I don’t know what they say behind my back, but every one of the kids in my circle of friends eventually agreed with me that my mother was the best in the world after tasting her Egusi soup.
A well-prepared Egusi soup is one of the most delicious foods ever devised by humankind from this side of the planet. It takes various forms, textures, and looks in Egusi-growing and eating nations like Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Benin, Cameroon, and Nigeria. At 109 Apapa Road, Ebute Metta, Lagos, it shattered what Aristotle claimed and what modern science later confirmed: “Any food tastes better the hungrier you are”. The Egusi soup from my mother’s pot tastes better when you are hungry, well-fed, happy, sad, free from financial embarrassment, or not debt-free.
Egusi (also known by variations including Egwusi, Agusi, Ohue, Agushi) is the name for the protein-rich seeds of certain cucurbitaceous plants (squash, melon, gourd), which after being dried and ground are used as a major ingredient in the West African cuisine. It is very clear where the species from which Egusi is derived from Cucumeropsis mannii and Citrullus lanatus. What experts disagree on is whether the word, Egusi, is used more properly for the seeds of the colocynth – those of a particular large-seeded variety of the watermelon – or generically for those of any cucurbitaceous plant. However, the characteristics and uses of all these seeds are broadly similar.
Basic ingredients to prepare Egusi soup
Egusi soup is a kind of soup thickened with ground seeds and found in the above-mentioned countries with considerable local variation. Aside from the seeds and water, Egusi soup typically contains vegetable leaves, palm oil, other vegetables, seasonings, and meat. The leaves used for Egusi soup include bitter leaf, pumpkin leaf, celosia, and spinach. It may also include other vegetables like tomatoes and okra. The basic seasonings include chilli peppers, onions, and locust beans. Cow meat, goat meat, fish, shrimp, or crayfish are also commonly used.
Efo Elegusi – Yoruba-styled Egusi soup (the frying method) recipe
So, here’s how to prepare Egusi soup. This kind of Egusi contains a higher quantity of green vegetables like spinach, ugu, kale etc., unlike the regular variant which is also not fried.
Cooking time varies from 30 to 40 minutes.
Egusi soup is best served with…
- Pounded yam
‘Regular’ Egusi soup (the boiling method) recipe
This type is preferred by the Igbo speaking people in Nigeria as well as those from Edo and Delta states. In fact, the entire South-south.
- 2 cups Egusi (not ground)
- ¾ cup of palm oil
- ¼ cup of crayfish
- 1 shrimp seasoning cube
- 2 pounds of meat and fish. You can use a variety of goat meat, stockfish, and chicken.
- ½ cup of chopped onion.
- 1 atarodo (scotch bonnet)
- ½ -1 cup chopped greens (preferably bitter leaf)
My mum’s secret ‘ingredient’
But you still have not told us why your mother’s Egusi soup tastes better than the ones prepared by the mothers of those in your circle of friends back then at Apapa Road?
I didn’t even know this myself despite following what she recommended in the step-by-step guide when I started making Egusi soup as an adult. The truth only dawned on me many years later. My mother used firewood to cook at Apapa road. It was discarded for gas as the family moved along Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from bottom to at least the mid-level. The taste of her Egusi soup went from best, better, good. It wasn’t the ingredients. It wasn’t the method. It wasn’t the choice of a variant of the soup. It wasn’t fully her culinary skills. It was Firewood 3-0 Gas!
It has not been scientifically proven, but food cooked with firewood tastes better. It adds a special taste to the Egusi soup. The smoke makes the food more delicious. Wood-firing food is irresistibly unique. It’s magical. The smoke from the wood penetrates while the food is cooking for nuanced flavours. Wood-firing is more than just delicious — it’s also a healthier way to cook. Vegetables, palm oil, other vegetables, seasonings, and meat cook quickly to retain more nutrients and bigger flavours as it creates a slight sweetness along with the smokiness!
- Egusi seed is a rich source of protein and omega-6 fatty acids. Similar to most plant oils, it mainly contains unsaturated fatty acids. Its seed oil is a good source of natural antioxidants like vitamin E and ß-carotene.
- Egusi seed is a good source of potassium and calcium, minerals that regulate blood pressure. It is also a rich source of magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc.
