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Yewande Komolafe

Yewande Komolafe is a recipe developer, writer, and food stylist originally from Lagos, Nigeria. Her background in food has been informed by everything from her grandmother's, mother's, and aunties' kitchens, to restaurant kitchens across the United States. She develops recipes that lend taste and texture to her experience as an immigrant in the United States. She has worked closely with chefs and restaurateurs on cookbooks, written and tested recipes for food publications, and hosts a regular dinner series centered on food, immigration, and adaptation. Her recipes and writing have appeared in The New York Times, Whetstone Magazine, Munchies, Saveur, and others. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, daughter, and many jars of spices.
Sorghum is one of the oldest known grains in the world. Researchers believe it originated in northeast Africa and moved along trade routes to many countries. As part of the import econ­omy that accompanied enslaving Africans, traders brought many foods to the Americas, including sorghum. Sorghum syrup was once a popular, low-cost sweetener used in the deep South. Like honey or molasses, sorghum syrup has an earthy sweet­ness, though it tends to be thinner in viscosity and a little more sour.
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This double-sauce eats like a romesco sauce. I love the idea of peanuts, carrots, and dipping back and forth. Think about this as a carrot dip crudité plate. Bring in cucumber, apple sticks, radishes, and any other favorite veggies. You have two dip sauces—go ahead, this is your crudité party. This recipe is in honor of Food Lab Detroit founder Devita Davison. In Detroit, farmers are super connected to the city; the Eastern Market is one of the oldest farmers' market in the country. This dish is inspired by the farm–city connection, with benne seeds and peanuts bringing it back to Africa.
From alligator pepper to scent leaf, Yewande Komolafe takes us on a culinary journey of discovery through Nigeria’s rich foodways.
The spice markets of Lagos, Nigeria, can be thrilling places to visit, with merchants selling calabash nutmeg, alligator pepper, and dozens of other spices. Bags of these spices are piled high atop one another, their fragrance intermingling in the humid air.While the names of the spices are probably unfamiliar to your ears, they resonate with flavors your taste buds have encountered on other journeys. A great way to try them is in compound butter; the butter serves as a creamy blank canvas, delivering the exotic flavors in an approachable way that invites you to keep tasting. In the first recipe, Ehuru and Wildflower Honey Butter, calabash nutmeg (also known as ehuru) is paired with wildflower honey. Every year my mom gets a batch of honey harvested from Kafanchan, a town in Kaduna State, north of Lagos. The honey is dark like molasses and tastes like it was filtered through toasted millet. Now, I'm aware that most people can't get Kafanchan honey here in America, but a wildflower or even buckwheat honey will do. You want a honey that is more robust than sweet to match the earthy, caramelly taste of the calabash nutmeg, also known as ehuru. A typical nutmeg this is not; its flavor reveals both savory and sweet—coriander and cumin, with an aroma of frankincense and a hint of cedar. It may seem like an unnecessary step to toast the seeds, but this helps loosen the nut from its shell and bloom the oils of the spice.The Alligator Pepper and Makrut Lime Butter, on the other hand, is more of a wake-up call to the senses: lime leaves lend a bright and floral citrus-y accent to the slow-burning sharpness of the pepper. Typically sold as whole dried pods, alligator peppers are not solely consigned to the kitchen. A little taste of the pungently peppery seeds with notes of cardamom and citrus (similar in flavor to grains of paradise) are served to welcome guests for a variety of occasions and ceremonies in both Yoruba and Igbo culture. I still remember a wooden bowl of the pods sitting on the coffee table in the living room of my childhood home, just waiting to be cracked open. This recipe reminds me of that same welcoming sentiment—I slather it on composed appetizers and toast slices for the guests who've just arrived at my dinners.These compound butters will work well as spreads for any kind of bread, on sandwich buns, and can also be used to finish grilled fish, roasted vegetables, and meat dishes. The only limit is your imagination.
