Hibiscus is a beautiful cookbook filled with not-so-traditional Nigerian dishes. The book has a heavy British influence, which is expected, since the writer was raised in the UK. It was birthed after, Lopè Ariyo won the Red magazine and Harper Collins publishing competition in 2016, and the result is stunning!
If you leave this post with any knowledge, know that Hibiscus really is a gorgeous book. The type of cookbook you’d love to display on a coffee table or kitchen shelf. I really enjoyed marvelling at the pictures, and just the general aesthetic of the book. I wish there was a picture for every recipe, but that might be impractical.
I like that Hibiscus captures the diversity of Nigerian cuisine, by featuring recipes from different tribes across Nigeria, which was something I found lacking in my review of Longthroat Memoirs.
I enjoyed the anecdotes that Ms. Ariyo had at the start of some recipes. They provided some insight into her life, and it was nice to see what experiences inspired her cooking style. In particular, I could relate to a portion of the cookbook’s introduction, where Ariyo discussed cooking as a method of maintaining cultural and familial ties.
“I realized that in the kitchen I was able to create a home away from home, no matter where I was”
I really don’t enjoy cooking. In fact, I complain about how much I hate it. So why am I spending 6+ hours in the kitchen, on a Saturday, making meat pies, jollof rice, seafood pepper soup, and zobo? I live in Canada, away from my family, and Ms. Ariyo’s quote made me realise why I do it. I enjoy the feeling I get afterwards, when I take a picture of what I made and send it to my mum. Or when I invite a group of friends over, and we bond over the taste of home. I appreciate Ms. Ariyo for bringing me to this realisation, and also for sharing her personal stories.
So what didn’t I like about the cookbook? I found the salads very weird, I didn’t try any of them for the fear that I would end up wasting it.
Also, the book has a lot of ingredients that are unfamiliar in typical Nigerian cooking, things like tarragon, coconut aminos, celery salt, etc. This was a bit of a barrier for me because it meant that I had to go round, hunting for ingredients that I know I will never use again, just to be able to try out the recipes. I think she included those ingredients to mimic the taste of traditional ingredients that aren’t readily available in the UK, but it just complicated things.
Hibiscus has 5 recipe sections, which contain a lot of different recipes. Some of them feature the hibiscus flower as a form of seasoning and/or decoration (hence the name of the book). To fully test the quality of Ms. Ariyo’s recipes, I decided to try one recipe from each section of the book. The details of each recipe, and my final results for each one is listed below.
1. Fruit, Vegetables and Tubers: Eba
I can admit that making this recipe was a cop-out. Frankly, not many of the recipes in this section appealed to me, and the ones that did seemed like too much hassle, so I decided to go the basic route and make one of the simplest Nigerian recipes. The unique thing about Lopè’s take on eba is that she uses coconut oil in her recipe. I’m not quite sure what it does, but I didn’t have any coconut oil at home, so I didn’t use it. Other recipes in this section include: Hasselback Plantains with Mushroom Steak, Fennel and Mango Slaw, and Ata (pepper) Salad.
2. Grains and Pulses: Steamed Jollof Rice
I’ve already written about my experience with Steamed Jollof Rice in my post about what I learnt from Hibiscus. The rice was yummy. It exposed me to a new method of cooking jollof rice, but it took far too long to cook, in my opinion. I was so inspired by the success of the steaming technique with jollof rice, that I decided to try out the same method for moin moin (which is also in this section). For the moin moin, I used the author’s technique but not the ingredients, because there were far too many. Other recipes in this section include: Jollof Cauliflower Rice, Bell Peppers stuffed with Carrot Rice Fufu, and Rice Crumpet (Sinasir).
3. Fish and Seafood: Ijebu Fish Rolls
I chose the Ijebu Fish Rolls primarily because of the name (my family is from the Ijebu tribe in Nigeria). I got confused by some of the directions in the cookbook. Especially when it came to cutting the strips of dough that would eventually become rolls. I was instructed to cut rectangles that were 10 x 15cm long and 2mm thick. It seemed absurd to me, that I would have a ruler to measure out the dimensions of my fish rolls. Anyways, my end result looks nothing like the picture in the cookbook (see pictures below). The filling was tasty, and so was the dough. But I didn’t quite like them together, and my dough was unusually puffy. Maybe it would’ve looked nicer if I measured the dimensions…oh well! Other recipes in this section include: Seafood Okra Soup, Seared Scallops in Grapefruit Sauce, and Cassava Stuffed Mussels.
4. Meat and Poultry: Hibiscus Chicken
This was by far the best recipe I tried. I read somewhere that this recipe won her the cooking competition that led to Hibiscus, and I’m not surprised. I don’t like the taste of chicken breast, which this recipe calls for, so I swapped that for chicken thigh. When I tried the chicken, I couldn’t stop licking my fingers. It was so deliciously moist! The hibiscus sauce that came with the recipe should be bottled and sold in stores everywhere. After trying the chicken, my friend practically begged me for the recipe. It was so good! Other recipes in this section include: Palm Wine Pork Chops, Suya Lamb Curry, and Malt-Glazed Chicken Wings.
5. Baking and Desserts: Hibiscus and Coconut Cake
Again, my travails with this recipe is included in my What I Learnt post. My struggles had nothing to do with the author, and more to do with my stubborn food scale. I was quite surprised that the cake still tasted nice after all my mistakes. I ate practically the whole thing alone in my room, and I enjoyed it. Other recipes in this section include: Lemon Chin Chin, Plantain Crepes, and Puff Puff.
If you want to explore African cuisine, you should definitely get this book. The author goes to great lengths to make the recipes approachable to beginners, so if you follow instructions, you should be fine.
I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars. If you’re contemplating buying Hibiscus, get it! I don’t think you’ll regret it, I know I haven’t!
Let me know what you think about this book? Have you tried any African cookbooks? If you’re familiar with Nigerian food, what is your favourite Nigerian meal?
Here are a couple pictures from the cookbook, and some of the recipes I tried.