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The search for a healthy eba alternative

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As a Nigerian, I love my eba/garri. Whether it is eba or pounded yam or starch or amala, as long as the soup comes correct, then I’m in.

But as someone who’s trying to be conscious about his health, I understood earlier on that the components used in traditional swallows are not exactly the healthiest. It’s all death by carbs all the way.

Eba is fermented cassava, pounded yam is obviously yam that is pounded, and starch is also clearly starch. What’s not so clear is that the starch is also from cassava. The healthiest option in the list (sometimes) is amala.

Sometimes. Because it can be made from dried unripe plantains, which also contain good amounts of fibre and potassium in addition to carbohydrates. However, the more popular form of amala is made from dried yams. It’s like the yam was tortured by drying first and then still made into almost the same amala. Also, heavy carb source.

So, for several months I abstained from all forms of swallows. I depended on beans, lentils, peanuts, plantains, fruits and meat for my survival. I shunned carbohydrates like the plague that uncertain physicians and unsure scientists say it almost is.

However, I still and will always love my swallow.

You know how they say if you can think it, it exists on the internet? I decided to test that. I searched for healthy alternatives to eba and pounded yam.

Voila! Alternatives exist! The good news is that you can make amala-looking swallows from eggplants (garden eggs), cabbages and others. The bad news (like for almost everything else that is supposedly good for you), it is expensive. I didn’t comprehend that fully until I tried.

To test the internet swallow conspiracy theory I just discovered, I headed to Chow Kit wet market to get all my traditional Nigerian ingredients for egusi (melon—not watermelon, stop thinking that) soup. I got everything including eggplants except one ingredient that was crucial to making the swallow, psyllium husks.

If you read that and went “psyllium hu-waht?!”, you have some company. Until a few weeks ago I didn’t know what it was. Apparently, it’s a healthy fibre from the seed of the Plantago plant and a popular ingredient in colon cleansing and detox regimens. Okay.

I couldn’t find psyllium husks at Chow Kit market, and an internet search suggested pharmacies. I didn’t find the husks in any of the pharmacies I went to; Guardian and Watsons. Giant, Lulu and Tesco supermarkets didn’t have them either.

An entire week passed before I found jars of it at Village Grocer. A 300gram jar costs rm26.

That’s not including the rm6 for 1kg of eggplants (about 6 pieces depending on the size). In comparison, a 250-gram bag of pounded yam costs rm5, Suji (semolina) costs rm4. For one person, each of those bags is good for at least 4 meals. The healthy eggplant version? I could squeeze two of the same sized meals out of 1kg of eggplants.

So, yes, it is expensive. But if you’re more committed to healthy swallows than the cost, here’s how you turn your eggplants to swallow. My years of interviewing chefs and writing about them are about to pay off.

Ingredients:
6 eggplants (medium-large sized)
Psyllium husk (2 tablespoons)

1. Assemble your eggplants
2. Wash and cut them into small pieces, ready for blending (I bet you didn’t see this coming). Don’t blend yet.
3. Place in a pot and cook for about 8-10 minutes
4. Remove from pot and sieve out extra liquid, then allow to cool slightly (around 20 minutes)
5. Now blend until smooth
6. Pour blended eggplant into a pot, add the 2 tablespoons of psyllium husk, and mix thoroughly
7. Place a pot on medium heat and cook until the mixture reaches your desired consistency (feel free to add more husks, just be aware of the price with every spoonful you add)

You can allow to cool slightly before you eat. It becomes slightly more solid when cooled. You can also wrap and store any remaining eggplant swallow for the next meal, or the one after that (your choice).

If you were expecting me to also show you how to make egusi soup, you’ll be so disappointed right about now. That’s what Google or 9jafoodie is for.

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