Pounded Yam and Okra Soup
When Nwike walked into the kitchen, grandma was about to start peeling the tubers of yam she needed to prepare Grandpa's favourite meal of pounded yam and okra soup. The kitchen was filled with the aroma of crayfish mixed with dry pepper and stockfish. She always added those ingredients right after she had poured a little bit of palm oil into her pot of soup. She handed Nwike a handful of vegetable leaves to slice and went outside to throw out the water she used for washing the goat meat she had purchased from the local market. Her kitchen didn't have a sink so every dirty water had to be thrown out at the backyard.
Grandma's kitchen wasn't big or modern. It was about 32m² and was right next to the two small spaces the family used as a toilet and a bathroom. It wasn't a modern kitchen so there was no sink or a kitchen cabinet. There was a small table used as a platform to lift the kitchen stove grandma used for cooking. Directly opposite the entrance was a gas cooker with an empty orange coloured cylinder. Gas was pretty expensive in Nigeria and only the rich used gas cookers everyday. This was the reason why grandma only filled up her gas cylinder on special occasions like a birthday or a traditional/religious festival where she had to host a lot of people and cook for a large group.
When she walked back into the kitchen, she looked around to make sure there were no kitchen knives or pots lying around on the floor. She picked up the grater and turned to see if Nwike was done with slicing the vegetables. She took it from him when she wasn't satisfied with what he was doing and sat down on a small stool to slice the remaining vegetables. Grandma loved cooking with the locally grown spinach. A perennial herb local to West Africa and grown a lot in the South-South region of Nigeria, this vegetable can be quite cheap and in great abundance during the rainy season but a little hard to find in the dry season.
Nwike rose up to the kitchen table and opened up the pot containing the white yam grandma had peeled. It was boiling away and due to the heat, the lid couldn't stay on-top of the pot. Grandma had cut the yam tubers into very small cubes and he picked up a fork to quickly check if the yam cubes were now soft and ready to be pounded.
Pounding yam in Nigeria is an activity that requires strength as much as it requires precision. Strength because it is hard work and precision because you have to make sure there are no white yam seeds when you're done pounding. Nwike brought out the old mortar and pestle and washed them with water. He had to make sure there were neither germs or particles of sand on the mortar as they could come in contact with the yam he was about to pound and grandma wouldn't like that. When he was done with washing the mortar and pestle, he picked up an old hand-towel and used it to lift the pot (by the handles) from the stove and down to the kitchen floor. He grabbed a fork and a small stool and then sat down to start pounding. He picked the yam cubes with his fork, transferred them into the mortar and then pounded with the pestle until the yam cubes were totally seedless and mouldable. He had saved a little bit of water from the pot used for cooking the yam cubes. Sometimes the yam can dry up and become strong while pounding and adding a little water can not only soften it but also make it smoother and easier to digest.
When Nwike was done with pounding, he was all covered in sweat. He had to dry his face with his shirt so his sweat wouldn't fall into the pounded yam in the mortar. He stood up to go take a bath while grandma started moulding the pounded yam into large balls and serving them on plates.
As Nwike picked up a small bucket to fetch some water for a quick bath, he could hear his sisters rushing into the house for dinner. He smiled because he knew how grandma never had to call out to them when dinner was ready and they were playing outside. Her cooking was the best and whenever she started cooking, they would sometimes help her out with chores all around the kitchen and when she was finally done, they could never wait to dig in. He thought about how much he loved pounded yam and Okra soup and he could immediately feel his mouth water as he took a quick glance at the steam rising from the pot of Okra soup on the stove. The day had been a good one after all.
... To be continued next week.