This Nigerian spinach stew is a popular vegetable soup packed with flavors. Make a big pot of this efo riro, and have it with rice all week! Better yet, it's ready in just 30 minutes!
Note: My partner is from the Yoruba tribe in Lagos and loves efo riro soup. Though many Nigerian dishes are "vegan friendly", it's hard to find vegan versions. So, I made a vegetarian version that both of us enjoy. If you're in a split-household, I have tips to make two versions (one with meat, and one without) with minimal additional steps!
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💭 Why you'll love this recipe
- Adapt a Nigerian household favorite for vegans and vegetarians: This is a great way to adapt one of the most popular vegetable soups to your dietary needs. The post also has instructions on how you can make two separate versions (one vegan and one with meat) if you're preparing this for a mixed-diet household. Check the FAQs!
- 30 minute, one pot recipe: Truly nothing more convenient! You can make a big batch to enjoy all week with this Jollof rice (or this Instant Pot Jollof rice)
- Super nutritious. It's light, refreshing, and yet packed with flavors and nutrition. What else can you ask for?!
🍛 What is efo riro? Is this vegan?
Efo is the traditional African wild spinach. Riro literally means "to mix" - so efo riro literally translates to a "mixed spinach" in Yoruba language! The traditional recipe for this Nigerian spinach stew typically uses goat meat (or a variety of meats) as well as stock fish and crayfish for umami. My recipe uses a series of substitutions to ensure the same flavor but keeps it vegan!
📋 Ingredients and notes
The base is made with red bell peppers, habanero peppers, onions and tomatoes. The stew needs more onions, mushrooms, fresh spinach, vegetable oil, vegetarian bouillon cubes, curry powder, and iru (locust beans) or tahini.
Notes and Variations
- Vegan substitutions: Traditional efo riro uses ground cray fish and stock fish. You can use up to a tablespoon locust beans, or replace it with some tahini or nutritional yeast. I use vegetarian stock cubes and mushrooms which are a great substitute for meaty texture!
- Adjusting for heat: The traditional recipe calls for Scotch Bonnets, and this one uses habanero peppers (which are more readily available in the US). These are quite spicy, so if you prefer medium heat, you can omit them or reduce the number you use! The tomato base is good on its own!
- Vegetable oil instead of palm oil. I use vegetable oil instead of palm oil, because it's easier to find and a bit healthier. If you want to use palm oil, just use ¼ cup palm oil and ¼ cup vegetable oil. Start by first heating the palm oil, then add the vegetable oil.
- Using pre-made African pepper sauce: I typically make my African pepper sauce in batches. If you do this too (as you might if you're in a Nigerian household!) then just sub the "puree" in the recipe with 2 cups of the African pepper sauce instead.
📖 How to make efo riro
- Blanch the spinach: Boil water in a large pot, and when it hits a rolling boil, drop the spinach in for about 30 seconds. Then, transfer to a bowl with ice cubes to stop cooking. If using frozen spinach, skip this step and thaw and blot dry.
- Prepare the base puree: Blend red bell peppers, habanero peppers (or scotch bonnet peppers), tomato, and onion to form a coarse puree. You can do this either in a blender or a food processor. You can also use 2 cups of my African pepper sauce. If you make extra sauce, you can freeze it for future use. I recommend tasting
- Prepare the stew: Heat oil in a deep pot (you can use the same pot you used for boiling water after dumping the water). Add the remaining onions. Fry until onions are translucent. Add mushrooms. Let it cook.
- Add the blended pepper base and fry until raw smell disappears.
- Then, add veg. bouillon, curry powder, and either tahini or iru (locust beans) and fry for a minute. Add a cup of water or broth and let it cook. Allow the excess water to cook through to your desired consistency.
- Add spinach: Once the stew is ready, add blanched spinach and stir well. Cook uncovered for a couple of minutes and your efo riro is ready!
Serve with white rice (or other "swallows" like pounded yam or cassava)
👩🏽🍳Top tips and FAQs
This Nigerian dish can be made vegan and non-vegan easily. Follow the steps in the recipe until you add seasoning. Then, split the stew into two pots. To one, add mushrooms, then spinach. To the other, add stock fish, crayfish, and meat, and then spinach. Done!
