How to prevent lumps of cocoyam in your soup (if you are using powdered cocoyam)
AeetesQ, African culture, African Food, African Homes

How to prepare bitterleaf soup (Ofe onugbu)

Bitter leaf soup (Ofe Onugbu) is a versatile delicacy native to the Igbo from eastern Nigeria but adopted and enjoyed throughout the country. The key ingredients in making this delicacy are bitter leaves, ogiri, and cocoyam. Some may even argue that ogiri is the most significant ingredient of the soup. The ogiri Okpie brings out the pure native flavour of the Ofe Onugbu.

How to prepare bitterleaf soup (Ofe onugbu)

The bitterness of the bitter leaf paired with the unique flavour of the Ogiri gives us the delectable flavour of the popular Ofe Onugbu.

Ingredient for bitter leaf soup

Some ingredients for making bitterleaf soup are:

How to prepare bitterleaf soup (Ofe onugbu)
  • Bitter leave
  • Thickener (the most popular thickener used in making bitterleaf soup is cocoyam. You can either use finely grated cocoyam tubers or processed powder cocoyam)
  •  Ground crayfish
  •  Palm oil
  •  Water
  •  Salt to taste
  •  Assorted beef (including cow skin (Kpomo) and cow tail cut into small sizes and meat)
  •  Assorted fish (including Dry fish, ground crayfish and stockfish)
  •  1 teaspoon of Ogiri Igbo
  •  Pepper

Steps to follow to make Bitter leaf soup or Ofe Onugbu

leaf soup ofe onugbu
  1. Wash your assorted meat with cold water and place clean proteins in a pot
  2.  Season proteins with your choice of seasoning cubes, salt, and Okpehe
  3.  If you are using cow stripe/cow skin (shaki/ kpomo), allow them to boil for at least three minutes before you add the washed meat.
  4.  Season your proteins with seasoning cubes, black pepper, and salt to taste and okpehe.
  5.  Place on a stove (or gas cooker) and leave to cook.
  6.  Wash stock fish/ dry wash with warm water and salt, then add them to the meat.
  7.  Add all the ingredients, including the cocoyam, if all the proteins are cooked. Ingredients to add at this stage includes palm oil, bitterleaf, pepper, and crayfish (if you did not add them earlier or if you want to add more)
  8.  There are two ways to add the cocoyam with the bitter leaves and the other ingredients. Please check the paragraph below for this tip.
  9.  You will need to cover the pot and allow it to cook for a few minutes under high heat. If you leave, add the cocoyam in lumps, then cook until the cocoyam dissolves completely.
  10.  You can also add a little water if you need to.

How to pound cocoyam and How to use cocoyam powder for bitterleaf soup?

You can always find the thicker Ofe Onugbu in the village market of your local market. Some of them are made from a mixture of cocoyam and other local condiments dried and ground to and sold in powdered form.

You can always find the thicker Ofe Onugbu in the village market of your local market. Some of them are made from a mixture of cocoyam and other local condiments dried and ground to and sold in powdered form.

How to prevent lumps of cocoyam in your soup (if you are using powdered cocoyam)

It is advisable to scatter it finely in your pot of soup if you choose to prepare this soup with powdered thickener. Add a little palm oil to a small pot, add the powdered coco yam and place on low heat for about a minute.

How to prepare bitterleaf soup (Ofe onugbu)
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How to make Ofe Onugbu with cocoyam

Below are the steps you should follow to make the most delicious pot of bitter-leaf soup with cocoyam paste

  • Wash the cocoyam thoroughly with its peel.
  •  Boil the cocoyam until it is soft.
  •  Use a mortar and a pestle to pound until the corms form a smooth paste.
  •  Use a spoon or your hand to scoop and drop tiny lumps into your soup.

Why is it called bitter leaf?

I would assume that the extremely bitter taste of this Nigerian herb is the main reason it is called bitterleaf. With that said, bitterleaf is one of the most popular herbs used in a typical Nigerian kitchen, not for its bitter, then sweet taste but for its health benefits. This African herb is highly noted as an active anti-cancer3, anti-bacteria, anti-malarial, and anti-parasitic agent4. It is also used to manage diabetes.

How to prepare bitterleaf soup (Ofe onugbu)

From a local and non-medical standpoint, many Nigerians believe bitter leaf is a great herb.

  1. Bitter leaf helps relieve stomach aches
  2.  It has properties that may help to prevent cancer, especially prostate cancer.
  3. It is used to manage diabetes
  4.  Bitter leaf helps relieves restlessness.
  5. It is used to cook several Nigerian meals, especially bitterleaf soup and egusi soup.

