Want to try something new and different? Nigerian "stew" is more like a sauce than a soup, and is a nice introduction to Nigerian food, since it only uses ingredients that can easily be found at your local grocery store.
Benin City Spice Market
I just made a big pot of beef and chicken stew, which was meant to be frozen and waiting for guests who will come to meet the baby after the birth. However, my husband seemed confused when I tried to explain that there was freshly prepared stew in the house and it was not meant for him to eat now. I managed to sneak one Mason jar into the freezer for later, and the rest has already been consumed. So much for planning ahead.
I should say here before sharing my "recipe" that I have learned to cook Nigerian food from my husband, my sisters in law, and the wives of friends. When learning to cook traditional food, there are no precise recipes filed away and waiting to copy down for someone. Instead, you have to watch and taste. Verbal directions usually sound something like this, "take the meat, spice it well, cook it until it is done." If you are a stickler for details you will find your mind screaming. "what kind of meat?! how many pounds?! Which spices?!" So, I have watched and tasted and practiced, and this is the way I make stew, doubtless differently from the next cook, but that is the way these things work. Therefore, feel free to make adjustments. Use chicken instead of beef (or use both), add more of one spice or less of another, taste and adjust. Enjoy!
Nigerian Beef Stew
2 pounds of beef (a chuck roast is good, so are ox tails)
1/2 of a red onion
3 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 or 2 fresh hot peppers (we use habaneros)
2 tablespoons of dried thyme
2 tablespoons of curry powder
1 teaspoon of salt
Optional: 4 bouillon cubes
If you are using a boneless piece of meat, like the chuck roast, cut into large bite sized pieces. If using ox tails, leave as is. Its nice to use more than one cut of meat for stew, or even more than one kind of meat.
Place the meat in a large heavy soup pot. Add the other ingredients and add water until just barely covered.
When working with hot peppers, here are a few tips: we store them in the freezer so that we also have some on hand. They slice up very nice while frozen, so no defrosting is necessary. If you like less heat, remove all seeds and white pith from inside peppers to lower the heat factor (this will be more difficult while they are frozen). If your skin is sensitive, you may want to wear a latex or plastic glove, but you can also rub a little cooking oil on the fingers that are touching the pepper (not the hand holding the knife!) and the oil will act as a barrier to the pepper's oils. Wash your hands when finished and don't touch your eyes for a while!
Bring the pot to a boil. Turn down to a rapid simmer and cook for at least an hour. If you are using chicken (I like thighs, skin removed, and chopped in half through the bone), I recommend that you start with the beef in the pot for the first 45 minutes and add the chicken for another 30 minutes.
Tate the meat and broth and adjust seasoning if necessary. The broth should taste strong, this is not a delicate broth, it is going to be a hearty sauce. Careful with the salt because you are concentrating the liquid as it boils and can become saltier than you intended.
6-8 fresh tomatoes (or a large can of whole tomatoes)
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
2 garlic cloves
1/2 of a red onion
1/4 cup of oil
1/4 cup of tomato paste
In a food processor, add the tomatoes, basil, garlic and onion. Process until smooth. If you don't think your meat is spicy enough, you can add another fresh pepper here.
Heat a medium sized pot over medium high heat. Add 1/2 of the oil. When hot, carefully pour in the tomato mixture. Bring to a rapid simmer. Continue to simmer until it begins to look dry (about 15 minutes, depending on how wet the tomatoes were). Stir in the tomato paste and the remaining oil. Bring back to a simmer.
By now, you should have reduced the meat broth to about half of what you started with. Begin to incorporate the liquid from the meat pot into the tomato pot, stirring well. Now pour the tomato meat broth back into the larger meat pot and stir gently over medium heat. Taste your stew and add salt if necessary.
If you like the consistency of the stew, then you can remove from the heat now. Likely, it will still be a little thin. If so, set on medium heat and simmer until thickened more. The end result is like a ragu (thinner than chili). Serve with steamed rice.