In the southern regions of Nigeria, the soil is so fertile, and the growing season so long, that the markets are bursting with fresh fruits and vegetables all year round. My dad has always joked, in his bookish yet playful tone, “Be careful where you discard your fruit; a tree might just sprout up from that spot!” Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, meals in my home started and ended with cut-up chunks of fruit. Anything more formal was considered dessert and typically required a trip out. In classic Nigerian cuisine, sweets are served as street food or “small chops”—finger food that can be consumed in one to two bites, not often as a course on their own.Moving to the U.S. in my teens allowed me to broaden my understanding of dessert. Full dessert courses can be found nearly everywhere food is served in America. Even the places with the shortest menus—coffee shops, food trucks, kiosks—never fail to stock a sizable sugar rush. America’s fascination with dessert is real, and I got fully on board with it; my years as a pastry chef only furthered my surrender to its charm.These days, the dessert course is the part of the menu that comes most naturally to me at my dinner parties. I like to prepare a composed sweet “small chop,” something easy to prepare and that affords me ample opportunity to plate, serve, and mingle. This is crucial; for me, these dinners are as much about the conversation as they are about the food, so I can’t be confined in the kitchen when joy fills the dining room. A cake with only a brush of syrup might seem too simple to be a real dessert. But not this one.This teacake packs a punch, rooted in my homeland, from selim pepper. Also known as “grains of selim,” selim pepper is the seeds of a shrubby tree found across the African continent. These seeds are also known as Ethiopian pepper, Senegal pepper, and Kani pepper in Cote d’Ivoire. In Nigeria, the Igbo call them uda seeds. They can be purchased ground, or as whole seed pods; the pods are typically dried and smoked. A perfect selim pepper pod should emit a smoky aroma even before you get it out of the bag. (You can order selim pepper pods from Kalustyans.)When heated, the seed pods infuse a dish—candied lemon peel syrup in this case—with their distinct musky flavor. I brush the syrup on the top of the just-out-of-the-oven almond teacake. After it’s cooled, I serve the cake by the slice with a side of soft whipped cream or ice cream. The candied lemon slices work great as a topping and are wonderful to bite into on their own.
Red palm oil is used in cuisines across the world. It is a base for a number of West African stews and sauces. In Nigerian cuisine, it saturates the dishes of the tropical southern, western, and eastern regions. To make it, the fleshy fruit of the tropical African palm tree is pressed, and the unrefined rust-hued oil bottled. Most red palm oil used in West African cuisine is sourced sustainably and locally; for thousands of years it has been used as a source of nutrition and for medicinal purposes. In its refined form, the oil has a host of other uses, some of them industrial, some as the base ingredient for commercial food production—most of the planet’s chocolate, for instance. Its commercial cultivation is deeply troubling; but its use in traditional cuisines predates its commercial use by thousands of years.In my Brooklyn kitchen, I stir this silky and fruit-forward oil into a pot of stew. I make vibrantly colored soups. I use it in vinaigrettes. Red palm oil has a low smoke point, so it is not ideal for frying or roasting. But it’s fantastic for poaching.I use red palm oil to create a confited blend of alliumns—shallots, white and purple onions, garlic scapes, and scallions. I gently caramelize them with fresh bay leaves and thyme in a red palm oil blend. A small amount of red palm oil will go a long way, so for this recipe, I also incorporate a neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed. Blending the oil also ensures the slow poach doesn’t cook out the flavors of the delicate palm oil.I have found the best time to make this recipe is when I have a few hours before my dinner guests arrive. As the vegetables do their low, slow poach in the oil, they fill my kitchen with a caramelly, roasted alium scent, and I can prepare other dishes in the meantime. (As a note of caution, the oil will lend its lively glow to your pots, work surfaces, and linens, so plan accordingly.)You should plan to reserve the poaching oil; a small quantity is combined with lime juice and grated ginger for an acidic dressing to drizzle over the tender, sweet alliums. The acidity lends a necessary piquant bite, and a scattering of herbs adds lovely freshness. What’s left of the oil can be stored and refrigerated for up to one month—it is a richly flavored gift that keeps on giving.
