Delta cuisine is as rich and as varied as the Delta region itself. Ogbono soup is a fine example of a local dish with many variations, all of which taste amazing!
The main ingredient of this soup is ground mango seeds. Mango seeds give this stew its characteristic thickness when they are cooked in a mixture of palm oil and water.
I make this version ogbono soup with dried catfish and crayfish which means its ready to eat in about 30 minutes. The key to this recipe is to stir, stir and stir! I like my soup very thick, but you can adjust the thickness to taste by adding water.
Scotch bonnet peppers are used in a quantity that adds flavour rather than heat. If you don't mind a bit of heat, then I would recommend using a whole scotch bonnet pepper. if you like your food even hotter, than its a free country - add as much as you like!! Palm oil gives this dish a deep orange colour and a unique flavour.
Hing powder and green scallion tips can take the place of onion, if you are sensitive to onion. Hing comes from the resin of fennel plants and has a strong sulphur odor that fades to a pleasant flavour during cooking. A definite must for this stew. Dried crayfish also give an added depth of flavour. If you haven't eaten or cooked with dried crayfish before though, its worth noting that dried crayfish has a very strong, pungent aroma!! If you aren't super keen on fish definitely leave them out.
Bitter leaf is a herb that is quite robust and mildly bitter in taste. It comes in dried form, and it is soaked, alongside the smoked catfish in boiling water for at least 20 minutes before using. I like it a lot but add just a little to my version of ogbono soup, as the soup is smooth. If you cant get your hands on bitter leaf, you could add a fresh 'bitter' lettuce like watercress or lambs lettuce. It would would give a similar effect.
All of the ingredients in this soup, like crayfish, bitter leaf, mango seed and catfish are widely available at ethnic food stores and even on amazon.
You can buy mango seed already ground, but I prefer to grind my own. Ground mango seed loses moisture fast. The drier it is the harder it is to get the ogbono mix to thicken, so its best to grind it just before using. I do not have a spice grinder, so blend my mango seeds twice (first time to break the seeds into 'flour' and second time blend the whole mixture halfway through cooking) to get the consistency right for this soup.
Here is what some of the ingredients look like;
Here is what blending the mango seed twice does to the texture of the soup;
15 minute simmer, before blending;
The great thing about Nigerian cooking is the recipes are so flexible. You can throw in any protein of your choice and really make any dish your own. If you wanted to make this dish vegan, a smoked version of tofu would work instead of fish, fried beforehand. If you prefer meat, I would recommend a mixture of bone in goat, tripe or boneless beef cubes.
Not sure why but certain foods just 'go together'. Like fish and chips, curry and rice........Ogbono soup goes well with a big dollop of starchy carbohydrate....pounded yam, starch or cassava. Myself, I don't eat pure starch too often. Here I used 2/3 pounded yam to 1/3 starch..
If you decide to give this recipe a go, share your thoughts, pictures and recipe tweaks. Good luck!
Notes before we get cooking!
FODMAP red, amber green rating reflects the total amount of Fructose (FTS), Lactose (L), Mannitol (M), Sorbitol (S), Galactooligosaccharide (GOS) and Oligos Fructans (FTA) in the TOTAL volume/weight of the ingredients used in the recipe. Grey means that no FODMAP rating exists for the listed ingredient..yet!.
This recipe makes approximately 2-3 servings of ogbono soup (1 serving pictured). If this is too much, you could half the recipe. I don't store this soup in the freezer, but make it fresh each time as it only takes 30 mins to make.
I'm a big fan of simple recipes that don't need fancy equipment. For this recipe it does help to have a blender and a big pan with a lid.
Soak the dried catfish and bitter leaf in boiling hot water. Set aside.
Grind the mango seeds to a fine, flour like texture. Set aside. If you do not have a grinder a blender is fine. Step 6 will give you the desired soup texture.
Grind the crayfish, scotch bonnet pepper and set aside.
Gently warm the palm oil in a pan until it is dissolved. Add the ground mango seed.
Stir the mango seed oil mixture for about 2 minutes. The mango seed should start to dissolve.
Add water and stir, constantly for 5-10 minutes. The mixture should start to thicken.
If you have grains of mango seed still visible in the mixture, you can transfer the mixture to a blender now to make it smooth.
Add the crayfish, scotch bonnet pepper and hing (or onion) powder and cook the mixture further, constantly stirring, until the desired thickness is achieved.
Drain and rinse the catfish and bitter leaf. Add to the pot.
In the meantime, put a separate pan on a medium/high flame. Pour in your desired starch ( I used 1/3 corn starch to 2/3 pounded yam). 1.5 cups of mixture yields enough for 3 people.
Make a well in the middle of the powder. Add 1/2 cup of hot water, stir vigorously. At the start the mixture will be lumpy and difficult to stir. Keep adding water, 1/4 a cup at a time, stirring and working out any lumps with the back of your spoon. This takes about 10 mins. Strong arm needed!
You will know when you have added enough water and worked out enough lumps as the mixture will come together easily and take on the consistency of well kneaded bread dough. Turn the mixture out of the pan and set aside.
Return to your ogbono soup mixture. If using, add spinach, or other lettuce (like lambs lettuce/watercress) and simmer for a further 2-5 mins.
Serve and enjoy!
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