My husband loves Ofe Nsala.
Before I met him, it was one of those Igbo soups. I’d never seen it or tasted it. They said it was “white soup” and I half-imagined that it looked like white ogi, or cooked flour. After I met him, it was the Igbo soup without oil or vegetables or substance. No vegetables, no egusi, no ogbono, no okra, no red pepper. Depending on the cook, it was a light as peppersoup or as thick as curry. I did not understand why anyone would want to eat a soup so light with eba or pounded yam.
Don’t Knock It Till You’ve Tried It.
But he loves Ofe Nsala.
So I had to learn to make it. Because…love. Because…”wife material”. Because…”Hey, another soup to add to my repertoire.” Because…curious.
My family teases me often about being an internet cook. I’m sorry, I like recipes, especially if I’ve never made the dish before. I like steps and precise measurements. Miss me with that “soul food” vibe. So I Googled “Ofe Nsala”. There were a few recipes but I wasn’t confident enough to take it on my own.
At lunch time, we went to a market near our office. We figured market women would answer our questions best, and we weren’t disappointed. They pointed out spices, recommended dried fish options, shared their prized tips. It was an experience as rewarding as the meal itself and we could hardly wait.
I won’t go into details of the recipe itself; Ozoz does a fantastic job of that on her blog here. I won’t talk about the meal we eventually shared with half a dozen other women; laughing and eating at Ozoz’s dining table.
I’ll talk about ogiri, the curious flavouring that gives this soup its characteristic pungency and umami-ness. It’s made from fermented cottonseed (thanks for that, Ozoz) and it does for Igbo soups what Iru (fermented locust beans) does for Yoruba soups and what I imagine certain cheeses do for Western cuisine. I’d never seen ogiri before or used it; and when I reproduced Ozoz’s recipe as lunch for Kingsley and his friends, I optimistically used two packets of ogiri. Lol. The house. The smell. But it tasted great. I made it with fresh catfish instead of chicken and from the smiles on their faces, I hit it out of the ball park. (Yay for wife material. Lol.)
I still struggle to eat it with eba (I like thick soups!) and I’d rather eat Nsala as pepper soup. I think it goes great with plantain flour, though. I’m not a fan of eating it with pounded yam; it seems like Yam Overload seeing as yam is my preferred thickener for this soup (Heretic, I know cocoyam is the traditional thickener!) I always add extra extra crayfish and more dried fish. If I had my way, I would fill the soup chock-full with periwinkles and prawns but Kingsley’s not a fan of either. I recommend it, though.
But most importantly, I like the fact that it’s a quick soup. You can go from “Market” to “Dining Table” in about 30 minutes (if you aren’t cooking with meat). What more can a girl ask for?
Have you eaten Nsala? Do you like it? What Igbo soups do you recommend we try next?