The spice markets of Lagos, Nigeria, can be thrilling places to visit, with merchants selling calabash nutmeg, alligator pepper, and dozens of other spices. Bags of these spices are piled high atop one another, their fragrance intermingling in the humid air.While the names of the spices are probably unfamiliar to your ears, they resonate with flavors your taste buds have encountered on other journeys. A great way to try them is in compound butter; the butter serves as a creamy blank canvas, delivering the exotic flavors in an approachable way that invites you to keep tasting.In the first recipe, Ehuru and Wildflower Honey Butter, calabash nutmeg (also known as ehuru) is paired with wildflower honey. Every year my mom gets a batch of honey harvested from Kafanchan, a town in Kaduna State, north of Lagos. The honey is dark like molasses and tastes like it was filtered through toasted millet. Now, I’m aware that most people can’t get Kafanchan honey here in America, but a wildflower or even buckwheat honey will do. You want a honey that is more robust than sweet to match the earthy, caramelly taste of the calabash nutmeg, also known as ehuru. A typical nutmeg this is not; its flavor reveals both savory and sweet—coriander and cumin, with an aroma of frankincense and a hint of cedarwood. It may seem like an unnecessary step to toast the seeds, but this helps loosen the nut from its shell and bloom the oils of the spice.The Alligator Pepper and Makrut Lime Butter, on the other hand, is more of a wake-up call to the senses: lime leaves lend a bright and floral citrus-y accent to the slow-burning sharpness of the pepper. Typically sold as whole dried pods, alligator peppers are not solely consigned to the kitchen. A little taste of the pungently peppery seeds with notes of cardamom and citrus (similar in flavor to grains of paradise) are served to welcome guests for a variety of occasions and ceremonies in both Yoruba and Igbo culture. I still remember a wooden bowl of the pods sitting on the coffee table in the living room of my childhood home, just waiting to be cracked open. This recipe reminds me of that same welcoming sentiment—I slather it on composed appetizers and toast slices for the guests who’ve just arrived at my dinners.These compound butters will work well as spreads for any kind of bread, on sandwich buns, and can also be used to finish grilled fish, roasted vegetables, and meat dishes. The only limit is your imagination.
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Nigerian Clay Pot Chicken
Rating: Unrated
New!
Everyone has a dish that they’ve eaten in a certain place and time, a dish that speaks to the emotions the memory invokes. This Clay Pot Chicken was Sunday dinner at our house in Ikeja, Nigeria—a roast chicken dish sourced from our backyard. My family raised chickens, catfish, large African snails, and the occasional pig in our yard. Our garden featured dozens of leafy greens, vegetables, and fruit trees. Although Ikeja is more suburban than the lively districts of Lagos most visitors may encounter, it is still very much a part of the metropolitan area. Lush ingredient gardens are not uncommon in the homes of Lagosians; “backyard-to-table” is traditional to the cuisine.According to my mother’s recipe, the live chicken is prepped that afternoon, the vegetables and herbs collected after the feathers were off the bird, and the clay pot soaked the night before. I had the tough job of picking out the herbs she wanted, a task I admit I didn't always enjoy. Her kitchen window opened up into the garden, and she would order me around for precisely what she was looking for. She ruled her kitchen with a silent finger pointing me this way and that.This recipe is an adaptation for my kitchen. A store-bought chicken is trussed, rubbed with an infused compound butter—Alligator Pepper and Makrut Lime Butter, in this case—then nestled on a layer of seasonal vegetables. Lemongrass, whole lime slices, and ginger add a punchy fragrance and a tangible sweetness to the pot. In the oven, the delicious herb-spiced chicken drippings coat the vegetables and citrus slices, which all gently caramelize as the chicken cooks.My recipe does omit the clay pot, and uses a Dutch oven instead, but if you have an earthenware pot handy, that will get you a little bit closer to the Sundays I remember back home. I don’t make this every Sunday like my mother did, but I can say I’ve eaten this dish more times in my life than any other meal.
