Five west African recipes from Lopè Ariyo | Food

When I went to university in Loughborough, my relationship with food changed slightly. I went from cooking for fun to cooking for comfort. I was studying mathematics, which was mentally taxing. I was in a completely new environment, and it was extremely different from what I had expected – that made me feel emotionally drained.

Supper-club cook and food writer Lopè Ariyo.

Supper-club cook and food writer Lopè Ariyo. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer

Cooking was my only escape and I started cooking west African foods to feel more at home. The area my university was in didn’t have any Nigerian food shops and so I looked for the closest ingredients I could in places such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s or Holland & Barrett to recreate the recipes from my heritage. If anything, my contemporary approach to cooking west African dishes came from necessity and not just curiosity.

After writing my cookbook, Hibiscus, in 2017, I went on to work at Ikoyi, a Michelin-starred restaurant. It gave me the confidence to start my supper club, Ōkēlē by Lopè Ariyo, which looks at Nigerian and other west African countries’ unique styles of dishes through a fine-dining lens.

Right now, I’m working as a web developer and so I dedicate my weekends to cooking. This suya fried chicken recipe is inspired by the popular spicy Nigerian street food kebabs made from goat meat and Korean fried chicken. The mango and coconut rice cakes show the beauty of different kinds of flours commonly used in African and Asian cuisines, as well as “baking” cakes using steam.

Scallops and grilled okra

Okra is that vegetable people are scared to try because it’s notorious for being slimy. Arguably, its “slime” is its best characteristic, but for those who disagree this recipe provides a way to enjoy okra. Its fresh flavours are paired with sweetness from the caramelised onions and zest from the apples and the sumac. The portions are rather conservative so they can be doubled for something more filling.

Serves 4
For the onions
unsalted butter 20g
red onion 1 small, thinly sliced
honey 2 tbsp

For the apples
apples 2
lemon juice 4 tbsp
butter 20g
sugar 1 tbsp

For the scallops
olive oil 2 tbsp
scallops 12 large

For the okra
olive oil 2 tbsp
okra 180g, halved lengthways
sumac 2 tsp
salt and black pepper to taste

For the onions, melt the butter in a pan over a low heat and add the red onion. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes so it doesn’t stick. Once the onion is translucent and browned, stir in the honey and 2 tablespoons of water and cook for another 5 minutes until dark. Keep stirring until most – if not all – of the liquid is gone. Don’t take your eyes off the onion at this point as this is the easiest moment for it to burn.

Fill a small bowl with water and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice. Core the apples and cut into small cubes. Place into the lemon water and set aside.

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil for the scallops over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the scallops with salt and pepper. Once the pan is almost smoking, add the scallops and cook for 3 minutes on each side, pushing down slightly, until golden brown. Repeat in batches. Place the cooked scallops on a plate and cover to keep warm.

Once the scallops are ready, melt the butter for the apples in a small saucepan. Add the remaining lemon juice and sugar and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Drain the apple cubes and stir into the melted lemon butter. Cook on medium heat for 5 to 6 minutes. When ready, the apples will be slightly translucent with a bit of bite to them.

For the okra, in another frying pan, add the olive oil and place on a medium-high heat. Add the halved okra seed-side down into the pan and cook for 2 minutes until the seeds have a golden char.

To serve, weave the okra and caramelised onions between the scallops. Dress with the cooked apples and sprinkle over the sumac, salt and pepper.

Spiced squash, butter bean and kale salad

Spiced squash, butter bean and kale salad.

Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer

This is a simple salad, perfect to rustle up quickly. There’s a lot of play on textures, from the soft paprika-spiced squash to the crunch of the toasted peanuts. While this calls for butter beans, it will work with any tinned bean you’ve been meaning to use up.

Serves 4 to 6
kale 180g, roughly chopped or shredded
butternut squash 400g, chopped
bell peppers 2
olive oil 5 tbsp
smoked paprika 2 tsp
peanuts or cashews 4 tbsp, crushed
butter beans 1 x 400g tin, drained

Bring a pot of water to the boil. Blanch the kale for 3 to 4 minutes and then drain in a colander.

Using the same pot as before, rinse and fill with water. Bring to the boil once again and add salt. Once the water is boiling, add in the chopped squash and let cook on high heat for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a griddle pan to high heat. Core the peppers and cut each one into eight slices lengthways. Brush the skins with a tablespoon of the olive oil and place skin-side down on the heated pan. Cook until softened with char marks. Sprinkle with salt and set aside.

Drain the squash. In a small bowl add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the smoked paprika and mix until well combined. Add the squash to the bowl and toss, making sure to coat evenly in the paprika oil.

In a dry pan, add the chopped nuts and toast them over high heat for 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set to the side.

To serve, lay down beds of kale into salad bowls. Spoon over the grilled peppers, followed by the spiced squash, then some beans. Drizzle over with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with some salt and the toasted nuts.

Suya fried chicken wings

Suya fried chicken wings.

Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer

This suya fried chicken recipe takes inspiration from Korean fried chicken principles. Instead of buttermilk and flavoured flour, the wings are dredged in peanuts and cornflour to give an extremely crispy exterior. Similar to traditional suya, it’s then dusted with an array of spices, which settle like red snow. To keep true to the love of spice in Nigerian cuisine it’s then paired with a spicy scotch bonnet sauce. If Nigeria did fried chicken, this is exactly how I imagine it would be.

