I’m sure most of us have already come up with (and hopefully not yet broken) some new year resolutions. If you’re like me, the majority of your new year resolutions tend to focus on a more healthy lifestyle. One specific resolution I made this year was to eat more vegetables. One of my favorite vegetables is spinach, and though that word sometimes triggers distasteful memories of its bland taste usually unmasked by boring recipes, or disguised in green smoothies, allow me to introduce you to a very common Nigerian recipe that will change the way you feel about this vegetable forever! This Nigerian spinach stew also called vegetable soup and locally known as ‘Efo Riro’ (pronounced ‘eh-faw ree-roh‘) is guaranteed to be one of the most savory and delicious spinach recipes you will ever taste. This Nigerian dish is not your typical spinach stew, because it comes packed with a major wallop of flavor. Efo Riro is a favorite Yoruba staple that is so well beloved, it is sometimes the basis on which cooking skills are assessed! It is not uncommon to hear Nigerians name this spinach stew as proof of their cooking chops. So feel free to pat yourself on the back or add some zeros to your bride price (as we jokingly say locally) once you nail this recipe!
Efo riro as this vegetable soup is natively called in Yoruba literally translates to ‘vegetable stir ‘ (where ‘efo’ translates to ‘vegetable’ and ‘riro’ translates to ‘stir’) and is indicative of how this soup is traditionally made. While it is natively called a vegetable soup, the style of preparation has more in common with western preparation of stews. Efo riro is natively prepared with a choice or even a combination of local green leafy vegetables such as ‘efo shoko’ (pronounced ‘eh-faw shaw-kaw‘, the native yoruba name for green amaranth), ‘tete’ (pronounced ‘teh-teh‘ , the yoruba name for red amaranth) or ‘ugwu’ (pronounced ‘oo-goo‘, the yoruba native name for fluted pumpkin leaves) stewed and stirred in fried blended peppers. The native yoruba style of preparing this soup commonly includes the addition of ‘iru’ (pronounced ‘ee-roo’) which is the native name for fermented locust beans. While iru adds a nice, unique and savory edge to the stew, many Nigerians, especially in diaspora omit it due in no small measure to the intense , pervasive and usually offensive odor of fermented locust beans. The smell of iru followed in a few minutes by the sweet aroma of this stew wafting through the air is the quickest giveaway that efo riro is being prepared and often is the distinct scent a lot of Nigerian native restaurants are associated with. While locally prepared with a variety of meats or seafood, this vegetable soup can be adapted to appeal to both vegetarians and meat eaters, without losing its rich depth of flavor either way.
How to Make Efo Riro
Ingredient Highlights and Tips
Spinach: While I used raw spinach in this recipe, feel free to substitute it with any or a mix of your favorite green leafy vegetables such as red or green amaranth or fruited pumpkin leaves mentioned prior, kale or collard greens. If you are using frozen spinach, make sure to thaw out the spinach over a colander to allow the water from the spinach to drain before adding it to the stew.
Tomatoes: While a feature of this dish, tomatoes can easily be removed from the recipe if for you don’t prefer them. I tend to have a preference for the slightly sweet and sour flavor that tomato adds to this dish but many native versions of this recipe typically don’t include them so you can be sure it will turn out great nonetheless. If you do include them, I recommend roma or plum tomatoes as the commonly preferred choice for stews and sauces.
Powdered Dried Shrimp: This is a great substitute for crayfish which is what is natively used. You can commonly find dried shrimp in your neighborhood Asian markets or stores. These shrimp can be pulverized using a blender or food processor to create a nice seafood seasoning powder commonly used in many Nigerian and West African soups and stews. Feel free to substitute this with the traditional powdered dried crayfish if you can find some in an African store near you.
Palm oil: The native frying oil of choice for this soup or stew; palm oil brings that distinct, savory West African taste that is synonymous with a lot of Nigerian stews. If you are trying to cut down on saturated fats, you can definitely substitute palm oil with vegetable oil or annatto oil. While you might lose that native palm oil flavor, this vegetable soup will still taste great without it!
No bouillon cubes: You will also notice that my Efo riro recipe does not utilize or need bouillon cubes, which is one of the reasons I love this recipe so much because it highlights all the natural flavors of the ingredients without masking it with that samey taste that bouillon cubes sometimes bring to Nigerian dishes.
Blend Tomato Mixture & Saute Onions
To prep, blend half of a red onion with tomatoes, bell pepper, garlic, and hot pepper. Chop the other half of the red onion. In a deep saucepan or stock pot, heat the oil and saute the onions over medium heat until its golden brown.
Cook Tomato Sauce
Add the blended pepper mix, and allow to cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to avoid the mix from burning. After 30 minutes, the sauce should be significantly reduced, at this point season it with powdered dry shrimp and salt to taste.
If cooking with cooked red meat or chicken, add them to the sauce at this point. If using dried mushrooms, re-hydrate and add them at this point as well.
Stew the Spinach
Add the fresh shrimp to the sauce, then add the spinach. At this stage, the spinach may look too much, but allow to sit in the pot for about 1 minute.
Gently stir the stew and the spinach until the spinach is wilted till about half the its original volume. Adjust the seasoning with salt to taste if necessary. At this point I added the fried tilapia, stirred and served. This stew is best served warm and freshly cooked.
Vegan or Vegetarian Substitutions
For vegan or vegetarian diets, feel free to substitute the meat with dried mushrooms for that rich umami flavor or simply omit the meat, and fish altogether! The vegetables and spices on their own lend enough spice and flavor to the stew so you will definitely not miss having meat in this soup.
What Can I Eat this With?
Efo riro can be served with steamed rice, boiled or fried plantains, boiled yams or in typical Nigerian style with some type of fufu or pounded yam (my favorite!).
Sound off below if you’ve tried my Efo Riro recipe. I know for sure you will love it! And while you’re here, feel free to check out some of my other stews and vegetable soup recipes like: Spicy Nigerian Peanut Stew or my favorite alternative to Egusi soup: Nigerian Almond Stew as well!
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Efo Riro: Nigerian Spinach Stew (Yoruba Vegetable Soup)
- 4 pounds of spinach chopped
- 1 pound of cooked meat of choice I used fried Tilapia
- 1/2 pound of small fresh water shrimp
- 2 roma tomatoes
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 large red onion
- 2 habanero peppers
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1/4 cup palm oil/ annatto oil
- 3 tbsp powdered dried shrimp
- Salt to taste
- To prep, blend half of the red onion with the tomatoes, bell pepper, garlic, and hot pepper. Chop the other half of the red onion.
- In a deep sauce pan or stock pot, heat the oil and saute the onions over medium heat until its golden brown.
- Add the blended tomato mix, and allow to cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to avoid the mix from burning.
- After 30 minutes, the sauce should be significantly reduced, at this point season it with powdered dry shrimp and salt to taste.
- If cooking with cooked red meat or chicken, add them to the sauce at this point. If using dried mushrooms, re-hydrate and them at this point as well.
- Add the fresh shrimp to the sauce, then add the spinach. At this stage, the spinach may look too much, but allow to sit in the pot for about 1 minute.
- Gently stir the stew and the spinach until the spinach is wilted till about half the its original volume.
- Adjust the seasoning with salt to taste if necessary. At this point I added the fried tilapia, stirred and served.
- This stew is best served warm and freshly cooked.