• Friday, June 14, 2024
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The re-awakening of Amala!


I have always had amala on my everyday menu since I was nine. That is when I remember having my first meeting with the Nigerian meal currently trending across the Nigerian hemisphere.

The process of arriving at a powdery substance by drying that Nigerian ubiquitous tuber, the yam, is truly amazing. The skin is peeled, and the white pulpy insides are sun-dried for weeks in a safe space in their raw form before being ground into a powder and sieved for use.

It is from here that the cooking process begins. It is turned into a mould akin to mashed potatoes, but it requires a truly carefully choreographed mould-making dynamic, which I shall discuss in a minute.

I actually first came across amala when I was an impressionable little girl, but my first real encounter was when I tried to make it at 14 years old. It had been decided that amala was for lunch, and we started cooking very early in my home.

Amala is eaten with all types of interesting Nigerian sauces. But my sauce of choice is “Epeza,” popular amongst my Mummy’s Ebira ethnic nationality. My second favourite sauce is “ewedu,” a greenish slimy vegetable that marries well with a peppered stew sauce.

But I digress. So I was asked to prepare this slightly greyish dumpling, which must be smooth to the taste and touch. You first put a measured amount of Amala powder in boiling water and turn it with a wooden spoon into a watery paste that serves as a binder. You must be stirring at all times to prevent lumps.

Then, you gradually add powder in measured portions while turning and pulling through the paste until it becomes stiff. Too much powder and it’s too hard, and too little powder and it becomes too soft and difficult to manage. It’s best eaten with your fingers.

And so today I was nominated by my mom to deliver a lump-free amala. My first challenge was that the binder, watery as it was, kept peaking and jumping out of the pot. And you can’t lid it because you must stir.

So it jumped onto my arm and scalded me. I panicked and ran to my mom. Go back and finish your task, she said. Your dad will soon be here. Your hand would heal.

Tears brimming, I returned to the kitchen and began to add the powder little by little while turning with a wooden spoon. The mission failed woefully. Everything was lumpy. My mother was furious, but my father ate it with grace, mentioning it ever so lightly that it had a few lumps. An understatement.

The lumps were many, and they were not small by any stretch of the imagination. My dear father, the amazing Mr. Alfred Amodu, did not want to put me to shame.

My mom, bless her, wanted me to be a better cook, and from then on, I made amala in a snap. Smooth and welcoming, great to the taste, and deliciously engaging in the right sauce.

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So let’s talk about the sauces of the now-superstar meal in Nigeria and other places in the world, wherever Nigerians reside.

There is the slimy green ewedu, which, together with a nice pepper and tomato sauce and decadent pieces of well stewed innards known in Nigeria as Orisirisi, and cowhide, known as Kpomo, with pieces of eye-catching chicken, Be set for a culinary delight, a taste to be savoured, and memories of the tongue too delicious to be described.

But then there is the senior colleague of Amala and Edu. This is known as the Abula, a delicacy all its own among the Yoruba of Oyo State in Nigeria. Inside the deep bowl of heavenly Abula would be two moulds of medium-sized amala swimming in ewedu, peppered stew, and several dollops of Gbegiri, which is Yoruba for a well-stirred gravy made of white beans.

Inside this medley of tastefulness would be pieces of goat meat, innards, beef, and fresh fish. Abula is never a miss with those who are already initiated and newcomers. The taste is better imagined. Hot and steaming and a few sweat beads later, you would find yourself not only fully satisfied but savouring the taste 30 minutes later sitting in the same spot.

Was it the beans, was it the goat, was it the fish that melted in the mouth, or was it the amala cut in one hand and dipped into this decadent soup that happily swam through the mouth, swallowed in one fell soup to the palate’s delight? Abula is truly a delight.

But what takes the cake has to be Amala and Epeza. White beans were crushed and saved to be stirred into a delicate, savoury mix of stewing pieces of meat and flavours with the right spicy spices.

A bit of palm oil, some ground crayfish, and habanero pepper for that kick that comes only from habanero or Jos pepper. At its steaming best, a generous dash of well-chopped spinach completes Epeza.

This sauce and amala are out of this world and remain my comfort food to date. My mom has since passed, but amala comes my way every other week or so. And it’s my post-recovery meal after a fever. Only masala would do. And the sauce would often not matter, although amala and Epeza remain my gold standard.

Surprise! Surprise! The whole of Nigeria is facing an amala resurgence from our parents’ days, and now amala restaurants have sprung up in reverted corners across Nigeria.

But guess what? They have arrived at weddings in deep, flavorful bowls of pure joy. Amala for me, I say at most weddings, and then my entire table, shy and polite in the first instance, joins me to order. Amala with the right sauce is good for your palette.

Try it. Trust me. It’s as decadent as ever!