Serves 4
For the aromatic mix
onion 1 small
scotch bonnets 2
garlic 4 cloves
ginger 20g
salt 2 tsp
white pepper 1 tsp

For the wings
chicken wings 12
cornflour 150g
roasted peanuts 25g, finely chopped

For the suya spice
roasted peanut flour 25g
chilli powder 2 tsp
ground ginger 2 tsp
garlic powder 2 tsp
onion granules 2 tsp

For the scotch bonnet sauce
tomato puree 2 tsp
aromatic mix 3 tbsp (see above)
scotch bonnet 1, finely chopped
honey 4 tbsp
peanut oil 1 tbsp
sunflower or peanut oil for frying

To serve
tomatoes 2, chopped
onion 1, finely diced

To make the aromatic mix, mince the onion, scotch bonnets, garlic and ginger in a blender. You may need to add water to get a smooth blend, but be sure to strain any excess juice out once you’ve finished. Transfer the blended aromatics to a large bowl and mix in salt and white pepper. Leave 3 tablespoons aside for the scotch bonnet sauce later.

Place the wings in the same bowl as the aromatics and toss them until well covered. Place the cornflour and roasted peanuts in a separate bowl and mix. Dip each wing into the dry mix and roll around until evenly covered. Make sure to get the hard-to-reach corners.

Fill a medium-sized pot two-thirds of the way up with oil and place on a high heat. To test if it’s ready, carefully drop in some of the excess cornflour. It should sizzle straightaway. Alternatively, you can use a deep saucepan or fryer if you have one. Add 4-6 wings at a time, depending on how many you can fit. Do not overcrowd the pan. Fry for 5 minutes, until the wings look slightly golden. Set aside for the second frying.

Once every wing has passed its first fry, in the same order they came out, fry them again, this time for 3 minutes. Drain the wings on kitchen roll to absorb any excess oil.

In a small saucepan, add all the ingredients for the scotch bonnet sauce and mix until well combined. Cook the sauce on a medium heat and take it off once it starts to bubble. Tip the sauce into a dipping bowl.

To serve, mix the ingredients for the suya spice together and use a sieve to dust the mix on to the hot chicken. Transfer the dusted wings to a plate or serving tray and serve with the scotch bonnet sauce, some raw onions and tomatoes.

Steamed mango and coconut cakes

Steamed mango and coconut cakes.

Steamed mango and coconut cakes. Photograph: The Observer

These cakes make use of ground rice as opposed to wheat flour. They work better as small cakes for two reasons. First, they’re much more dense than your regular cake, so they’re drastically filling. Second, because it calls for using a steamer set up on top of a hob and small pudding moulds fit well inside. As the sponge is rice based, the mango sauce oozes into it giving it a perfectly moist texture.

Serves 4
For the mango sauce

mango 1 large
lime 1, squeezed and zest grated
caster sugar 2 tbsp

For the steamed sponge
ground rice 120g
baking powder 1 tsp
nutmeg ½ tsp
salt ½ tsp
unsalted butter 30g, soft
soft light brown sugar 40g
eggs 2 large
coconut milk 200ml
vanilla extract 1 tsp
desiccated coconut 1 tbsp, plus extra for decorating

Peel and deseed the mango and chop the flesh into big chunks. Blend the mango with 60ml of water until there are no chunks and you are left with a smooth puree. Pour the mango puree into a small saucepan, add the lime juice and caster sugar and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes until slightly thickened and bubbling. Let it cool.

In a large bowl, mix together the ground rice, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. In a second, smaller bowl, whip the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Slowly add in the eggs and beat until creamy. Stir in the coconut milk, vanilla extract and desiccated coconut until well combined. Create a well in the dry ingredients and slowly add the wet ingredients while mixing. Keep mixing until well combined and smooth. Let it sit for 10 minutes.

While the batter is resting, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Butter 4 mini pudding moulds (150ml in size) and pour 100ml of batter into each one. You should be able to fill them all. Place each mould into the top of a steamer or a colander, put it on top of the pot of water and cover. Let the coconut rice cakes steam for 15 minutes.

Once the cakes are cooked through take them out of the pot and let them rest for 5 minutes before gently nudging them out of the mould. Place individual servings into a bowl upside down a drizzle over the mango sauce. Dress with some more desiccated coconut and grated lime zest.

Plantain cobbler

Plantain cobbler.

Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer

Plantains can be boiled, fried, grilled and more. Here they’re drenched in a tropical syrup and topped with a biscuit-like casing somewhere between a cake and a scone. Other than taking the time to slice the plantains, this is a fairly quick and easy dessert. This cosy dish is best served warm and works amazingly well with caramel ice-cream but is as equally brilliant with vanilla ice-cream.

Serves 8
For the plantain base
plantains 4-6, cut into coins
pineapple juice 60ml
soft brown sugar 120g
grated ginger 1 tsp
ground nutmeg 1 tsp

For the topping
plain flour 240g
baking powder 2 tsp
nutmeg 1 tsp
salt 1 tsp
butter 60g, cold
soft brown sugar 60g
egg 1
milk or non-dairy alternative 60ml
demerara sugar for sprinkling

vanilla or salted caramel ice-cream to serve

Preheat the oven to 160C fan/gas mark 4. In an ovenproof dish, stack the plantain coins on top of each other in threes or fours. Save a few to place on the topping. In a saucepan, mix together the pineapple juice, sugar, ginger and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the syrup over the plantains.

To make the topping, sift the flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt into a mixing bowl. Using your hand, rub in the butter until the mixture starts to crumble. Mix in the sugar. Whisk the egg and milk, add to the bowl and mix again until well combined and sticky. Using an ice-cream scoop, or any regular spoon, place balls of dough on to the plantains, making sure to leave pockets for the plantain syrup to pop through. Dunk the reserved plantain coins in some oil or butter and press down into the centre of each ball. Sprinkle over the demerara sugar.

Bake for at least 30 minutes until the topping is dark, golden and crusty. Let it stand for 5 minutes and serve with the ice-cream of your choice.

Lopè Ariyo is a recipe developer and food writer. Her book, Hibiscus, is out now

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