Ofe Owerri is a community symbol of the Owerri people of Eastern Nigeria and it’s environs. They are so proud of this rich and expensive soup that songs have been rendered about it. To make Ofe Owerri for your guests is a thing of pride, because it represents affluence and you are also judged by the quantity and quality of the ingredients used.
A thickened soup made with very finely shredded okazi vegetable, Ofe Owerri is a soup that is eaten up the same day, so no matter how much you spent, it all goes with that one pot of soup. I actually don’t know why that should be because I have made Ofe Owerri, stored it in the freezer and eaten it days later and it was still fine. I think it’s just part of the showmanship surrounding the soup.
Is Ofe Owerri worth all the hype and admiration? Most definitely yes! This soup is delicious to the max. Guaranteed to knock your socks off.
The indigenes are specific about some of the ingredients used in cooking Ofe Owerri, for example the cocoyam has to be owerri cut (court?). You know it by the round shape as against the usual cocoyam that is more elongated.
According to them, the best way I can explain it is, that it ‘holds’ the soup together besides thickening it. Ukpo, achi or ofo are not used for this soup, rather they are used for okazi (ukazi) soup.
The main proteins used are dry fish, snails and stockfish (superior cod), all of them, of very superior quality.
Their rich stock is the flavour base of the soup. The addition of meat is a modern thing and periwinkles are not used.
The vegetable of choice is okazi, some people add ugu, especially those from Umuahia near owerri. Ogili isi is the seasoning of choice, not ogili okpei.
After all is said and done, but not to take away from the Owerri people, rules can be bent or even broken when it comes to cooking. I have thickened my Ofe owerri with all purpose flour and it still tasted good, I have added uziza leaves to it and it was still scrumptious. I have even cooked it without dry fish and I still licked my fingers and possibly my plate. So you do the much you can and compromise on others.
For true and authentic Ofe Owerri, this is the recipe.
To cook Ofe Owerri:
Snails beef stockfish dry fish 8-10 cups stock + water 3/4 cup cocoyam paste 3/4 cup palm oil 3 scotch bonnet (fresh pepper) 1/3 cup ground crayfish 3 seasoning cubes salt 12g ogili isi 30g okazi 50g ugu (optional)
Break and wash snails using alum and plenty of water. Season with a little salt and boil till about half way done. Snail should not be boiled till soft and limp, it should still some bite to it.
Boil cocoyam till soft, peel and pound to a paste, using mortar and pestle, food processor or blender. You can add 1-2 tablespoons of palm oil to the cocoyam while pounding.
Pick, wash and shred ugu. Rinse out okazi and cut into shorter strands. Don’t pound or grind it like in afang soup.
Wash meat and stockfish, put in a pot with water, season with salt and seasoning cube, boil.
Soak dry fish in boiling hot water for 2 minutes, drain and rinse well with cold water.
Add dry fish, palm oil and pepper, to the boiling meat. Cook till meat is tender.
Add cocoyam paste, cook till the soup thickens, it is not supposed to be a very thick soup. The colour should change to a rich homogenous orange colour.
Add crayfish, boiled snails and seasoning cube, stir, taste and add salt. Cook for about 5 minutes, add okazi and ogili isi.
Cook for 5 minutes, then add ugu, cook for 3 minutes and take off the heat.
Serve with any ‘swallow’ of your choice.
Let us know in the comments how much you enjoyed Ofe owerri. If you have any suggestions, I will like to know.
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