Fr. Amadi recalls joyful Christmases in Nigeria

By Lisa Haefs | For The Compass | December 4, 2013

Traditional meal of Jollof rice and beans part of family tradition

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]ANTIGO — For Fr. Alvan Amadi, Advent will always mean gathering with friends and family, receiving a new article of clothing, and enjoying Jollof rice and beans with chicken and fried plantains.

Fr. Alvan Amadi prepares Jollof rice, beans and chicken in the rectory of St. John Church in Antigo. (Lisa Haefs | For The Compass)
Fr. Alvan Amadi prepares Jollof rice, beans and chicken in the rectory of St. John Church in Antigo. (Lisa Haefs | For The Compass)

Fr. Amadi, 33, is associate pastor of St. John Parish in Antigo, his first assignment after ordination at the Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier in Green Bay on June 1.

“I first wanted to be a priest when I was 10 years old,” Fr. Amadi says. “My family always came to Mass every Sunday and we usually sat close to the front. I remember being fascinated watching our pastor celebrate Mass with much reverence, wearing his beautiful vestments, with the sweet odor of incense flowing from the altar and I thought, ‘This is a cool job. This is what I want to do when I grow up.’”

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Now, a circuitous 23 years later, “it’s even more fun than I thought. Of course, there are challenges too.”

In addition to Nigeria, the priest has lived in Sweden, England and, during part of his seminary years, Belgium, and has soaked up many cultures and Christmas traditions.

But his favorite memories always circle back to St. Charles Parish Enyiogugu and Immaculate Conception Parish in Oboama, located in southeastern Nigeria.

“Christmas is one of the most special times ever, it’s a no-brainer,” Fr. Amadi says as he adds plantains to a skillet of hot cooking oil. “The entire Advent season offers us weeks of preparation for the birth of Christ.”

Those weeks of Advent included a renewed focus on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Apostles’ Creed, he says, continuing right into the new year.

It is a time of camaraderie, with a tradition of giving and receiving gifts, usually centered on new pieces of clothing, especially for youngsters.

And there is singing, with children and young adults moving from house-to-house in the evenings not unlike trick-or-treating here in the United States.

“You go from place to place to sing and play some music and dance,” he says. “Usually you are rewarded with food or money or other little treats as a gift.”

Advent also means soccer in Nigeria, known as football everywhere but the United States.

“We have joyful rivalries between the clubs,” he says. “It cannot be Christmas without the football matches and the caroling.”

Jollof rice and beans is another tradition, he says, and it is one he has brought to the St. John rectory kitchen, preparing a steaming pot of rice and beans along with a chicken boiled for the occasion.

Jollof rice, beans and chicken

• 500 grams (4 cups) parboiled rice.
• 250 grams (2 cups) black-eyed beans (peas)
• 3 or 4 fresh plum tomatoes
• (One might also add a can of chopped tomatoes)
• Vegetable oil
• 2 or 3 ripe plantains (or unripe plantain according to preference)
• Chicken (whole chicken, drum sticks or chicken breast) or fish or beef (according to preference)
• Pepper and salt to taste
• Onions – 2 medium sized bulbs
• 2 Maggi or stock/bouillon cubes
• Thyme (1 teaspoon),
• Nutmeg (1/2 a teaspoon)

Jollof rice — also called “Benachin,” meaning one pot in the Wolof language — is thought to have originated amongst members of the Wolof ethnic group in the Senegambia region but has since spread to the whole of West Africa. The most common basic ingredients are rice, tomatoes and tomato paste, onion, salt and red pepper. Beyond that, nearly any kind of meat, vegetable or spice can be added.

The dish consists of basmati rice, tomatoes and tomato paste, onion, salt, spices such as nutmeg, ginger, Scotch bonnet pepper and cumin, and chili pepper. Optional ingredients can be added such as vegetables, meats and fish.

“This is one of the most common meals to prepare,” Fr. Amadi says. “It brings home back whenever I make it.”

The dish is spicy, he says, something he tones down for other members of the rectory household.

“My mother made me learn to cook and thank God she did,” he says. “In Nigeria, boys are not usually expected to do the cooking but she told me, long before I was to become a priest, that I should learn to cook so that before I got married I won’t get fat eating junk food!”

Fr. Amadi said he is looking forward to his first Advent as a priest in the Green Bay Diocese. He hopes to embrace some of the traditions of the northwoods while sharing some from his homeland as well.

And, after Christmas Mass, he will very likely sit down with a plate of Jollof rice, beans and chicken.

“I’m going to have it over Advent for sure,” he says.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_message color=”alert-info”]Fr. Amadi’s directions for preparing, cooking Nigerian specialty


1. Before you cook the beans, first wash and soak it for 3 hours. Discard the water and rinse the beans in clean water and place in a pot.

2. Pour enough water to cover the beans and bring to boil until the beans are tender.

3. Wash the parboiled rice in warm water. Drain the water from the rice and set the rice aside.

4. Wash the chicken and put in a pot with the chopped onions, thyme and stock cubes and leave on medium heat for 5 minutes without water. Add water after 5 minutes or when you notice that the water in the chicken has dried up. Cover the chicken completely with water (since the broth will be used to season the rice and beans) and boil until tender. If you would rather use fish, boil the fish for 5 minutes using the same amount of seasoning. Fry or grill the chicken or the fish and set aside, leaving the broth for later use.

5. Remove the peel of the plantain and cut it into medium slices.

6. Add a sprinkling of salt and fry in hot vegetable oil. Turn it from side to side until it is golden brown. Remove from the hot oil and set aside.

Cooking directions

1. Cut the plum tomatoes into small bits and blend with an electric blender and set aside. (If canned tomato is being added, then have it blended together with the plum tomatoes.)

2. Put 3 or 4 spoonfuls of vegetable oil in a pot and put on medium heat for about 3 minutes.

3. Add a pinch of salt and chopped onions to the hot vegetable oil and then add the tomato. Add nutmeg and reduce the heat to low and let it steam for 2 or 3 minutes. You may also add any other spices that you prefer.

4. Add the broth from the boiled chicken and stir.

5. Add salt and pepper to taste and leave to boil.

6. If need be, transfer to a larger pot with the heat on low. Then add the rice and beans, pepper and salt to taste. Stir well and add enough water if the liquid in the pot is not at the same level as the rice and beans. Cover the pot and leave it to cook on medium heat until there is no more liquid in the pot.

7. Take off the lid, stir thoroughly and serve hot with fried plantain and fried chicken or any meat of choice.[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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