Story and Recipe collected by Onyedikachi Ebiringah, Summer 2017
Love is a Warm Meal
In 1993 my mother left her husband and three children behind in Nigeria in hopes for a better life in America. Alone but determined my mother fought for the next two years to bring her family to the states. Eventually they would come in 1995 and my mother would become pregnant with me. The following year when I was born my mother’s mother arrived to help take care of the kids. My grandmother had many children and grandchildren back in Nigeria, and I am sure she never meant for her stay in America to be as permanent, but she would spend the majority of the next 18 years of her life here. Over the next few years my grandmother would be by my side at almost every waking moment, playing the role of mother and father. I would do everything with my grandmother and as I got older my grandmother began to keep a garden in our backyard. I remember as a child following her into the garden and wandering around with curiosity. She grew various types of greens and vegetables that she would often cook with or give away to neighbors. My grandma would always cook me whatever Nigerian food I wanted. Even if everyone else was eating one dish she would make me whatever I felt like eating. One of my favorite dishes was rice and stew. It is a simple white rice dish topped with a tomato paste, and it serves as one of the staple dishes of Nigerian cuisine. My grandma would often use the tomatoes from her garden, and no one could ever come close cooking as well as her. When I was a child I often took my grandmothers cooking for granted but now that I am older I understand that true value of all the love and effort she put into every meal. My grandmother’s heart often ached for the grandchildren and children she couldn’t see back home in Nigeria, but she still loved me as much as she possibly could. Now whenever I eat rice and stew I know the tomatoes will never be as fresh, the rice will never be as white, and the dish will never have as much love as it could have had my grandmother made it.
You don’t have to put the stew on white rice you can put it on anything that think it might taste well on!
3.2kg (7lbs) fresh Plum Tomatoes
400g (14oz) tinned tomato paste
Vegetable Oil: a generous quantity
Before you cook Tomato Stew
Wash and blend the fresh plum tomatoes.
Remember to remove the seeds unless you are sure your blender can grind them very well.
Cut the onions into small pieces.
Pour the fresh tomato blend into a pot and cook at high heat till almost all the water has dried. Cook till the water in the tomato puree have dried as much as possible.
Add the vegetable oil, the chopped onions and the thick tomato puree that you mixed in step 2 above. Stir very well.
Fry at very low heat and stir at short intervals till the oil has completely separated from the tomato puree. A well fried tomato puree will also have streaks of oil, unlike when you first added the oil and it was a smooth mix of the tomato puree and oil.
Taste the fried tomato puree to make sure that the raw tomato taste is gone. With time and experience, you can even tell that the tomato puree is well fried from the aroma alone. If you are happy with the taste and you are sure that all the water has dried as much as possible, pour out the excess vegetable oil, then add the well fried tomato stew to your cooking. If you are not using it immediately, leave to cool down, dish in containers and store in the freezer.