Food Musings: Why You Need More Ugu In Your Life
Editor’s note: Ugu, also called fluted pumpkin leaves – scientific name, telfairia occidentalis, is mainly grown in Nigeria and a few other countries in West and Central Africa. It is cultivated as an edible leafy green vegetables an for its edible seeds.
If there is any vegetable that is grown in abundance in Nigeria and one of the most versatile edible plant that could be found growing easily on Nigerian soil, it would be ugu.
Growing up, a family friend had a small ugu farm and every time I would see the large fluted gourds springing forth and had thought that was the major reason for growing ugu. I loved it when the gourds were ready to be harvested and then the large oil seeds were scooped out from within the gourd in the midst of the pulp and then cooked. When ready, the cooked seeds are split to reveal a protein packed, tasty, juicy flesh within the seeds shell.
As a child, I didn’t care for green vegetables so at the time, I couldn’t care less for the green vegetable called ugu leaves but the seeds where our “thing” as children! The fluted pumpkin seeds contain a high proportion of healthy fats and oil. We loved it!
The understanding of just how nutritious green vegetables from ugu are, which is more popular and more widely eaten than the seeds in Nigeria, became clear many years later.
Here is a rundown of delicious and healthy reasons why you should chow down on enough ugu this year!
1. The deliciousness of edikang ikong
Yes, this had to be number one! Delicious food had to be first on the list! If you don’t care for any of the other reasons why you should eat more ugu, I trust that you will eat more edikang ikong any day without being cajoled! Ugu, which is an essential ingredient in our very beloved edikang ikong is enough reason to go to the market for some fresh ugu! This soup, which is chock full with the green leafy vegetable, is absolutely delicious!
2. The leaves are believed to boost immune system
Ugu leaves reportedly have anti-anaemic, anti-diabetic, antimalarial, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties otherwise referred to generally in layman’s language as “e dey give blood”.
3. Juicing for nourishment
For an unadulterated burst of nutrition, juice or blend ugu and drink straight up or mix it with other fresh fruit juices or smoothies.
I beg to digress on this juicing matter but had to mention that I used to know a lady whose answer for every ailment any member of her family had was “Drink ugu water”. Malaria = “ugu water”, typhoid = “ugu water”, headache = “ugu water”, hunger = “ugu water”! No kidding! While that is quite excessive, it will definitely help anyone, ailing or otherwise by giving him or her a nutrient or vitamin boost in the form of juice from ugu leaves
Fresh juicing of the leaves involves plucking the leaves, washing and then squeezing, blending or processing the leaves with some water and for the most benefits, drinking immediately on its own. Ugu is nutrient packed and is an excellent source of protein, fat, potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, zinc dietary fiber, copper, folate, riboflavin, vitamins A, C, K and E among others
4.Because sweet boiled yam is even better with vegetable sauce
We aren’t joking here. We can count very few things that are more delicious than vegetable sauce (which could be made with ugu leaves) over sweet boiled yam! So make some quick vegetable sauce with ugu and serve it over yam for a wholesome and satisfying meal every time
5. Everything is better with a handful of chopped ugu leaves
We could start listing them point after point but we wouldn’t because we know you totally get it when we say “everything is better with a handful of chopped ugu leaves”!
So whether you are enriching your yam pottage, plantain pottage, beans and plantain pottage with that final finish of chopped vegetable just before you take it off the heat, adding it while frying eggs or egg sauce, or whether it is added at the top of some delicious nkwobi, or mixed into some isi ewu or African salad, used in finishing soups such as egusi soup, ogbono soup, okro soup or whether it is added in a dish so that you feel good about getting some green vegetables into your diet, (never mind if it is an unhealthy dish or not with the green vegetables in it, it is healthy right? That’s our story and we are sticking to it!), adding some Ugu sure makes “everthing” better!