From alligator pepper to scent leaf, Yewande Komolafe takes us on a culinary journey of discovery through Nigeria’s rich foodways.

By Yewande Komolafe
September 19, 2019
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Caitlin Bensel

As a writer and recipe developer, I spend a lot of time sourcing ingredients and fiddling around with them, trying first to perfect the combination of flavors as they reveal themselves, and then describing those combinations to readers.

I find so many flavors central to Nigerian cuisine difficult to describe. The irony of this is that not only am I from Lagos, Nigeria, but several generations of my mother’s family have worked in food. Discussions of food—ingredients and preparations, cultivation and execution—are the foundations of my earliest memories.

In the last few decades, Lagos has become a city of more than 20 million people. It has always been a nexus of the different regional cuisines of Nigeria: ingredients from across the country find their way to its bustling markets.

After living in the United States for almost two decades, I began sharing my memories of Nigerian cuisine and the changes it has undergone since I left. Out of my Brooklyn apartment, I created a dinner series centered around my experience as an immigrant: how that experience is at once separate from and integral to American cuisine. Through a series of friends and collaborators, I’ve made Nigerian food as many immigrants have before me: out of whatever ingredients I can find. (See my Shopping Guide, below.)

Before a typical dinner, I’ll reach out to friends in the food community, asking questions about our work and what’s missing: What aren’t we talking about? I’ll check in with my friend Yemi at Oko Farms to see what she’s growing and what’s ready to serve this Saturday. My husband and I will make a mad dash to some farms upstate to see what we can source and what we can’t. My dinners are a platform for conversation, and inevitably, how Nigerian foodways get translated here is always part of the story.

In the recipes that follow, I describe the flavors you should expect with whatever pairs of adjectives I can string together. But the best way to speak about Nigerian cuisine is to share it with others and let them describe it to you. As you cook through my recipes below, you will undoubtedly encounter ingredients and methods that are unfamiliar to your eyes, ears, hands, and taste buds. But that is the beauty of cooking Nigerian food; it will take you on a journey of discovery that you won’t soon forget.

Recipes

Spicy Mango Bisque with Scent Leaf

Ehuru and Wildflower Honey Butter

Alligator Pepper and Makrut Lime Butter

Clay Pot Chicken

Red Palm Oil–Confited Alliums with Ginger-Lime Vinaigrette

Selim Pepper, Candied Lemon, and Almond Teacake

Shopping Guide

In New York, my go-to shops for ingredients are Owa African Market, Keita West African Market, and

Gold Coast Trading. If you can’t locate any ingredients in your area, here are a few online resources:

Red Palm Oil

Suya

Alligator Pepper

Grains of Selim

Ehuru

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