My food processor could never compete. Proper bean cake calls for a proper grinder. Then I realise: for perfect Moin moin I have to get back to Lagos. I am counting the days.
Auntie Feyi from Ibadan taught me how to prepare moin moin. Auntie Feyi lived on a quiet street in Bashorun with her two grown up daughters. They stayed in an apartment that was an annex to their landlord’s single storey house. The landlord was a Muslim and his wife a Christian, their children a religious potpourri, as was the entire street. I loved that little street in the north-east of Nigeria’s largest indigenous city, where such a big part of life happened outdoors.
I was staying there in July 2010 when Muhammed Yusuf was killed. Immediately after the death of this Boko Haram leader, I got a phone call from Dutch news radio. They wanted me to talk about the problems between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. So I explained I was actually staying in a city where there were no such problems. I told them about Auntie Feyi’s landlord and his wife, about how Christians joined their Muslim neighbours for Eid. I spoke of Jonathan and Mohamed who grew up playing football together. Jonathan had just got engaged and asked his Muslim friend Mo to be his best man in the church ceremony. The radio editor did not call back to follow up on this angle.
I am reminiscing over this in my Dutch ultra-compact as the food processor is chopping two cups of black eyed beans into oblivion. I have returned to the Netherlands temporarily to make the final arrangements for my move to Lagos. I miss Nigeria, the tastes, the sounds, the people. Time for comfort food: I am preparing a batch of moin moin, the sweet-yet-spicy Naija food I fell in love with the very first time I tasted it. But it never comes out quite the same as Auntie Feyi’s own.
Take black eyed beans. Sounds so easy. But it is not. Yes, one can find brown eyed beans here. Or black eyed beans with brown skins. Or beans with no eyes whatsoever. But proper black eyed beans are not easy to come by in my home town, Utrecht. There is a Nigerian store in Rotterdam near the harbour, but in case of a Moin moin emergency that is simply too far away. The first—disaster I blame on the beans.
The second one was due to bad wrapping. I’d bought banana leaves from the Surinamese shop around the corner. Apparently Auntie Feyi’s origami skills had been wasted on me: the leaves unfolded as the Moin moin was steaming away. The casserole never survived the resulting moin moin explosion.
Eventually though my Moin moin improved, at least judging by the way Nigerian friends in these parts were fighting over it. But there was still something wrong with the texture. Perfect moin moin should be firm and creamy at the same time, but I could never seem to get mine as velvety as I’d have liked.
I tried adding warm water to the beans instead of cold. More oil. My Yoruba mama even advised me to add a raw egg to the batter. My cousin whom I grew up with as a brother married a Nigerian, and her mother is a very outspoken 83-year-old Yoruba lady. She had dreamed I was going to move to Lagos before I told anyone in the family of my plans. She also dreamed I sent her my wedding invitation from Nigeria – I still wonder about her ability to tell the future. I deeply respect her opinions, but after two tries I threw the egg she suggested out of my recipe again. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t moin moin.
I stand over the food processor and watch the beans mix with the bell pepper, the onion and the red chili peppers – the latter I seem to be adding more and more to any kind of food these days. It hits me. The problem is not the ingredients: it is the equipment. I think back of Auntie Feyi’s neighbour who was in charge of the street grinder by the side of the road. How many times she would pass the bean mixture through the grinder before she was satisfied with the result. My food processor could never compete. Proper bean cakes call for a proper grinder. Then I realise: for perfect moin moin I have to get back to Lagos. I am counting the days.
Talk to Femke on Twitter: @femkevanzeijl
For her own moin moin recipe: http://www.fvz-journaliste.nl/pivot/entry.php?id=368
Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.