In this season of thankfulness, Thank you, Omu! by author and illustrator Oge Mora is a loving ode to the generous people in our communities and a reminder to show appreciation to those who have given us so much. Omu, named for the Igbo word for queen, has just put her thick red stew on to simmer, when there is a knock on her door. The little boy standing outside the door is just the first of many neighbors who smell Omu’s delicious stew and come to see what is creating such a delectable aroma. Omu shares some of her thick red stew with each curious neighbor until her big fat pot is empty, and there is no stew left for Omu’s dinner. Just as Omu is wondering what she will eat for dinner, there is one last knock on her door and her neighbors enter, everyone bringing food to share. Many of the people who Omu shares her stew with are those who are giving a lot to their communities: a doctor, bus driver, construction worker, shop owner, and even the mayor! I love how this book shows a mutual care for each other, each person giving what they can to keep their community safe and thriving. As for the little boy, he gives the one thing he can – a shiny red envelope containing a hand-written thank you note, demonstrating that even young children can contribute to the well-being of those around them.
Oge Mora explains that the character of Omu was inspired by her beloved Nigerian grandmother, so I wanted to find an authentic Nigerian recipe to feature with Thank You, Omu!. As I have very little experience with African cooking, I turned to Nigerian American food blogger Chichi Uguru at My Diaspora Kitchen for a recipe. Chichi’s Nigerian Beef Stew sounded similar to the thick red stew that Omu cooks in the book as it has a base of tomatoes and red peppers and simmers to a thick, rich consistency. A filling, savory beef stew is one of my favorite meals on cold winter days and I have tried and true recipes for everything from Beef Burgundy to a spicy Texas-style beef chili. But I had never made a beef dish from Africa and this Nigerian Beef Stew was a fun learning experience. Although this stew requires a few extra steps compared to many others, none of them are especially difficult or time consuming and the resulting layered, complex flavor is worth every minute. The recipe starts with a puree of tomatoes, onions, and red peppers which is then simmered until reduced and thickened. Then, beef and onions are browned with warm curry, ginger, and garlic and finally, the puree base and meat are combined and simmered to create a thick, meaty stew. There are so many complex flavors in this stew; spice from the peppers, meaty umami flavor from the beef, and a slight tang from the tomatoes. I served this stew with white rice, as suggested by Uguru in her recipe notes, but it would also be delicious with flat bread or even a crusty baguette. The only changed I made to this recipe were to halve the ingredients and to leave out the habanero peppers. I knew our family was not ready for that level of spice quite yet, and the red pepper flakes were just the right amount of spice for us. Next time I plan to include just a little habanero; maybe we can work our way up to the full amount! There are lots of ways kids can contribute to making this stew, depending on their age and abilities:
- patting meat dry and seasoning it
- measuring out spices and seasonings
- chopping vegetables, onions, or herbs
- stirring stew in the pot
- running the food processor when making stew base
- rinsing and chopping parsley