“onye arii ego ejila erila Ofe Owere” (He who has no money cannot eat Owere soup)
The one and only Ofe (Owerri) Owere. This soup has caused so many arguments between cooks. A lot of people have tried to make it and ended up with ofe Uziza, Ofe Achi, or ofe Ede’ i.e. cocoyam soup.
In the Igbo language beautiful women are usually likened to Ofe Owere as it is a thoroughly beautiful soup. ‘Ha na sa aka e si ofe Owere’ (Owere soup is a soup prepared by talented hands)
Anyway, while folks argued, I found a reliable source(Chioma Emezi) to teach me about this jewel of the Southeast and she had the following to say. Please read:
OFE OWERE IS NOT CONTROVERSIAL
“I shake my head when I see or read some recipes about our dearly beloved Ofe Owere. Typical Owere people will tell you that there is no controversy whatsoever about this soup. It is the ‘foreigners’ who in bid to reconstruct and add some twist to the soup that made it controversial.
Having seen my great-grandma Nne, my grand ma as well as other precious mothers prepare this soup several times back home, I wonder where the controversy comes from
- Ofe Owere is not cheap. This is because it is rich, flowing with milk and honey ‘LOL’. It is supposed to be a one day kind of soup. That is why we say “onye arii ego ejila erila Ofe Owere” How many people can afford to cook and finish a pot of soup daily?
- Traditionally, Ofe Owere has two basic vegetables: Ugu i.e. Pumpkin leaves and Okazi. Do your research. Go home and ask our mothers; adding Uziza is a borrowed thing(Alien). Uziza goes well with practically every soup though, but it is not a basic Ofe Owere ingredient. When Oha is added, that’s Ofe Oha. If an’ara leaves are added, that is Ofe an’ara. However sometimes people add all sorts of vegetables based on their own taste, choice and availability. But those vegetables should not be linked to the traditional Ofe Owere. It’s like telling an Efik person that EdikangIkong is cooked with Oha leaves just because you added it to yours and it tasted nice.
- The traditional Ofe Owere consists mainly of chuncks of stockfish(Okporoko) and Azu Okpo(dried fish). Snails and other assorted meat add to the beauty and richness of the soup depending on your pocket. Periwinkles(Isam) is actually not an Owere thing, it is added just for ‘effizy'(swag).
4.Traditionally, Ofe Owere has a light runny consistency. ‘Ori na gorogoro.’ It is eaten with a spoon along side the utara ji(pounded yam) or whatever staple you eat with it. But sometimes(depending on one’s preference) it is cooked thicker and dipped into with the staple.
I do not know it all, but I am sharing facts that I am very sure of. I may also have missed out on some things, so I call on other Owere people to help out :)”
That was Chioma and her facts about the famous “Owerri soup” also known as “Ofe Owerri” and locally known in Ala’ Owere as “Ofe Owere”
I quite agree with the fact that you can tweak local dishes, but never should they be taken away from their originality. Not quite long ago, I was watching a video where a lady was making Nsala Igbo(Igbo white soup) and she added onions and cocoyam. I cried myself a river because I did not and could not really say anything. I just watched, cringed and cried myself that river 🙂 Way before that video, I saw a picture of some Egusi soup made with Oha and the person who had posted it said “Oha soup, Igbo kwenu” Kaii, I had to call my friend and rant. I was so upset, but I left that soup to the gods 🙂 Fortunately, the mistake was fixed and I heaved a sigh of relief. There are just some local recipes you do not tweak; you just don’t oh!
Anyway, how do you make your Ofe Owere? What is it that other cooks do that makes you cringe? I want to know, let us discuss 🙂 You could make yours and tag me on instagram @nigerianlazychef
But meanwhile, let us do some cooking
- This soup’s traditional recipe has been tweaked so many times and it has lost its ‘originality'. There are some very basic ingredients but you can tweak it to suit your budget and taste.
- According to my grandma, the real Ofe Owere is not made with meat. Rather it is made with 'correct' dry fish and stockfish but long throat won't allow us cook meals nowadays without meat. LOL.
- 2lbs assorted Meats or Goat Meat. (Long throat won’t allow us cook without adding ‘animals’)
- (Snails...if you choose... but its optional)
- 3- 4 pieces of Stockfish chunks and stock fish head - BASIC
- 2 - 3 pieces of Dry Fish (Azu nkurkunku or Azu Asa)- BASIC
- 1 cup of dry grounded Crayfish - BASIC(divided)
- 2tbsps Ose Ikpo (Dry grinded pepper or chili flakes) – BASIC (I prefer the dry Cameroon pepper)
- 1 big bunch Ugu leaves – sliced BASIC. Ugu I.e. pumpkin leaves is the main vegetable here (In situations where Ugu cannot be found, Kale can be substituted)
- 1 small bunch Uziza leaves (sliced) Optional
- 1 small bunch Okazi leaves (thinly sliced) BASIC
- 6-7 pieces of Ede (cocoyam). You can substitute this with Achi - a very popular soup thickening agent. You may not have the time to go through the stress of preparing the cocoyam paste for soup when Achi can suffice but Cocoyam is the REAL DEAL in Ofe Owere.
- 1 wrap of Ogiri - Locust beans (optional)
- 2 cooking spoons of Palm Oil
- Season the meats and stockfish with salt, ½ cup of the crayfish, 1 tbsp. of dry pepper. Add some snails (if using) . Don’t forget the stockfish head because that is where you get the real stockfish flavor. Pour water to the level of the meats and cook until tender
- !HOW TO MAKE THE COCOYAM PASTE
- Wash the Cocoyam thoroughly and boil with the skin on in lots of water for 10 –15 minutes
- When cooked, peel off the skin and pound into a paste. The cocoyam is usually sticky so add a tablespoonful of palm oil. This does 2 things: it keeps the cocoyam from sticking to the mortar and also it enhances the color of the soup.
- Once the meat and stockfish have softened, taste the stock and make any necessary adjustments to the flavor.
- At this stage, add the cocoyam paste in small portions with your cooking spoon or simply mix the ground 'Achi' powder with some water in a bowl, stir well and pour into the soup. Reduce the heat and watch the soup thicken. Stir thoroughly to ensure all cocoyam lumps dissolve totally into the soup. The soup could be runny or thick. Or it could be just in-between. Your choice.
- Add the palm oil and washed chunks of dry fish to the soup. (We are adding the dry fish at this stage to prevent it from dissolving in the soup) Part of the thrill is to pick pieces of fish from the soup while eating. Cover the pot and let the soup cook until the oil combines with the soup and looses that raw taste (this takes about 2-5 minutes)
- Stir often if you are using Achi because the Achi may settle at the bottom of the pot and cause the soup to start burning.
- Add the ogiri, the remaining crayfish and dry pepper and stir thoroughly.
- Thoroughly wash the vegetables with cold water. Wash twice or thrice to remove any traces of dust or sand. (it is advisable prefer to wash veggies before they are sliced. That way, vital nutrients won’t be rinsed off. But okazi is basically washed after slicing)
- Stir after adding the vegetables and allow to simmer on low heat for an extra 5 minutes then turn off the heat.
- Serve with your choice of 'swallow' i.e. fufu, pounded yam, plantain flour or eba.
- Happy cooking