Why It Works
- Since garri is pre-cooked, eba comes together quickly once mixed with boiling water.
Swallows are a category of soft cooked dough that can be made from roots, tubers, vegetables, and more, served as a starch at mealtimes in Nigeria. One of the most popular Nigerian swallows is eba, made by mixing garri (dried cassava meal) with boiling water. You can think of eba like polenta, although made with less liquid. Eba is generally unseasoned (save for imoyo eba, a version cooked with mostly meat or seafood stock that’s common at Easter) and quick to prepare—it can be made right on the kitchen counter. Its slightly sweet and sour flavor and pliable, sticky texture make it the ideal starchy accompaniment to Nigerian soups and stews, and it can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Garri, also spelled gari, is a pre-cooked cassava meal that’s widely used in Nigeria and across West Africa. It shouldn’t be confused with tapioca starch (made from cassava’s starchy pulp) or cassava flour (whole cassava milled into fine flour), which have different uses, flavors, and textures. Garri is gluten-free and available in a spectrum of textures from fine to coarse.
To make garri, white or yellow cassava tubers are washed, peeled, grated, bagged, and fermented over a number of days. The duration of fermentation dictates the flavor and starchiness of the garri; shorter fermentations produce slightly sweet and starchy garri, longer fermentations produce a tangier, less starchy product. After fermentation, the resulting wet meal is roasted or dry-fried, often with a touch of unrefined red palm oil (the amount of oil determines garri's color, from off-white to cream and bright yellow, after which it's fully dried and ready to use.
Garri is extremely versatile: it can be used as a topping for stewed beans (much like farofa, or toasted cassava flour, is used in Brazil) and casseroles; as a dry coating for foods to be baked or fried; eaten as "soaking garri," like a breakfast cereal, in a cup or bowl with room temperature or cold water, or milk, sugar, and groundnuts or coconut as a snack or side dish; and mixed with boiling water for eba.
Making eba is as simple as combining garri with boiling water, letting that sit, then stirring until it forms a cohesive and slightly sticky dough. To serve, you can scoop eba into mounds (or form it into large quenelles, oblong shapes, or rounds) and dish it up on plates with a soup or stew alongside, or in a separate bowl. These days, you can even find it shaped into rolls, pinwheels (with layers of different colors), pyramids, hearts, and other presentations.
To eat, break off a small portion (about the size of a piece of gnocchi) with your hands or a utensil of your choosing, dip it into an accompanying soup or stew, and sop some up. It’s hearty, satisfying, and easy to enjoy.
- 3 cups (750ml) boiling water
- 2 cups (250g; 8.8 ounces) white or yellow garri (see note)
Pour boiling water into a large heatproof bowl. Evenly sprinkle garri all over the surface and let stand until water is absorbed, no dry garri remains, and mixture has thickened, about 5 minutes.
Using a wooden spoon or sturdy silicone spatula, stir mixture until a cohesive dough forms; the dough should be dense and somewhat heavy, yet slightly sticky and easy to scoop (see note below for troubleshooting).
To serve, scoop 1/2cup (115g) portions onto individual plates or bowls. Serve eba immediately with Nigerian soups or stews, such as egusi. (Alternatively, to make quenelles, scoop 1/2 cup portions of eba into a small bowl that has been wetted with water. Gently rock bowl side-to-side until a smooth, oblong shape forms; transfer to a plate or bowl. Repeat with remaining dough).
Garri can be purchased in Nigerian or West African stores, and online from websites like Mychopchop and OsiAfrik. Yellow, white, and Ijebu (longer fermented garri with drier, crunchier grains and a more sour flavor that is generally favored for soaking garri) varieties are commonly available. Despite the differences in color and flavor, all types of garri can be used to make eba.
The type of garri used can greatly affect the resulting dough, due to variations in how different types of garri are fermented and processed. If your dough is too soft and wet (e.g., it will not form a cohesive mass), stir in additional garri in 1 tablespoon (15g) increments to reach desired consistency. If dough is too hard, stiff, or dry (e.g., crumbly with uneven wet and dry patches), stir in boiling water, 1 tablespoon (15ml) at a time, to achieve desired consistency.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Eba is so easy to make, and tricky enough to reheat, that it's best made as needed. That said, it can be prepared shortly in advance and held. To do so, after Step 2, roughly divide the dough in half. Wrap each half tightly in plastic wrap, forming a circular mound. Repeat with remaining dough. Transfer to an insulated container to keep warm up to 2 hours; unwrap before serving.