Why It Works
- Sifting the flour first removes any tough fibrous matter.
- Mixing the flour with hot water reduces the cooking time.
In Nigerian cuisine, swallows are a broad category of cooked soft doughs made from roots, tubers, grains, and flours that are popular at lunch time and can be eaten for breakfast or dinner. They are meant to be eaten as-is, not baked, alongside a variety of soups and stews like egusi and efo riro. You can think of them as being similar to gnocchi or dough dumplings, in that they’re made from tubers or flours then cooked. One popular swallow is eba, which is made by mixing garri (dried cassava meal) with water.
Another popular swallow is lafun, also known as white amala, made with a fibrous fermented sun-dried cassava flour (cassava goes by other names like yuca or manioc). Lafun flour, which goes by the same name as the swallow, is made by soaking chunks of peeled cassava in water and fermenting the mixture for three to four days. Once fermented, the drained cassava is left to dry in the sun for up to four days and subsequently milled into flour.
Lafun is often confused with fufu, a common term that is used in markedly different ways across West Africa and the diaspora. The base for both lafun and fufu start with cassava. However, in the case of fufu, once the cassava is fermented, it is wet milled: passed through a sieve or blended and strained. The leftover fibers are discarded and the mixture is left to settle. After a few hours, the water is decanted, the raw fufu is put in a muslin bag (nut milk bags, cheesecloth, and chiffon also work), and a heavy object is set on top to squeeze out any remaining liquid. What’s left is a damp, crumbly cassava meal that’s cooked with water to make fufu.
Making lafun with the flour is easy and requires only two ingredients: water and lafun flour. The flour is cooked with water to form a soft dough, then scooped onto plates or bowls with a spoon or an Igbako, a special scoop made out of dried calabash (a type of gourd). The texture, like most swallows, is soft yet firm with a stretchy quality, similar to the panade stage of uncooked choux pastry before the eggs are incorporated. As with most Nigerian swallows, lafun isn’t seasoned with salt or anything else to allow its own unique slightly sweet and sour flavor to come through. Never eaten on its own, it’s typically paired with seasoned soups and stews laden with nuts, seeds, or mixed greens, kind of like mashed potatoes and gravy. To eat, pinch off morsels with your hands or utensils, dip, and enjoy.