Egusi, Grandma Edo Style
Here I am, channelling my inner ‘Edo‘ girl and ‘Igarra‘ heritage with correct Egusi soup.
This is the soup by which we are woken up many a morning. Ladled into yellow enamel bowls with clanging covers, these pots hide the deliciousness and pungency of Une – locust beans. They hide the knots of ground melon, the texture of cheese curds which sit in a spicy mélange, thick with promise.
The seeds (of the locust bean) are famous for their greasy extract, which is fermented and pressed into cakes or balls, known in West Africa as dawadawa. It has a pungent odor, often compared to that of aged cheese and is used as a condiment or an ingredient for soup.
Our Egusi soup is always served with yam; real yam not flour, beaten to submission by the noisy pestles of silent women.
They pound, partners in a rhythmic dance which needs no human words or intervention. The result? Fine, stretchy pounded yam – free from ‘seeds’.
There are many kinds of Egusi soup – as varied as the people who deem it worthy of being favourite. I’ve pretty much cooked the lot – from light to thick and creamy, with various combinations of greens, only bitter leaf, or the entire nine yards.
According to one of the Ogas in my office, the Igbos make a ‘watery’ version with finely milled Egusi. The result is ground melon evenly dispersed in the stock. It is sometimes called SPS – Small Pikin **** for its watery nature.
Some Yoruba people make theirs like we do – a thick paste of ground Egusi and water/ blended mixture of tomatoes, onions and chili peppers is formed into balls which go into simmering stock. The balls are left to cook till they shed their rawness and the soup thickens.
When I cooked this particular pot of soup, I had a craving – a deep, deep craving that would not go away.
I wanted it to be a buffet of meat and fish and green, served in one pot. All the meat – the various sorts would be bite-sized so the phrase ‘everywhere na market‘(meaning, everywhere you put your fork or fingers, you get the goods) would be true.
I got my soup.
- Cook your meat, stockfish, and other protein prior to starting the soup. In my case, I cooked the beef and biscuit bone together in seasoned stock which I reserved for the cooking.
- The tripe was cooked separately with the cooking liquid discarded, as were the stockfish, snails, oxtail and Kpomo.
- You can substitute roasted groundnuts/peanuts for the melon seeds
1 cup of blended onions and fresh chilies, to taste (about 5 small onions)
4 cups of Egusi, ground
1/2 – 1 cup palm oil
2 teaspoons fresh Une (Iru/ locust beans)
Pinch of salt
Ground crayfish, to taste
7 – 8 cups of stock
Cooked meat & fish – stock reserved. (I used a combination of beef, tripe, stockfish, oxtail, biscuit-bone, snails and kpomo)
2 cups pumpkin leaves (Ugwu), cut
1 cup waterleaf, cut
3 tablespoons bitter leaf, washed
Prepare the Egusi Paste
Begin by making a thick paste of the ground Egusi seeds and the blended onion mixture. Set aside. Some people roll little balls of this paste which are then lowered into the cooking stock but I find it easiest to use a teaspoon to form the ‘mounds’ from bowl to pot.
Make the soup
In a large pot, heat the palm oil on medium to low for a minute or so then add the Une – this extracts the pungent, savoury flavours of the fermented locust beans.
Slowly add the stock – yes I know….oil and water, so please be careful. Set on low heat to simmer.
Scoop teaspoonfuls of the Egusi paste mixture into the stock, being careful so they stay whole, till all the Egusi is used up. Leave on low heat and allow simmer for 20 – 30 minutes until the balls are cooked through.
Add the Meat, Fish & Greens
Add the meat and fish and other bits which you’d like to use. Check for seasoning and adjust accordingly.
Cook meat to taste – it should be 5 minutes from how you like it.
First to go in are the Ugwu and Waterleaf. Stir and put a lid on the pot. Allow to cook for 5 – 10 minutes, till the leaves wilt.
Finish off by adding the Bitter leaf – leave the lid off while the cooking finishes for another 5 – 10 minutes.
We, at least my mum and I, believe that if the lid is left on the bitterness from the leaves takes over the soup.
Stir, check seasoning and adjust accordingly. Turn off the heat and set aside to ‘cool’. On a good day, I like to leave let my Egusi soup rest for a few hours or ‘overnight’.
Like I said earlier, this is me totally channelling my inner Edo girl.
Are you an Egusi soup buff? Any tips for a killer pot? Share all.