In our new series That Thing I Always Cook, women you admire offer up the story behind their go-to recipe—something we could all use right now. Next up: actress Uzo Aduba—who can currently be seen taking on the historic role of Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm in FX on Hulu’s new miniseries, Mrs. America—shares how to make her beloved Nigerian Red Stew. It’s not the quickest dish to make, but rather one that requires time and patience. Perfect for quarantine, perhaps?
After starring in seven seasons of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, Uzo Aduba is used to doing interviews. But it’s not typical that the Emmy winner gets to speak on the record about her favorite recipes. “I love to cook, and rarely do I get to talk about Nigerian cooking,” she says from her Brooklyn apartment. Aduba was born in Boston to Nigerian parents, and grew up in a home brimming with Nigerian food and culture. “It was a very traditional household in terms of language, dress, and culture, and food played a big part.” That food included Red Stew, a Nigerian dish that Aduba describes as similar to spaghetti sauce, but heartier and more savory.
Aduba learned to cook from her mother, who regularly manned meals for the family. “With five kids, my mom wasn’t making 900 dishes a night—we were going to get one thing, and it was going to be a Nigerian dish.” The actress started cooking by observing her mom, graduated to the task of chopping tomatoes and peppers, and then, as she got older and taller, won the honor of overseeing the pot, which helped hone her instincts about the dishes they prepared.
“My mom can smell a dish and know if it’s ready—she doesn’t even need to taste it. She could just look and tell if the tomatoes needed to cook more or the color wasn’t quite where it needed to be. That’s a very African way [of cooking]. I used to not know what she meant, but now I can smell all the flavor blended together,” she says.
While Aduba cooks food of every cuisine, vegetable-heavy Nigerian food is a must for her. “I grew up on it, so I have to have it. It’s a part of my staple [diet].”
Aduba’s recipe for Red Stew has never been written down—it’s been perfected by the actress and her mother over the years—so she’s is sharing the hearty tomato, red pepper and onion sauce with Glamour from memory. “If you’re looking to try Nigerian food, whether you have an adventurous spirit or you’re a little more tame, this is the dish. I’ve never met a person in my life who didn’t like red stew and rice,” she says.
But make sure you have freezer space, Aduba warns. “I’m sure there are people who know how to make a serving for four or two, but we don’t really cook like that—we cook in bulk,” she says with a laugh. “Most Nigerians I knew growing up were cooking for a lot of people. In my house alone, we were cooking for seven.” Aduba herself makes the dish every two to three months, because, “no joke, that’s how much will be left over,” she says. Below, Uzo’s beloved recipe, in her own words.
Uzo Aduba’s Red Stew
8 red bell peppers (5 loosely chopped for blending, 3 chopped to bite size pieces)
6 tomatoes, chopped
8 white onions (5 loosely chopped for blending, 3 sliced and cut into thirds)