Being on the road as much as I have been over the years, I have had my fill of takeout Chinese food, pizza, burgers and everything in between. They say that if you know how to ride a bike, you can always get back on and ride again. With respect to cooking, I beg to disagree.
Twenty years ago or actually, more like twenty five years ago, was the last time I had been in a kitchen with any level of regularity. Since then, the kitchen has really only been a place I enter either when I’m desperately broke, or just to cook a Sunday breakfast of eggs and bacon or some other simple meal that requires only a microwave. So when I woke up one morning with a desire for Afang soup, you can imagine the challenge ahead of me.
Now for the uninitiated, Afang soup is a delicately prepared vegetable and beef (or fish) soup that can make a man fall in love with the woman who prepared it for him. That’s of course if it is done right. The Efik people of South Eastern Nigeria are noted for being the best cooks in Nigeria. If an Efik woman cooks Afang soup for a man, the man is hooked. Afang soup is the next best thing to making love, that is, if it is prepared well.
And love, especially of the stomach, was all that was on my mind.
I still remember the first time I attempted to cook Afang soup. Instead of a feast of deliciousness, I ended up with the driest meal I have ever had. That pot of soup ended up in the garbage, instead of in my stomach.
Twenty or so years later, I was not going to make that same mistake. I called my family friend, Arit Essien, and practically begged her to give up her recipe. She obliged and gave me a few tips.
The key to cooking Afang soup is to have a proportional mixture of the hard vegetable- Afang and a softer vegetable, usually spinach or watercress, which is much better, but also more expensive.
The most important challenge was not to end up with a pot of soup that ended up in the garbage because it was too dry. So a few preparatory steps were necessary with the key ingredient, the Afang leaves. Afang or Okazi is a leaf that grows in Nigeria. Back in Calabar, where I grew up, fresh Afang is bought in the market thinly sliced or in leaves. You bring the Afang home, thinly slice them (if they are in leaf form) and then pound them. If you live in the diaspora, you will get dried Afang leaves from an African market or store.
Twenty years or so ago, I had put these dried leaves straight into my pot. This time to overcome the dryness of the leaves, I soaked the Afang or Okazi overnight. The next day, I sieved the water out, and blended the Afang in a blender. No dry Afang for me this time!
My other ingredients were prepared.
First, I boiled my meat. I love goat meat! Of course, I seasoned the meat.
Secondly, once my meat was boiled to an edible point, I poured a pound of chopped frozen spinach into the pot. Back home in Calabar that would have been a good portion of waterleaf.? A few minutes after my spinach had settled in the pot of boiling meat, I added my spices … maggi cubes (three of them), a good amount of crayfish (actually about 4 table spoons), and since I really like Adobe seasonings, a teaspoon of all purpose Adobe seasoned salt.
Next came the oil! Palm Oil! Depending on what side of the mountain you come from, you may either put a smidgen of Palm Oil for taste or a good amount of Palm Oil for flavor. If you’ve bought into Western medicine that tells you that Palm Oil is going to crank up your cholesterol, then you may ignore the Palm Oil altogether. Afang soup is not a soup I eat every day, so, I put in more than a smidgen of Palm Oil.
Ant then the final icing on the cake- the Afang itself! I poured in my blended Afang. Mind you all of this action is going on with a low flame. I could already taste the love.
Ten minutes later of a continuous low flame and my love fest is ready! I prepare my pounded yam and get my Guinness ready.
No dry Afang for me this year!
Afang Soup Ingredients:
Meat (beef or goat or chicken) or Fish
Dry Afang or Okazi
Spinach (a pound of cut frozen spinach)
3 to 5 tablespoons of powdered crayfish
3 Maggi cubes
4 to 5 tablespoons of palm oil
Adobe Seasoned Salt … a teaspoon
Red Cayenne Pepper (a smidgen or more)
To accompany the soup:
Garri or Pounded Yam Flakes
The above ingredients can be found in most African or Caribbean stores.