Most homes in Lagos back in the day had this saying on the entrance atop the doorway, IRÉ A KARÌ. The longer phrase says Iré á Kári fu’n gbogbo wa. Amin. It loosely translates to; May Good Fortune Be Upon Us All. Amen. This is certainly my prayer for the world now and always. May good fortune always be bountiful for us all.
This week, oh this week… England is heading into another lockdown and the outlook is dreadful, especially in what is likely to be a gloomy winter, which brings a heightened chance of contracting this disease that has no mercy on humans and we continue to test her limits and fail to adhere to her lessons. I am a definitive introvert but even I know and acknowledge the need to break the cycle lest the isolation lead to an insularity of being which can consume from within. With the US elections on the horizon, it feels as if we are trapped limbo, without a certain path forward. Breaths are stilled and actions are stifled, nerves are frayed and the chasm between certainty and sanity widens. What really is life going to look like when we eventually come out of this? Because we have to right? Only Mother Nature is in on her secret and she leaves no indication of when the fog will lift, and most important, how the world will change. Nature is such that she gives no indication on her intentions. The uncertainty is jarring and if ever more, exposes our state of fragility.
We simply don’t know.
And yet, we reach for Hope, in the goodness of humanity, the kindness of our neighbour, the care of strangers, a nice word here, a good deed there, a thoughtful action over there and a virtual hug from anywhere. It is part of the best thing about being human in these times; the goodness of people remain a constant. As I type this I too am going through the motions of uncertainty and anxiety, and so I do the familiar which brings me joy; like watch the Sound of Music however many times I want, pray, FaceTime with my nephews, read a book, take in some art online or simply be still in the silence and know that whatever will prevail will, but never losing sight of the hopefulness.
And in a bowl of Okro soup I also find hope.
Okro Soup is soothing for the soul. Is it Okro or Okra? I grew up saying the former but that annoying redline is beneath it. Winter ushers in with her, a tradition of warming soups and cosiness. As with most things food, for me anyway, there is a certain nostalgia linked to eating Okro soup as an adult. It takes me way back to summers spent in Asaba, when we’d visit our grandmother on her farm. On Saturdays the meal on offer was one of a kind, literally and figuratively speaking; six to six; pounded yam and Okro soup at 6am in the morning as the first light of day was settling in, and 6pm in the evening; after much playing on the farm and working off the energy had in the morning. Boy those were the days and that was the life.
As we are about to enter into another government sanctioned lock down, we ought to have some restorative treasures in our arsenal, like making a good soothing soup.
- Beef, the preferred. You can use chicken but it is not quite the same, the beef stock is much more succulent.
- Dry pepper
- Maggi- bouillon cube
- Ginger – not a lot
- Garlic power – not a lot
- 10 to 12 pieces of fat Okro; chopped no blended on a chopping board using a knife. Cut off the stalk and end. Blending makes for too fine a mix, chopping gets it just right. It’s a ball-ache but it is much better and therapeutic in a way.
- Boil the meat and season it well with dry-pepper, crayfish, onions, salt, maggi, garlic powder, ginger powder.
- Once the meat is boiled to your liking, mix in the chopped okra.
- Cook for about ten minutes, if that or when the Okro is fully incorporated into the meat and stock.
- Do not cover it after adding the Okro, it looses its stickiness.
- 3 Fresh tomatoes
- ½ Ata rodo/scotch bonnet
- Cray fish
- Garlic powder
- Stock fish
- Place a cast iron pot on a stove with medium heat
- Blend the tomatoes, onions and pepper together and tip into the cast iron pot on the stove. I say cast iron but you can use whatever pot you have at home.
- Bring to a boil on low heat, to let it simmer
- Halfway through the boil, season it with salt, maggi, crayfish, and garlic powder
- Leave to boil another ten minutes
- Add the seafood of your choice, I use stock fish and king prawns, descaled; let it imbibe the flavours of the tomato which is a kind of stock for the Okro since we are not using meat.
- Once cooked add in the Okro and leave to simmer into the tomato. Do not cover to avoid it loosening, the comfort of Okro is that it is slurpy and slimey.
- Enjoy with a dash of hope and goodness and if you have poundo, that’ll do too.
And remember, in these bleakest of times, there is good fortune around us, enough for all of us; Ire a kari fun gbogbo wa. Amin.