- And just like all plant foods, Egusi is naturally cholesterol-free.
- 100g of West African Egusi contains the following nutrients: 593 calories; carbohydrates, 11.3g; fat, 47.9g; protein, 27.5g; fibre, 3.2g; calcium, 16% of the reference nutrient intake (RNI); iron, 42% of the RNI; zinc, 75% of the RNI; phosphorus, 157% of the RNI, and potassium, 18.5% of the RNI.
Ingredients and how to make Egusi soup
We all have the best mother in the world. As a child growing up in Ebute Metta, Lagos, I joined other kids in the neighbourhood to say “my mother is the best mother in the world”. We weren’t even aware of it back then but we say it on Mother’s Day celebrated on March 14 by the rest of the world and on every second Sunday of May each year, during America’s “we must always be different from the rest of the world” chosen day. We say it every day. We say it loud and clear. I don’t know what they say behind my back, but every one of the kids in my circle of friends eventually agreed with me that my mother was the best in the world after tasting her Egusi soup.
Keywords: Egusi soup
Recipe Yield: 1
Preparation Time: PT0H30M
Cooking Time: PT0H30M
Total Time: PT1H00M
Recipe Video Name: How To Cook Egusi Soup - Frying Method || Foodace Egusi Soup recipe
- 3 large red bell peppers
- 2 atarodo (scotch bonnet peppers) to taste
- 300g of ground Egusi seeds (about 2 cups)
- 8 cups of meat stock (makeup with water if meat stock is not enough)
- 250g chopped kale
- 2 large onions (chop one up and leave the other for blending)
- ¼ cup of Iru
- 1½ cup of palm oil
- 6 tablespoons of ground crayfish
- I kg assorted meats (precooked and fried)
How to cook Efo Elegusi – Yoruba-styled Egusi soup (the frying method):
- Blend the red bell pepper, atarodo and ½ of one onion with little water just enough to help the blender. Then, set it aside.
- Blend the ground Egusi, crayfish, and another half of the onion into a thicker paste and set aside.
- You can either blend the peppers separate from the Egusi or blend them. Whichever style you adopt, it won’t affect the quality of the end product.
- Heat palm oil, sauté chopped onions for about 1 minute. Then add the washed Iru and stir for another minute.
- Pour in the blended bell pepper, atarodo, and onion. Mix and stir.
- Cook the pepper mix until reduced to a loose paste.
- Add the Egusi paste in lumps.
- Turn the heat to low and allow the Egusi lumps to stick to the bottom of the pot. Then stir.
- When it begins to stick to the pot, stir and fry the Egusi for about 5 minutes. You have to stir frequently to prevent burning.
- When you introduce the Egusi into the oil, allow it to stick a bit to the bottom of the pot before stirring. It helps to make the Egusi soup lumpy.
- Add the meat stock. Taste for seasoning. Allow cooking for another 10 mins.
- Add the fried meats and stir.
- Add the chopped vegetable, turn off the heat and slow residual heat to cook the vegetable.
How to make ‘regular’ Egusi soup (the boiling method):
- Boil the meat and fish. Start by boiling the tougher meats then add the less tough ones.
- Add about a teaspoon of salt halfway through the cooking process.
- Reserve the stock of the meat. Also, if using stockfish, be sure to soak it for some hours first and rinse thoroughly before cooking.
- Stockfish has a very pungent smell so if you are not used to it, you might be shocked at how much it smells.
- Grind the Egusi using a small cup of a blender, coffee grinder or whatever grinding machine you have on hand. Be sure to remove any bad seeds from the Egusi before grinding.
- Do not bleach the palm oil, only heat it up on high for about 3 minutes. Add the onions to the palm oil and sauté until sweet-scented.
- Add the ground Egusi to the palm oil and let it cook in it for about 7 minutes. Stir frequently until the Egusi shrinks and starts sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- Add a teaspoon of crayfish and stir. Then add the cooked meats and their stock.
- Add the remaining crayfish, crayfish seasoning cube, and atarodo. Then add water if needed according to desired thickness.
- Stir well and taste to ensure that seasoning is good. Then allow all the ingredients to simmer together for about 5 minutes.
- Add the greens and let them cook for about 2 minutes.
- Turn off the heat as your Egusi soup is ready!