Blanching the spinach preserves its bright green color. To do this, boil water, and when it hits a rolling boil, dump spinach in for about 30 seconds. Remove and drop it in a bowl with cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain the water and set aside!
Kale is actually closer in texture to the traditional Lagos spinach (efo shoko) or African spinach (efo tete) than baby spinach, so you can follow the same blanching process described above and use kale or collard greens (or most green leafy vegetables) in this African stew instead!
Absolutely! If you're using frozen spinach, skip the blanching. Just thaw completely and blot dry with a paper towel.
Seasoning cubes help mimic the flavors of a chicken broth or rich beef but without the meat! So I would suggest getting a vegetarian bouillon if you can. If not, no worries. You can just use curry powder and still have the best efo riro recipe ever!
🍴 Serving and storage suggestions
B loves to eat this with eba, which is pounded cassava flour. We also eat this with simple rice, or my favorite, Nigerian jollof rice. That said - you can eat this as a stew by itself. Truly, the possibilities are endless!
You can store this efo riro in an airtight container, in the fridge for up to a week. You can reheat just the portion you want in a microwave. To freeze, I recommend portioning beforehand, and then storing in an airtight container. Thaw each portion for 30 minutes before reheating.
If you like this recipe, check out my other African recipes:
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Vegan Efo Riro
- 3 red bell peppers, ends and seeds removed
- 2 habanero peppers, adjust to spice tolerance
- 1 tomato
- ½ red onion, medium
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil, see notes for palm oil substitution
- ½ onion, diced
- 8 oz mushrooms, white or Cremini
- 32 oz fresh spinach, see notes for substituting frozen spinach, kale
- 2 cubes vegetarian bouillon, substitute with 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 teaspoon curry powder, in addition to above
- 2 teaspoons nutritional yeast, optional, substitute iru (locust bean) or tahini
- 2 cups vegetable broth, optional, substitute water or omit
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Boil water in a large pot for blanching spinach. Prepare a bowl with ice cubes. Once it reaches a rolling boil, add fresh spinach to the water for 30 seconds, and then move to the bowl with ice cubes. Drain, squeeze excess water out and set aside. If using frozen spinach, thaw the spinach and then blot dry and set aside.
- Dump the water from the pot. Add vegetable oil and heat the oil.
- While oil is heating, remove the stem and seeds from red bell peppers. Add bell peppers, ½ a medium onion, habanero peppers, and tomato to a food processor and pulse into a coarse puree. Set aside.
- Then, chop up the other half of the onion. Add to hot oil along with sliced mushrooms, and fry for about 2 to 3 minutes (until onion is translucent or brown, if using red onion).
- Add the puree to the pot. If using African pepper sauce, add two cups of the sauce instead. Fry until the raw smell disappears (about 4 to 5 minutes).
- Add vegetarian bouillon cubes, curry powder, and nutritional yeast or tahini paste or iru (locust bean) and fry for 1 minute. The nutritional yeast / tahini paste / iru is optional, but does make a difference in the authenticity of flavors!
- Now add broth or water and let it come to a soft simmer. Then, blanched spinach, stir it in well and let it cook uncovered for about 2-3 minutes. If you want a thicker stew, you can add the spinach directly to the blended puree. Add salt to taste at this stage.
- Serve hot with rice (or other traditional "swallows" like pounded yam or cassava)
- Spice adjustment: Habanero peppers are spicy! Efo Riro originates in the Yoruba culture, which has a lot of spicy food. To adjust puree to your spice tolerance, take seeds out of the pepper or reduce the number of peppers. You can also add more tomatoes. Alternatively, if you want to increase spiciness, add more habanero peppers!
- Fresh versus frozen spinach or kale: If using frozen spinach, make sure to thaw before using; if using kale, follow same instructions
- Making a coarse versus fine puree: I prefer using a food processor because it lends more texture to the puree, but a blender would work if you want it more fine!
Note: This post was originally published on April 29, 2020, and was updated on April 7, 2022 with new photos and FAQs. The recipe remains unchanged. See ingredients below if you use my African Pepper sauce as the base for this recipe.