassava meal. Despite having this ingredient in common, they are completely dissimilar, both in appearance and taste, due to their differences in processing. While eba has a touch of grit, lafun is super smooth, thanks to the gelatinized quality of its pure starches. With the exception of eba imoyo—a specialty of the Eko people of Lagos—which is cooked in a seafood stock, most swallows are cooked in water, and are neither sweetened nor salted so that the flavor of the ingredient shines through.

Soups, Stews, and Sauces

Soups, stews, and sauces are the mainstay of Nigerian cuisine, from light drinking broths like pepper soup to thick stews (which we call soups in Nigeria) like egusi and efo-riro and stew, a specific red dish commonly made with a puréed base of tomatoes, onions, and peppers, of which there are many variations, including obe ata. With a pot of stew or soup, there are so many possibilities, and you could put a meal together fairly quickly. Sauces are a mix of meat curries—similar to Japanese or Korean curries—to ofada sauce, an Indigenous red sauce with bite-sized pieces of meat, lots of iru (fermented seeds), and a sweet-hot pepper base. 

Overhead view of efro stew
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Most soups and stews typically begin with a seasoned stock and a variety of plant, seafood, and animal proteins. This seasoned base is thickened with ground leafy vegetables, legumes, gums, nuts, and seeds. Soups tend to be flavored with unrefined red palm oil; fish powder or dried and ground crayfish; and stock cubes for umami, which altogether deliver complex flavors. Traditional stews are typically made with a red tomato-pepper base, but can also be made in a similar fashion to soups, or with dried thyme, vegetable oil, and a British colonial-era seasoning like curry powder. 

These are eaten with a variety of dishes—rice, bread, or swallows, and cooked vegetables like yams, plantains, or sweet potatoes that are boiled, grilled, roasted, or fried. Stew can be a dip for fried foods, or more liberally spooned over rice and beans. Soups can be eaten on their own or paired with swallows. Eba and egusi are personal favorites, as is lafun with both efo and obe ata.

Rice

You’ll find rice everywhere in Nigerian cuisine—at home, as street food, and at parties and celebrations. Most rice dishes can be paired with an assortment of sides, from white rice and stew with beans to dodo and jollof rice, or fried rice with moin moin and coleslaw. Jollof rice and Nigerian fried rice dishes are particularly saved for special occasions.

Nigerians love rice—long-grain rice especially. And here, it isn’t a side dish. Instead, it's the main: aromatic varieties similar to Thai Jasmine are used in swallows, and converted or parboiled rice is served with stew or soups or used to make jollof and Nigerian fried rice.

Overhead view of moin moin on leaves
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

My favorite types of rice are the indigenous, red-streaked varieties of oryza glaberrima, especially those from Abakaliki (east), and Ekpoma (south). I love them for their sweet flavor and fragrance when the rice is simply boiled, but also when it’s made into coconut rice (with fresh, homemade coconut milk)—that’s a top-10 in my taste memory. There’s also ofada rice, which is fermented and processed rice that fills the air with the most blue-cheesy pungence during the cooking process, none of which interferes with the beautiful, complex, sweet flavors on the plate and the palate. It’s served with ofada sauce.

Cooked Vegetables and Legumes

There are so many vegetables that take the form of a main or side. They are boiled, fried, roasted, cooked into thick stews, and more, from plantains used at all stages (green and unripe to yellow-black and ripe, and even over-ripe) to yams, taro, and both regular and sweet potatoes. Fried plantains, known as dodo, are always a crowd pleaser, as are fried yams. Set aside some stew to dip it in, plus some fried eggs to the side, and you have a quick and satisfying meal.

Golden fried plantains in a spider
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Legumes are simply cooked and stewed, but also made into wraps, similar to tamales. Beans are often soaked, skinned, and pureed for dishes like akara, but are also scooped into ramekins or wrapped in broad leaves.

Snacks

There are a myriad of snacks, from fresh fruit and vegetables—coconuts, corn, carrots, and cucumber are popular snacks next to meaty dishes like suya—to meat pies, which are parcels of dough filled with seasoned minced meat and baked to perfection; and chin chin, a snack of tiny cookie-cracker-crunchy bites, made from deep-fried, seasoned dough, and enjoyed by the handful all year round, but especially at Christmas.