A chilled soup is my dinner party savior. Anyone who has ever hosted a couple dozen people in a small apartment knows that some courses can't require 12 components, three hours of prep time, or an optimal serving temperature. When I'm hosting guests, a soup like this helps me stay calm, or at least lets me get a few sips of wine in between courses! Since March of last year I've been hosting a dinner series with the intention of helping people connect with my native Nigerian cuisine through the recipes from my childhood spent there. I've had the ambitious, if not exactly practical goal of trying to cram the harried chaos of Lagos — Nigeria's most populous city — onto a plate. This cool mango soup was inspired by the frenzied crawl, the hurry-up-and-wait pace of driving into Lagos from the west, and when I first served it I named it "Lagos-Badagry Expressway." I took a road trip with my family to Badagry, a city a few hours outside Lagos. The expressway's unimaginative name fails to capture the wild exuberance of the road itself, as teeming with life as a bazaar. Buses spill out their riders without coming to a complete stop, pedestrians stride along the dusty strip between eastbound and westbound traffic, and cars cross over that same strip to use any lane they can to pass—even joining the traffic going the other direction! Small markets line the road. Food sellers hawk their wares alongside the "go-slow." And there is plenty of go-slow. When I was visiting, it was during mango season. Mango trees lined the road, and all of those standstills lent me plenty of time to stare out at the branches heavy with ripe fruit, dreaming up recipes. So here it is—a burst of tart sweetness, and then a slow enveloping of herbs. Like the traffic coming into Lagos. The cold, smooth emulsion of mango and coconut milk is the vehicle that highlights the scent leaf—"efirin" in Yoruba—a magical leaf that embodies the essence of cinnamon, mint, and basil. (Thai basil has a similar, if not exact aroma and is a good stand-in here.) The soup ends with a note of habanero oil, a tingle just barely hitting the back of your palate. Frozen mango cubes are great for smoothies; just don't use them here. Any fresh and lusciously ripe mangoes will do—they don't have to be harvested from the roadside in Lagos to be delicious.
The spice markets of Lagos, Nigeria, can be thrilling places to visit, with merchants selling calabash nutmeg, alligator pepper, and dozens of other spices. Bags of these spices are piled high atop one another, their fragrance intermingling in the humid air.While the names of the spices are probably unfamiliar to your ears, they resonate with flavors your taste buds have encountered on other journeys. A great way to try them is in compound butter; the butter serves as a creamy blank canvas, delivering the exotic flavors in an approachable way that invites you to keep tasting.In the first recipe, Ehuru and Wildflower Honey Butter, calabash nutmeg (also known as ehuru) is paired with wildflower honey. Every year my mom gets a batch of honey harvested from Kafanchan, a town in Kaduna State, north of Lagos. The honey is dark like molasses and tastes like it was filtered through toasted millet. Now, I’m aware that most people can’t get Kafanchan honey here in America, but a wildflower or even buckwheat honey will do. You want a honey that is more robust than sweet to match the earthy, caramelly taste of the calabash nutmeg, also known as ehuru. A typical nutmeg this is not; its flavor reveals both savory and sweet—coriander and cumin, with an aroma of frankincense and a hint of cedarwood. It may seem like an unnecessary step to toast the seeds, but this helps loosen the nut from its shell and bloom the oils of the spice.The Alligator Pepper and Makrut Lime Butter, on the other hand, is more of a wake-up call to the senses: lime leaves lend a bright and floral citrus-y accent to the slow-burning sharpness of the pepper. Typically sold as whole dried pods, alligator peppers are not solely consigned to the kitchen. A little taste of the pungently peppery seeds with notes of cardamom and citrus (similar in flavor to grains of paradise) are served to welcome guests for a variety of occasions and ceremonies in both Yoruba and Igbo culture. I still remember a wooden bowl of the pods sitting on the coffee table in the living room of my childhood home, just waiting to be cracked open. This recipe reminds me of that same welcoming sentiment—I slather it on composed appetizers and toast slices for the guests who’ve just arrived at my dinners.These compound butters will work well as spreads for any kind of bread, on sandwich buns, and can also be used to finish grilled fish, roasted vegetables, and meat dishes. The only limit is your imagination.
