7 Questions with Ozoz (Kitchen Butterfly)

Welcome to the first interview in our “7 Question” series. In these series we would chat with a number of food enthusiasts, chefs, foodies, farmers and other stakeholders on the food chain.

Food explorer and  geologist, Ozoz Sokor also known as Kitchen Butterfly is passionate about food in its entirety – cooking, eating, dreaming, writing and photographing it. She calls herself a ‘Traveller, by plate’, using “foodways” – the social, cultural and economic practices relating to the production and consumption of food to explore the world for ‘Food is more than eating’. 

Here are 7 foody questions with Ozoz!

Discovering new things about Nigerian cuisine is the very best thing ever  – learning about their history, culture, uses and interesting, personal stories. I particularly like being able to compare them. For example, I tried boiled Okpa, Bambara nut for the first time and was struck at how similar it is a cross between beans and groundnuts. Those differences, the connections fascinate me to no end!

Japanese cuisine and culture is really up there for me. I like the ‘zen’ I associate with their cuisine. I love the beauty and fragility of the blossoms. So beautiful in so many ways. Top on my list – because I absolutely adore cherry blossoms – is the Hanami for the annual cherry blossom festival.

Hanami (花見, “flower viewing”) is the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers; flowers (“hana”) are in this case almost always referring to those of the cherry (“sakura“) or, less frequently, plum (“ume”) trees.[1] From the end of March to early May, cherry trees bloom all over Japan,[2] and around the first of February on the island of Okinawa.[3] The blossom forecast (桜前線 sakura-zensen) “cherry blossom front” is announced each year by the weather bureau, and is watched carefully by those planning hanami as the blossoms only last a week or two. In modern-day Japan, hanami mostly consists of having an outdoor party beneath the sakura during daytime or at night. In some contexts the Sino-Japanese term kan’ō (観桜, view-cherry)is used instead, particularly for festivals. Hanami at night is called yozakura (夜桜) “night sakura”. In many places such as Ueno Park temporary paper lanterns are hung for the purpose of yozakura. On the island of Okinawa, decorative electric lanterns are hung in the trees for evening enjoyment, such as on the trees ascending Mt. Yae, near Motobu Town, or at the Nakijin Castle; Source – Wikipedia

 

Then, there are many delightful recipes created with the blossoms themselves from tea to jellies and bakes.

Recipes with Sakura

 

I also love the discipline and minimalism of the cuisine.

 

Well, it would be a yogurt bowl  and it’s really an assembly of ingredients.

Get some plain yogurt into a bowl

Top up with some jam – ginger jam is my favourite

Add flaked almonds and enjoy.

 

If you have time, do this overnight – the textures are amazing.

The other 5 minute dish is Chinese fried rice. This presupposes you have cold, leftover white rice, light soy sauce, eggs or other protein, any vegetables you like, sesame oil and….

Heat up a pan

Add a splash of vegetable oil and some sesame oil

Let heat up and then add the vegetables. Stir fry for a minute and season with light soy sauce. Push vegetables to one side and add your cooked protein or mixed raw eggs. Season with light soy and scramble. Once set, combine with the vegetables and add your cooked rice.

On medium heat, stir fry till the ingredients are well combined and the rice is hot.

Serve!

They are all about the pepper baby. That’s a myth. That our food has only one dimension. This is a myth. I daresay our food is beyond pepper – spice, yes, but not the one-dimensionality of heat and hot.

 

I don’t blame people though but I’d like them to be more open. Take Pepper Soup for instance – I fear that recipe names have caused many to misjudge our cuisine and I understand it perfectly for if I heard of a dish called ‘Pepper Soup’ which is almost always spicy but not always peppery, would I stop to ask what it was made of? I might avoid it altogether if I wasn’t into that kind of heat. I know too having cooked, feasted and lived on various cuisines that we must make a distinction between pepper and spice.

 

Pepper – an instance of flavour, one dimension that is almost always characterized by heat – fiery heat and not much else.

 

Spice – a plethora of flavours and fragrances, not just from one source but of many. Multi-dimensional in scents that could be floral, flavours of wood and earth and nuts, of caramel and sometimes a touch of heat – that’s spice.

 

Where I come from, in the Delta, pepper soup is not Pepper Soup without ataiko, uda, gbafilo and rigije amongst others – native names for ingredients that are unique to our part of the world and commonly packaged at markets as pepper soup spice mix (although grinding it up fresh gives the best results). At home in Warri where I grew up, we would always add lemon grass leaves (without the stalks) from the thriving bushes, which lend a clean, citrus flavour to the broth. Spices for which there are alternatives and substitutes to recreate taste profiles that match our palates. And could match yours.

 

So yes, there are things we will never be able to change, like names. ‘Pepper soup’ will never be called ‘Spice soup’, appropriate as that name is and that’s fine.

I like the thrill of discovery and the beauty of memory but also inspiration. When I think up new ideas with old ingredients, I’m really excited because it’s often an intersection of an old dish with a new take – technique, ingredient, look.

Deep fried Eba.

The inspiration came from Italian  Polenta chips. Essentially, Polenta is cooked cornmeal which is then spread out, cooled down and deep fried. You end up with crusty exterior and soft, chewy interior. You can dip them into sauces or serve as the starch to stews etc.

And so, I tried the same with Eba – garri/ cassava meal. I served it with Okro soup and it was interesting. It was weird because we aren’t used to eating Eba like this but I could see it being a thing with a bit of reworking!

It’s easy. The key is to understand the basic framework for Nigerian dishes, you can cook anything. For instance, most of our soups (they’re really stews) can be cooked with a standard formula

Prepare and cook seasoned base – with meats/ dry fish/ etc

Add thickeners and let thicken- nuts// seeds like egusi, ogbono; creams like palm nut, etc

Finish with leafy greens.

 

 

 

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