Drinks

Nigerians serve a host of both hot and cold drinks. There’s zobo (which you might already be acquainted with as hibiscus tea), soft drinks, non-alcoholic malt drinks, alcoholic beers and spirits, bitters, shandies, palm wine, and kunu, a variety of milky beverages made from tubers and cereals.

Moin Moin (Nigerian Steamed Bean Cake)

A tender cake of black-eyed peas that can be steamed in ramekins or packages formed out of sturdy moin moin leaves.

Overhead view of moin moin, unwrapped and wrapped, and in ramekins
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Moin moin, or moi moi, is a steamed Nigerian dish made of puréed seasoned black-eyed peas. If you’ve had crunchy, fried akara, moin moin is its soft and tender steamed sibling; both rely on a base of skinned peas. Moin moin is steamed in a variety of vessels including special aluminum cups with flat saucers for lids, ramekins, repurposed evaporated milk tins, and in moin moin leaves, the sturdy leaves of the Thaumatococcus daniellii plant (ewe eran in Yoruba and uma leaves in Igbo), which impart a sweet flavor and a light vegetal aroma. 

The peas are prepared in an identical manner to akara. They are first soaked to soften the skins and help separate them from the rest of the bean. Then, they’re briefly pulsed in a blender to roughly break up the peas, which makes the final removal of the skins even easier. At this point, the peas are soaked a second time to soften them further and then fully blended with onions, peppers, water or stock, and sometimes oil to form a bean purée. 

Overhead view of moin moin made in ramekins
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Moin moin is typically formed into its signature pyramid shape by wrapping the filling in moin moin leaves. This can be a tricky assembly process to learn at first, as the uncooked purée is loose. My instructions in the recipe show how to properly form the moi moi using leaves, but I also include an easier method of simply steaming the moi moi in ramekins, which can then be served in the cups or unmolded onto a plate. If you do use the leaf wrappers, you can serve them in the leaves on a plate. While most of the filling stays in the center, some of it inevitably escapes and becomes trapped in between the folds of the leaves; those trapped bits are the most delicious bites. 

Overhead view of moin moin on leaves
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Served at a range of temperatures from hot to room temperature, moin moin is great on its own, plain or with add-ins like boiled eggs, canned fish like tuna or sardines, corned beef, and vegetables like carrots and bell peppers. It makes for a popular breakfast, served with sweet milky pap (fermented cornstarch), sweet custard, or oatmeal. Additionally, it’s often paired with rice; some of the best celebrations and parties will serve up plates of jollof rice, moin moin, salad, and dodo.

In a medium bowl, cover black-eyed peas with 2 inches water. Let soak at room temperature for at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour (this short soaking time helps loosen the skins without overly softening the peas). 

Overhead view of blacked peas in water
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Drain peas then transfer to a countertop blender or food processor along with 1 quart (945ml) water. Pulse to slightly break up peas, about ten 1-second pulses. Pour into a medium bowl and let stand at room temperature for up to 30 minutes (skins will float to top as they separate from the peas).

Two image collage of peas pulsed in a blender and then peas skins removed
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Set a colander over a large bowl. Slowly pour soaking water into the colander while using a free hand to keep the peas in the soaking bowl; the goal is to pour off as much of the floating skins as possible while leaving the peas behind. Pick out any peas that landed in the colander and return them to the bowl, then discard skins and soaking water. Cover peas with water, and repeat process until peas are nearly free of skins (you may need to gently massage the peas with your hands to separate any stubborn skins).

Overhead view of peas with skins mostly removed
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Transfer skinned peas to the bowl. Add 2 cups (475ml) water and let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes (this will further soften the peas for blending).

Overhead view of peas with skins with removed
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Drain peas then transfer to a countertop blender or food processor. Add onion, bell pepper, stock, salt, and habanero or Scotch bonnet pepper (if using). Blend, scraping down sides occasionally with a flexible spatula, until a smooth purée has formed, about 3 to 4 minutes (if you rub the purée between your fingers, you shouldn’t see any recognizable pea chunks). Transfer purée to a large bowl, add oil, and whisk until well combined.

OVerhead view of puree in a bowl with a whisk
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

To Make Moin Moin in Leaves: Using a sharp knife, trim stalks from bottom of moin moin leaves. Arrange stalks in an even layer at the bottom of a large pot. Alternatively, skip the stalks and place a steaming rack instead. Cover with 2 leaves, to form a bed for steaming. Fill pot with 1/2 inch of hot water, or just to the top of the rack and set aside.