Nigerian Clay Pot Chicken
Rating: Unrated
New!
Everyone has a dish that they’ve eaten in a certain place and time, a dish that speaks to the emotions the memory invokes. This Clay Pot Chicken was Sunday dinner at our house in Ikeja, Nigeria—a roast chicken dish sourced from our backyard. My family raised chickens, catfish, large African snails, and the occasional pig in our yard. Our garden featured dozens of leafy greens, vegetables, and fruit trees. Although Ikeja is more suburban than the lively districts of Lagos most visitors may encounter, it is still very much a part of the metropolitan area. Lush ingredient gardens are not uncommon in the homes of Lagosians; “backyard-to-table” is traditional to the cuisine.According to my mother’s recipe, the live chicken is prepped that afternoon, the vegetables and herbs collected after the feathers were off the bird, and the clay pot soaked the night before. I had the tough job of picking out the herbs she wanted, a task I admit I didn't always enjoy. Her kitchen window opened up into the garden, and she would order me around for precisely what she was looking for. She ruled her kitchen with a silent finger pointing me this way and that.This recipe is an adaptation for my kitchen. A store-bought chicken is trussed, rubbed with an infused compound butter—Alligator Pepper and Makrut Lime Butter, in this case—then nestled on a layer of seasonal vegetables. Lemongrass, whole lime slices, and ginger add a punchy fragrance and a tangible sweetness to the pot. In the oven, the delicious herb-spiced chicken drippings coat the vegetables and citrus slices, which all gently caramelize as the chicken cooks.My recipe does omit the clay pot, and uses a Dutch oven instead, but if you have an earthenware pot handy, that will get you a little bit closer to the Sundays I remember back home. I don’t make this every Sunday like my mother did, but I can say I’ve eaten this dish more times in my life than any other meal.
A chilled soup is my dinner party savior. Anyone who has ever hosted a couple dozen people in a small apartment knows that some courses can't require 12 components, three hours of prep time, or an optimal serving temperature. When I'm hosting guests, a soup like this helps me stay calm, or at least lets me get a few sips of wine in between courses! Since March of last year I've been hosting a dinner series with the intention of helping people connect with my native Nigerian cuisine through the recipes from my childhood spent there. I've had the ambitious, if not exactly practical goal of trying to cram the harried chaos of Lagos — Nigeria's most populous city — onto a plate. This cool mango soup was inspired by the frenzied crawl, the hurry-up-and-wait pace of driving into Lagos from the west, and when I first served it I named it "Lagos-Badagry Expressway." I took a road trip with my family to Badagry, a city a few hours outside Lagos. The expressway's unimaginative name fails to capture the wild exuberance of the road itself, as teeming with life as a bazaar. Buses spill out their riders without coming to a complete stop, pedestrians stride along the dusty strip between eastbound and westbound traffic, and cars cross over that same strip to use any lane they can to pass—even joining the traffic going the other direction! Small markets line the road. Food sellers hawk their wares alongside the "go-slow." And there is plenty of go-slow. When I was visiting, it was during mango season. Mango trees lined the road, and all of those standstills lent me plenty of time to stare out at the branches heavy with ripe fruit, dreaming up recipes. So here it is—a burst of tart sweetness, and then a slow enveloping of herbs. Like the traffic coming into Lagos. The cold, smooth emulsion of mango and coconut milk is the vehicle that highlights the scent leaf—"efirin" in Yoruba—a magical leaf that embodies the essence of cinnamon, mint, and basil. (Thai basil has a similar, if not exact aroma and is a good stand-in here.) The soup ends with a note of habanero oil, a tingle just barely hitting the back of your palate. Frozen mango cubes are great for smoothies; just don't use them here. Any fresh and lusciously ripe mangoes will do—they don't have to be harvested from the roadside in Lagos to be delicious.