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.
- 2 1/2 cups (8.8 ounces; 250g) lafun flour (see note)
- 4 cups (960ml) boiling water, divided, plus more as needed
Using a fine mesh strainer, sift lafun flour into a 3-quart saucier or saucepan; discard any fibrous matter left in the strainer. Add 2 cups (480ml) boiling water and, using a wooden spoon, stir until well combined and a rough dough has formed, about 2 minutes.
Set saucepan over medium-low heat, and cook, stirring and scraping bottom in a circular motion, until no lumps remain, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 cup (240ml) boiling water and stir until dough changes from creamy and opaque to more translucent, 5 to 10 minutes.
Reduce heat to low. Spread dough roughly across bottom of saucepan, poke 3 or 4 1-inch-wide holes in it with a wooden spoon, and pour remaining 1 cup (240ml) boiling water on top of dough. Immediately cover and cook until most, if not all, of the water is absorbed, about 3 minutes.
Uncover and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until lafun is soft yet firm, smooth, and stretchy, about 3 minutes (it should not be runny or sticky). If it’s too loose, add sifted lafun flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until lafun is desired consistency. If it’s too firm, add boiling water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until lafun is desired consistency.
To serve, dip a spoon into water and scoop 1/2 cup portions onto individual plates or bowls. Serve lafun immediately with Nigerian soups like egusi.
3-quart saucier or saucepan
You can find lafun flour in Nigerian or West African stores, and online from websites like Mychopchop and OsiAfrik. You can substitute white amala flour, cassava flour, and cassava fufu flour but the finished lafun may differ in texture and consistency.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Wrapped tightly in plastic and stored in an airtight container, lafun can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. Lafun, like most Nigerian swallows, is rarely frozen since the texture changes when reheated.
To reheat, transfer lafun to a medium pot, pour in 1/2 cup warm water, cover, and set over low heat for 3 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring, until soft and warmed through, about 4 minutes.