|Fluted Pumpkin Leaves - Ugwu|
There are very few vegetables that can be described as highly nutritious, and within Nigeria, Ugu leaves conveniently take the lead...! These leaves are packed full of vitamins & minerals and are one of the few vegetables high in protein.
So then, why do we seem not to eat more and more of these leaves?
Ugu leaves (as they are called in the local dialect) are the leaves of the fluted pumpkin and are native to the Eastern / South Eastern parts of Nigeria where they are traditionally added to soups or stews. The leaves are also used to make medicinal concoctions to manage certain ailments.
There is no doubt that based on research findings, the leaves are highly nutritious. Check out the nutritional data below.
Nutritional Data (100g picked leaves only)
Calories - 40 kcal
Dietary fibre - 1.6g
Carbohydrate - 5g
Protein - 4g
Fat - 0.8g
Vitamins - A, C, K, E, folate, Riboflavin
Minerals - Potassium, Iron, Magnesium, Calcium, Phosphorus
I have often wondered, that because ugu leaves are so beneficial to our health, why do we not eat them raw, y'know like in salads. I know that this way you are guaranteed to make the most of their nutrients. We all know that the process of cooking most certainly means that a considerable portion of the nutrients will be lost.
New Ways to Eat Ugu
I have already established other ways to use Ugu leaves rather than cook them in stews/soups. I have been able to add them successfully to my egg dishes (check out the recipes below). I have also blended and added them to my smoothies and boiled rice & pasta.
I thought I had pushed my foodie boundary wide enough, considering that Nigerians are so opposed to change, until I ran out of lettuce the other day, and I had to make some salad. Getting some more lettuce was an uphill task because the supermarket that stocks salad leaves was about 20 kilometers away from my house in Lagos...!!! So facing a dilemma, I went out in search of the local green grocers... I did not find many who had fresh salad greens and the few I saw were far from usable.
On my way back I spotted some freshly picked ugu leaves and I stopped to buy some. Checking through the bunches and seeing how fresh the leaves were, brought about a light bulb moment.
On getting home, I picked the youngest shoots of the leaves that were still tender, rinsed then in some water with added vinegar, I substituted them for lettuce in my salad. The result was astounding. I could not believe the taste. Because the leaves I picked were still young, they were not at all tough. They had a very deep earthy taste similar to rockets (arugula) without the peppery flavour.
It was a winner for me! I got really excited and made a whole bowl of ugu and kilishi salad. My neighbor who had a taste of it, had no idea what she was eating. She loved it and after inquiring what it was, I told her and she would not believe it even when I showed her the remaining unused leaves....
How I Now Use my Ugu Leaves
- I add to my soups including edikang ikong, ogbonna, okra, egusi soups etc
- I also add to smoothies
- I blend and boil with my rice and spaghetti
- I shred finely and add to omelettes and scrambled eggs
- I add to my salads
- I use as a garnish
Things to Bear in Mind when Using Ugu Leaves Raw
- Ensure you pick only the very tender young shoots. These are not tough and are preferred because they possess more of the nutrients.
- Before use, ensure you first rinse the leaves thoroughly with fresh clean water to remove all traces of sand and other debris.
- Then thinly slice the leaves. The thinner the better. This aids chewing.
- Before serving rinse the leaves again in some water with added vinegar or lime juice. This helps to eliminate any microbes and also help tenderize the leaves a little.