Where can I get bitter leaf from?

Because I have seen bitter leaf in every marketplace I have been to in Nigeria, I like to assume that you can find it in yours!! So, yes, you can buy bitterleaf in every marketplace in Nigeria (I hope). Although, getting freshly plucked bitterleaf may be the hard part. Most of the stalls in the village market (bush market) area of most markets in Nigeria always have bitterleaf the parboiled bitterleaf. If you prefer the fresh bitterleaf, you may have to look a little harder or check around your neighbourhood.

How to prepare bitterleaf soup (Ofe onugbu)
How to prepare bitterleaf soup (Ofe onugbu)

Bitter leaves are very easy to plant, although they may take a little while to mature!! So, for your convenience, I suggest you grow your bitterleaf in your backyard.


Cut the branch from a mature bitterleaf plant and plant it in your house. After a few months, it will grow its own roots and leaf. And voila!!! You have your own bitterleaf!!

What can I eat this soup with (bitter leaf soup (Ofe onugbu))?

Bitter-leaf soup is quite versatile. Bitter leaf soup with pounded yam is a match made in culinary heaven. Other Nigerian fufu that pairs perfectly with Ofe Onugbu include:

  1. Akpu
  2. Semolina
  3. Starch
  4. corn flour
  5. Eba (Gari)

Other helpful information for making the best Ofe Onugbu

As mentioned earlier, the ingredients needed to make the best bitter leaf soup are bitter leaf, cocoyam and ogiri. but you can also add pumpkin leaves for added flavour and health benefits

Bitterleaf soup requires assorted proteins. I am talking about Okporoko, dry fish, crayfish and the main protein. You can use beef, chicken or turkey, but goat meat is the absolute best protein for this soup.

How to prepare bitterleaf soup (Ofe onugbu)

dried bitter leaf has a different flavour profile than freshly plucked bitter leaf.

There are several ways of washing bitter leaves. For large quantities of bitter leaves, the best and easiest way to get rid of or reduce the bitterness of the leaf is to boil for a few minutes in salty water. You can also pound it in a mortar before rinsing it out there. You can take out what you need and preserve the rest by sun-drying.

Lumps of egusi can be an absolute delight!!!!

Tips, Tips, Tips!! and more tips!! to help you make the best Ofe Onugbu

How do you thicken the soup with cocoyam?

Cocoyam is added to Oha soup and Ofe Onugbu as a thickener. You can use the powdered cocoyam sold in the market or make a paste yourself. Check out the paragraph above for a detailed description.

Bitter leaf soup is best enjoyed with Semo, punded yam, amala or casava fufu

Do you peel cocoyam before boiling it?

Absolutely not. Not when you enjoy cocoyam as a meal or use it as a thickener. You cannot peel cocoyam before because it will dissolve when you cook it, also the peeling cocoyam may also lead to a lot of wastage.

Simply wash your cocoyam thoroughly with its peel until all the dirt is gone before cooking. Once it is cooked, you can easily peel off the skin with your hands, unless you prefer to use a fruit knife!

How to prepare bitterleaf soup (Ofe onugbu)

How do you reduce bitterness in bitter-leaf soup?

There are a few ways to reduce the bitterness of the leaves. They are:

Put leaves in a bowl of water and rub a chunk of the leaves between your palms repeatedly until the water is clearer. Boiling the leaves in water and a tablespoon of salt also helps with the bitterness.

Types of thickeners you will need for bitter leaf soup

Although the most popular thickener used to prepare this soup is cocoyam, there are several other condiments to add used in place of cocoyam and they are

  • yam
  • egusi
  • cornflour
  • canwa
  • Achi
  • Ofo
  • Ukpo
  • offor
  • Unripe Plantain
  • Quaker’s Oats
  • potato flour

Additional Note: Each of the above thickeners may produce its distinct flavour profile. So, you can stick to the classic thickener, coco yam or experiment with all the above until you get the flavour that fits you perfectly.

Where can I get a nice plate of bitterleaf soup and fufu?

Several restaurants, bukas and food vendors in Nigeria prepare and serve bitterleaf soup. Look out for restaurants that have local dishes specifically from the east.

So, if a restaurant serves Ofe Nsala, Banga soup and Okpa, there is a good chance they have Ofe Onugbu on their menu.

For food lovers outside Nigeria, check the menus of your favourite Nigerian restaurants. Although there is a possibility that you may need to preorder your meal.

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