Do you Nigerian pesto?
One would never have imagined a time in our nation when the dollar or economy in general would plummet so much that tomatoes become pink diamonds and limited edition couture Armani clothes. The jokes went off on social media and in the physical; from tatashe and chilli only stews to onion and carrot sauces, the suggestions came flooding in. It’s been while now and the price has since adjusted but we lived in the fear for a moment.
As light heartedly as we handled the situation, some of us genuinely began to ask ourselves, “What truly are the alternatives to using tomatoes to eat our rice and carbs in general?” I for one already had one of my go-to sauces that requires almost no cooking whatsoever- My Nigerian Pesto!
About a year ago, I decided that there had to be a cheaper Nigerian approach to the Italian basil green sauce pesto. The Italians have a very simple sauce of pounded basil, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, garlic, salt and some black pepper. These are all loosened with very good olive oil. It’s like their national ewedu but raw and it pretty much goes with almost everything. It’s like their ketchup, maybe not so much ewedu!
I had done this recipe with scallops and sea bass previously and made a separate chilli sauce to go with it, but this recipe is a bit more all-encompassing as I threw in dried chillies and the chloe prawns just lightly seasoned prawns in it. I have also added prawn stock to this recipe.
The cooking you really do here is to steep the spinach leaves in boiling water for about one and a half minutes. Everything else is pretty much done in the blender. The Nigerian in you may not like the parmesan cheese, it optional, so you can leave it out. I would recommend you add more cashew nuts. If you mix plain and chilli roasted cashews, it makes for a more tasty Pesto but when you don’t include the cheese I think its legally correct to call it Pistou.
Enough talk, here’s the recipe below:
200g spaghetti cooked according to packet instructions or to your level of doneness. I suggest al dente (to the teeth or still has a little bite, please not too soft!)
2 cups cooking pasta cooking water reserved
1 large bunch green/ tete leaves (popularly known as green) (to give you 1 and 1/2 cups to 2 cups of wilted greens)
1 and 1/2 cups of olive oil
3 large garlic cloves or 1/2 eating spoon of crushed garlic
A pinch of salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoon dried chilli flakes or 1 tsp Cameroon pepper
1/2 cup roasted unsalted cashews
1/3 cup chilli roasted cashews
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (optional, replace with more cashews to make it more creamy)
6-8 large tiger prawns cleaned and deveined. Cut into rounds if you like
Salt, garlic and black pepper to season
1 cup of prawn stock* or chicken stock if you don’t have prawn stock
In a blender or food processor, place all the ingredients except the water for boiling and the greens.
In salted boiling water, place the greens to cook for about 20-40 seconds till they’ve softened well enough. The salt is essential to keep the green colour of the leaves.
Place into ice cold water. That’s literally water with ice cubes in it or water from the freezer.
Do so for about 20 seconds and squeeze but do not completely dry out.
Add to the ingredients in the blender and pulse till you have your desired consistency. On some days I like mine very smooth, sometimes I like it a little gritty like oatmeal.
Taste for seasoning and adjust if you want more of anything, but the salt from the cheese if you are using, should be fine.
To make the dish…
In a wide pan, add the prawn stock and prawns and bring to a boil. Once the prawns have turned a light orange colour, add the cooked pasta, then 4 heaped eating spoons of the pesto or 3/4 cup of the pesto. I usually just keep adding till I see it’s almost excessively coated. My trust issues then kick in and I still spoon more over it.
Toss everything together over the heat quickly but be careful not to over heat the greens so they don’t change colour. The pasta water is to help loosen the pasta in the event it starts to stick together. That’s the secret to stop pasta from sticking together. The starch in it is the natural grease. Don’t add any extra oil or butter or anything. It isn’t needed.
You can grill some chicken or beef or whatever you have if you don’t like prawns or don’t have any. it goes with everything.
You can add some cherry tomatoes or fresh rocket leaves for extra garnish and of course extra parmesan cheese and toasted nuts.
So Do you now Nigerian Pesto? Cook yourself Good!
*To Make your prawn stock. wash the shells and heads of your prawns and roast them slightly in a pan with very little oil about a teaspoon. Once changed colour, add some water fresh herbs like coriander parsley or simply just add salt, white or black pepper, some tomato puree and garlic all to your taste. Boil down for about 20mins or till the heads have softened a little. Pulse in a blender oil the prawns shells and heads are in small coarse bits and strain through a fine sieve so you don’t get any grit from the shells or heads. Be careful not to grind it too fine as even if you strain you would get some grit that would feel like sand in your mouth. Not good trust me I’ve been there before. Thank God it was my family eating it and not paying clients!