What Is Ukwa?
In the Nigerian Igbo language, ukwa refers to breadfruit. There is a delicious porridge that we make from the seeds of this fruit.
In Nigeria, ukwa is quite expensive because of its nutritional value as well as the fact that it is used in certain traditional ceremonies. If you are not in Nigeria, you can buy the already processed seeds from an African market, preferably one that specializes in Igbo cuisine. If you can’t find the processed seeds, read below for how to process them yourself from breadfruit.
One ingredient used in cooking the ukwa porridge is called ngwo. This is a locally made food softener that is used in place of potash because it's healthier. Ngwo is made with two ingredients only: ash and water. The ash is obtained from burning unripe plantain peel or an empty palm fruit bunch. The most common source of ngwo ash is unripe plantain peel because it's easily sourced.
Another local ingredient we use is called ogili, which is used in Igbo cuisine to cook soups. This ingredient is available in African markets, as well.
How to Make Your Own Ngwo
As mentioned above, ngwo is one of the ingredients in ukwa. It is a locally made food softener that is made from ash and water.
- Dry uripe plantain peels under the sun until they are completely dry.
- Set the dried peels on fire in a controlled environment, preferably in a steel bucket, to collect the ash.
- Soak the ash in plenty of water overnight.
- Decant the water and store it in an airtight bottle.
This water is called ngwo and it is used in a number of eastern Nigerian dishes. Store any leftover ash in an airtight jar for future use.
How to Process Breadfruit Seeds to Make Ukwa
- If you have a breadfruit tree, allow breadfruit to ripen and fall from the tree on its own. If you buy a ripe breadfruit from the market, cover it with leaves or a sack and allow it to overripen. The aim is for the seeds to fall off at the slightest touch.
- Harvest the seeds from the pod and wash them under running water. Wash until they are completely clean.
- Parboil the seeds. Once it starts to boil, stir and turn off the heat. Don't allow the seeds to cook.
- Peel off the skin of the seeds. This can be done with a machine or by hand using a bottle to roll over the seeds repeatedly until the skins come off. It doesn't have to be perfect.
Ingredients for Ukwa Porridge
- 3 cups breadfruit (ukwa)
- 1/2 cup ngwo
- Salt, to taste
- Habanero peppers or chili, to taste
- 1 large dry catfish (or smoked)
- 1/4 cup red palm oil
- 2 bullion cubes
- 1 ogili wrap
- Bitter leaf, washed and squeezed (optional)
Instructions for Ukwa Porridge
- Place the ukwa in a pot with water and set on maximum heat. Allow to boil for 45 minutes.
- Add the ngwo. Let it boil for 10 minutes. This will soften the ukwa, and the water will thicken.
- Sieve out excess water but leave enough in the pot to continue cooking.
- You can store the water sieved out to drink as cold soup later. It's creamy and delicious.
- Add in blended peppers, salt, ogili, fish, palm oil and optional bitter leaf that has been washed and squeezed out. Continue to boil for 10 minutes. Stir.
- Remove from heat and serve.
Ukwa With Corn Variation
Ukwa can also be made with corn.
- Boil the corn until it is well cooked.
- In a separate pot, cook the ukwa for 45 minutes, then add the ngwo and boil for another 10 minutes before sieving out some of the water.
- Add the cooked corn, blended peppers, salt, bullion cubes and palm oil. Stir and cook on low heat for a further 5 minutes and serve.