On cold rainy season evenings, comfort food like ila alasepo | Stewed Okra from a deep round bowl, gives warmth the cool rainy season evening needs, when a slow living and existence is needed.
The origin of okra is disputed, with some supporting either West African, Ethiopian, or South Asian origins. At Aga, we like to believe it originated in the tropics of West Africa and was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians by the 12th century B.C.
Its cultivation spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The seed pods were eaten cooked, and the seeds were toasted and ground, used as a coffee substitute (and still is).
Okra came to the Caribbean and the U.S. in the 1700s, said to be brought by slaves from West Africa, and was introduced to Western Europe soon after. Okra is in every sense African as it made the voyage across continents with us.
It can be eaten slowly or quickly, until you are full to the brim and need to be rolled over like a talking drum. It’s my comfort dish without the carbs and with awesome health benefits. Many may find the gooeyness of okra to be too slippery but it is what soothes me.
My son and I prepared a wholesome and comforting dish of ila alasepo one cool Lagos rainy evening in April. Observed in Ibadan, my child hood home, from my older sister Tayo, the true chef of the family.
My recipe is a homage to her and seasonal rainy season ingredients, served with delicious processed cassava moulds that can be generously ladled on with an assortment of grilled beef, chicken seafood.
“This is a great hands-on recipe that uses the entire okra - flesh, seeds and all,” says Moyo from her Lagos-based kitchen. “I love making this with my daughter. It can be made into a big batch and enjoyed for more than one meal.”
Ila Asepo or Alasepo or stewed Okra is a local Nigerian dish from Yoruba. Ila means “okra” and Asepo means “cooking together”. This is how we make our version of Asepo, so please, Ewá Jéun.
You will need:
- 500g of fresh okro
- ⅓ cup palm oil
- 500g beef or assorted meat already seasoned & cooked
- 500g fresh Cat fish
- 1 cup fresh prawns
- 1 red bell pepper
- Scotch bonnet
- 1 medium-size onion
- 1 wrap locust beans (Iru)
- Salt to taste
- Knorr cubes or any seasoning cube of choice
- 2 tablespoons ground crayfish
- Put on medium heat and add palm oil.
- After 1-2 minutes add puree of pepper, tomatoes and onions
- Stir at regular intervals to reduce burning
- Spice the stew generously and let the mixture cook for 5 - 10 minutes
- Add seafood and/or assorted meats
- Take out the seafood after 5 minutes to avoid over cooking, leaving the assorted meats in the stew.
- Keep cooking on low heat
- Fill up the pot to the point where it will cover the okra (blended, chopped or grated)
- Add your locust beans and allow the water to boil for 3 minutes
- Add your okra and stir vigorously to mix evenly.
- Let this cook for about 2 minutes before lowering the heat
- Add the stew/sauce and mix again.
- Spice accordingly
- Add ground crayfish here and the seafood removed earlier.
- Leave to cook for 2 minutes
- Take off heat.
Ila Alasepo can be made in many different ways and the recipes can be tweaked to your preference, you can add any leafy vegetable of your choice. Some people even use potash, it is a local spice that makes any food cook faster.
I hope you enjoy this meal as much as I do and, that it soothes your soul and helps you to relax.
Words by Moyo Ogunseinde.
All other images by Temitope Babaoye.