By Ozoz Sokoh
For a few years now, I’ve been aware of the connection between Nigeria and Brazil, and how cultures and cuisine were transported, exported to South America during the centuries of the slave trade. Evidenced in particular dishes, some revered – like Acaraje (Akara in Nigeria) in Bahia – northern Brazil. This bean fritters unite both countries, eaten in different manners but with shared history. Of suffering and toil. Of memories and new beginnings.
Yes, I was aware of the connection.
What I didn’t see was the other side. The arrival of Brazilian ingredients and flavours home to Nigeria. When ‘they’ returned and brought back ‘Imoyo’ dishes.
Imoyo dishes are a fusion of West African and Brazilian cuisine. They arose as a result of the Portuguese slave trade beginning in the 15th Century and which took many West Africans to Brazil. In the 19th Century, some freed ‘slaves’ returned and settled on the coast of Nigeria, bringing with them green bell peppers, olive oil and garlic, which were added as components of Nigerian cuisine.
Elizabeth Jackson describes it beautifully in her 1999 cookbook ‘South of the Sahara’. She writes ‘Imoyo dishes combine the sultry and spicy West African foods with Brazilian ingredients and cooking methods….Imoyo dishes often feature vegetables marinated in vinegar, lime or lemon juice’.
Interestingly, I have always had plantains. But not like this. I’ve had them simply boiled, or fried or roasted. Simple preparations.
I’d never conceived of them in any other way. With other vegetables.
Amazing for this vibrant salad combines wonderful contrasting colours and textures – the softness and smoothness of the plantains, warm heat from de-seeded chilies, the crunch of green bell peppers and the coolness of cucumbers. The finish of cumin and coriander leaves brings smokiness and herbiness and to finish, a dressing that’s full of fresh, clean flavours.
Beautiful, balanced, imported and thus, Nigerian.
Plantain Salad Imoyo, adapted from South of the Sahara by Elizabeth Jackson
2 plantains , very ripe
¼ cup (extra virgin) olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice , fresh
½ teaspoon salt, to taste
¼ teaspoon black pepper , freshly ground
Caster sugar, to taste
1 small green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 small hot red pepper, seeded and diced
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds, toasted and roughly crushed
Coriander (Cilantro) leaves, chopped
Options: you could add sweetcorn, chopped tomatoes, and lettuce
Wash the plantains then top and tail them. Using a knife, make a slit along the length of the plantain but do not peel/remove the skin – this slits will make it easier to remove once cooked.
Cut into 3 or 4 pieces.
Place the plantains in a medium saucepan with enough water to cover; bring to a boil and simmer for about ten to fifteen minutes or until plantains are soft enough to allow a fork or tip of a sharp knife pass through with ease.
Once cooked, drain the plantains and set aside to cool, then remove the skins.
Dice by cutting lengthways then across till you have small semi circles. Combine with the vegetables and add the dressing
Whisk the oil, lime juice, salt and pepper together until creamy or shake together in a jar. Taste and adjust seasoning with a pinch of sugar if it needs it.
Allow to rest for half and hour to an hour, at room temperature so the flavours ‘marry’.
Just before serving, sprinkle a pinch of toasted cumin and garnish with coriander leaves.
I served mine with some diced smoked chicken and spiced yogurt (with ginger garlic, cumin, salt and sugar).