My Pantry: Ye­wande Ko­mo­lafe

A shelf of Nige­rian cook­ing sta­ples


Grow­ing up in La­gos, Nige­ria, Ye­wande Ko­mo­lafe rarely cooked. But af­ter she moved to the States at age 16 and worked for 15 years in res­tau­rant kitchens (Res­tau­rant Eu­gene in At­lanta, New York’s Mo­mo­fuku Milk Bar), she de­vel­oped a new­found cu­rios­ity about her na­tive cui­sine. Her in­ves­ti­ga­tion blos­somed into a din­ner se­ries called “My Im­mi­grant Food Is…” ex­plor­ing how im­mi­grants adapt their cook­ing in a for­eign land. Her first din­ner delved into her own her­itage, in­clud­ing an ini­tial at­tempt at pep­per soup, a Nige­rian classic. “My mother, who still lives in La­gos, guided me,” she says. Ko­mo­lafe, now a pro­fes­sional recipe de­vel­oper, re­ceived ad­di­tional point­ers from Tunde Wey, a Nige­rian cook liv­ing in New Or­leans (and founder of the “Black­ness in Amer­ica” din­ner se­ries), Youtube, and a wise woman from her local African gro­cery, where she picks up suya spice, black car­damom, and garri.


“Used as a dry rub, suya is a blend of ginger pow­der, chile pow­der, onion pow­der, pa­prika, gar­lic pow­der, sea salt, and kuli kuli, a classic Nige­rian snack of ground peanuts and spices. In Nige­ria, suya spice is rubbed onto meat or any­thing you might cook on the grill. You can find it prepack­aged at African gro­ceries.”


“Fer­mented cas­sava that’s been de­hy­drated or dried and ground into a coarse flour, garri is used to make eba, a sort of stiff mashed potato dish. And de­pend­ing on what re­gion you’re in, each garri is pre­pared dif­fer­ently. In some ar­eas, it’s more fer­mented, and in parts of eastern Nige­ria, it’s fried in palm ker­nel oil to make yel­low garri.”


“I re­cently made pep­per soup, a classic, glossy, spicy soup made with a light broth and fish or goat meat, for the first time. The spice mix­ture in­cludes cal­abash nut­meg, ne­gro pep­per (also called uda seeds), and al­li­ga­tor pep­per seeds. I like to grind my own mix, but pre­ground ver­sions can be found at African gro­cery stores, too.”


“I first dis­cov­ered this dark, pod­like spice in a veg­e­tar­ian chili dish, and now I drop them into soups or sautés whole, let­ting them steep be­fore tak­ing them out at the end. It’s smoky and deep, un­like green car­damom, which is herba­ceous and flo­ral.”


“In Nige­ria, these bright orange [hot] pep­pers are used in ev­ery­day cook­ing. I also put them in ev­ery­thing. I made a pasta sauce with them re­cently and will of­ten put them into a base with onions and gar­lic. They’re a very fluid in­gre­di­ent: You can use them in mari­nades, pickle them, chop them up and add them to eggs, or throw them into a sofrito.”

Af­ter 15 years of work­ing in res­tau­rant kitchens, Ko­mo­lafe be­came cu­ri­ous about her na­tive cui­sine.


“Grow­ing up, I re­mem­ber palm oil was al­ways freshly pressed. Thick, even when heated, it adds depth that veg­etable or olive oil doesn’t. It gives soups or stews com­plex fruiti­ness and rich­ness.”


“You can find these at every African gro­cery. I like mine re­ally ripe—al­most to­tally black on the out­side, and sug­ary sweet. They can be sliced and deep fried, or roasted and mashed.”


“My mother brings this when she comes to visit from Nige­ria. I pull it out when I’m craving some­thing with lots of fla­vor and use it as a fin­ish­ing highlight over crème brûlée, cream puffs, or yo­gurt. It’s deep and dark and rich like mo­lasses or toasted millet.”

In­gre­di­ents can be found on ama­ or

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