Ofe Akwu, Palm nut soup, Banga soup
Ofe akwu is made from palm nut extract. Palm nut soup is very popular in many countries where the palm nut tree grows, in the southeast and southsouth/delta regions of Nigeria, it is ingrained in their cuisine. Variously called ofe akwu, palm nut soup, banga soup, abak atama, obe eyin, ofe akwu etc., this particular variation is from the south east. It is a staple of my people from Nnewi. At every occasion hosted by the typical Nnewi person, ofe akwu must feature as a part of the menu, especially if it is taking place in the Nnewi. When serving the umu ada or ndi inyom (daughters and wives), ofe akwu is what accompanies their white rice and Ofe onugbu (bitterleaf soup) goes with their akpu or pounded yam. Failing to give them ofe akwu will elicit a fine for the celebrant.
Most sundays, my mother had to cook two pots of food for lunch, ofe akwu for my father, grandma and I and Tomato stew for the rest of the household. It also features frequently on the dinner table in my home. To enjoy it, you need to drench the rice in ofe akwu.
Ofe akwu is very easy to prepare, the only tedious part is the processing of the palm nuts. It can also be processed using a food processor. I usually process a large batch boil it down and freeze, that way, I can have my ofe akwu ready even before the white rice is ready. On the other hand, you can use canned palmnut cream concentrate. For this recipe, I am using already processed palm nut extract. You can also use it to make Palm nut Stew/Stew akwu, ofe utazi, ofe ora, ofe onugbu (Bitterleaf soup), okpa, yam porridge etc. Scent leaf is the herb of choice, you can substitute with basil but do not use mint leaves, the flavour is totally off putting in ofe Akwu. Ugu leaf is sometimes added.
Meat can be any of beef, tripe, intestine, goat meat, turkey, chicken or a mixture of different types of meat. Dry fish is also another, stockfish and fresh fish are not commonly used.
When buying palm nuts, be it agric, which is a hybrid of sorts, the native osukwu, which is sweet and flavoursome, akwu ojukwu etc they should be yellow and fresh at the end where it was separated from the bunch. If that end has darkened considerably, it is no longer fresh and will produce palm nut extract that sticks to the roof of the mouth, you definitely don’t want that. The flavour of the palm nut extract impacts considerably on the soup.
To prepare Ofe Akwu, Palmnut soup:
Meat dry fish 3 1/2 cups thick palm nut extract* or 1 can palmnut concentrate 4 cups stock + water 1 large onions, sliced 1 large okpei or 25g dawadawa (2 discs) scotch bonnet (fresh pepper) 1/2 cup ground crayfish 3 medium ehuru, ground 75g scent leaf (nchuanwu) or fresh basil leaf 3 seasoning cubes
*Palm nut extract was made from 450g of palm nut. Pour into a medium sized pot and set aside.
Wash meat put in a pot, season with salt, seasoning cube and some onion, add a little water and place over medium heat. Cook until meat has softened. (If using tender chicken, cook till heated through without adding water, it will finish cooking with the soup).
Soak dry fish in boiling hot water for 2 minutes, drain and rinse well with cold water. Add to the boiling meat and cook till meat is tender.
Pour the meat, stock and some water, which should be a total of about 4 cups into the palm nut extract stir and bring to a boil.
Add onions, ground okpei, pepper, crayfish, ehuru and seasoning cubes. Stir well, taste and add salt.
Cook for about 15 minutes, add shredded scent leaf and cook for a further 5 minutes. I sometimes like to add a little more chopped onions and scotch bonnet with the scent leaf.
If you don’t want chunks of onions in your ofe akwu, just grind/blend everything together and pour into the Palm nut extract. This soup is quite forgiving, it will still taste great.
Serve with white rice. It can also be eaten with swallow and boiled yam.
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