Overhead view of pouring hot water into moin moin leaves
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

In one hand, hold a moin moin leaf vertically with the shiny side up. Set a second leaf on top of the first so that the base of their midribs meet and the second leaf is angled a little less than 45 degrees from the first leaf (it should look like the leaves are the hands of a clock, joined at their base with the first leaf pointing to 12 o'clock and the second leaf pointing to just past 1 o'clock).

Overhead view of a hand holding two moin moin leaves
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Using both hands and starting from the first leaf, roll the leaves to form a cone with the base of the midribs at the bottom point and open at the top. Fold the bottom 2 inches of the cone back and up to seal the base.

Four image collage of rolling moin moin leaves into a cone and folding the bottom up
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Holding the cone with its open top facing up (and securing the folded bottom with one hand), spoon 1/2 cup (115g) moin moin purée into cone. Set an egg quarter in the center of the purée, then cover with 1/4 cup (58g) purée.

Overhead view of spooning puree into moin moin leaves
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

To close the cone, use your fingers to push a section at the top of the leaf cone in so it lays flat against the surface of the purée, then fold a second adjacent leaf section in over the first one. Fold the remaining excess leaf back and down so it meets the folded-up point at the base (they may not touch, or they may overlap, depending on the size of the leaves). Set the sealed leaf cone down on the bed of stems in the pot with the tucked-in ends on the underside to hold them in place (you may need to stack the cones on top of one another). Repeat with remaining leaves and purée; you should have 7 filled moin moin.

Four image collage of folding moin moin leaves closed over the mixture and placing into steamer pot
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Place 2 or 3 additional moin moin leaves on top of the cones, cover the pot, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and steam until the leaves go from bright to dull green and moin moin is aromatic, about 40 minutes. Alternatively, a cake tester or skewer inserted into the thickest part of the moin moin should come out dry. Be sure to check water level every 10 to 15 minutes, topping up with more boiling water from the sides as needed to keep the pot from going dry. Transfer cooked moin moin to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes to allow the moin moin to firm up.

Two image collage of overhead view of moin moin in a pot before and after being covered with a leaf
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

To Make Moin Moin in Ramekins: Lightly grease the interiors of 7 4-ounce ramekins with oil. Spoon purée into prepared ramekins until each is half full. Place an egg quarter, cut-side up, in the center of each ramekin, then cover with remaining purée until ramekins are about three-quarters full (the purée will rise as it cooks).

Two image collage of overhead view of moin moin mixture in ramekins in steamer before and after an egg is placed inside
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Fill a large pot with 4-inches water. Place steamer rack inside, position filled ramekins on top of rack, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until moin moin form domes on top, are firm to the touch, and spring back when pressed, about 30 minutes. Be sure to check water level occasionally, topping up with more boiling water from the sides as needed to keep the pot from going dry. Transfer ramekins to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes to allow the moin moin to firm up. 

Overhead view of cooked moin moin in ramekins in steamer pot
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Serve in leaves or in ramekins; if you prefer to unmold the moin moin from ramekins, run a butter knife around the edges to loosen, set a serving plate on top, then flip right side up. Serve on its own, with salad, soaked garri, or sweetened oatmeal, or alongside jollof rice or Nigerian fried rice.

Two image collage of overhead view of moin moin prepare in ramekins and leaves
Serious Eats / Maureen Celestine

Special Equipment

Countertop blender or food processor, seven 4-ounce ramekins (optional), steaming rack (optional)

Notes

If you like, you can mix 1 cup total (by volume) of drained canned tuna, canned corned beef, cooked diced vegetables like carrots, green beans, bell pepper, and corn, or raw prawns into the batter. 

Moin moin leaves are available fresh and frozen at African markets and online. You can substitute with banana or plantain leaves, cut into 8-inch by 12-inch rectangles. Be sure to heat the leaves first to prevent them from splitting across the ribs.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Stored in an airtight container, moin moin kept in leaves or ramekins can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 1 month.

To reheat moin moin, refer to Step 6 for moin moin in leaves or Step 13 for moin moin in ramekins for steaming instructions. Arrange moin moin in pot, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low heat and cook until completely warmed through, about 10 minutes if refrigerated or 18 minutes if frozen.