Egusi soup is by far one of the most popular (if not actually the most popular) native soup cooked amongst several tribes in Nigeria as well as many other parts of West Africa. This rich soup is a highly versatile soup, in that it can be eaten with different kinds of foods, just name it – rice, yam slices, bread, boiled plantain, swallow foods (the common steamed puddings such as pounded yam, cassava flakes or garri/eba, yam flour, cassava flour, fufu, corn flour) are just compatible. What’s more, you can choose a vast array of ingredients to add to it, depending on the size of your wallet.
And why would anyone recommend egusi soup as a staple in your diet? Egusi is actually the seeds of the bitter melon plant (not watermelon) whose botanical name is Colocynthis Citrullus Lanatus. Also called bitter apple seed, bitter melon seed or white-seed melon, the fruit is a specie of the melon family native to Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean and Arab countries. You might be surprised to know that it is not only packed full of nutrients, but egusi seeds are also cultivated beyond Africa for its medicinal benefits.
Nutritional Value of Egusi Seeds
Egusi seeds are normally consumed in West Africa in ground powdered form and added to soups. The seeds are usually dried and shelled to bring out the soft, edible part before grinding them. It is also used to prepare other foods such as Ogiri (a fermented condiment), akara egusi common in Western Nigeria, kokoro egusi (a dry, crunchy fried snack), or mbika (native to Congo).
Egusi seeds are rich in: protein (essential amino acids), unsaturated fat (Omega 6 fatty acids), carbohydrates, minerals (Calcium, Iron, Zinc, Potassium, Manganese, Phosphorus), vitamins (A, B1, B2, Niacin) as well as fiber.
Much of Asia prefer to use bitter melon seeds for its medicinal properties. For instance, Egusi seeds are known to:
– prevent diabetes,
– lower fat/cholesterol levels,
– has anti-inflammatory properties that can prevent bacterial infections (and treat injury), and is an effective antibiotic,
– a rich source of antioxidants,
– helps to cure cancer (especially breast cancer),
– can stop arthritis,
– is a booster of healthy skin and hair growth, and
– promotes digestion and good appetite.
So you would agree with me that egusi seeds are indeed a super food. Let’s get straight to the business of preparing your favourite Egusi Soup.
Also Read- How to Make Delicious Nigerian Puff Puff
Egusi Soup: Ingredients
The ingredients of your tasty egusi soup are easily obtained from both local markets and even outside the country, and on popular offline and online stores. The ingredients are as follows.
- Ground melon seeds. A few tablespoons or more is okay depending on the quantity of the soup.
- Green leafy vegetables, nicely chopped (optional but desirable). You may choose to add any variety of spinach, kale, pumpkin leaves, water leaf, squeezed bitter leaves, Uziza or even cassava leaves. Otherwise you may combine them as desired.
- Animal protein: This could be meat (beef, mutton, goat meat, etc), fish (whether fresh or dried or both) and/or other seafood, and poultry (chicken, turkey etc). You can also combine them as desired.
- Palm oil (just a few tablespoons)
- Pepper, onion and tomatoes. At least use ground pepper (if they are not all available)
- Condiments: salt and seasoning (beef or chicken stock cubes) to taste
- Dried prawns or crayfish (optional) either shelled or ground
- Locust beans (iru) or Ogiri for improved taste
How To Prepare Egusi Soup
Ground egusi can be used as fried, steamed, or boiled additive to your soup and it would still come out fine and tasty. You can follow the simple steps below for a guide.
Pour the ground melon into a clean bowl, add water gradually and mix to form a fairly thick paste and set it aside.
Wash and chop your leafy vegetables, then set it aside to drain in a colander or perforated bowl.
If you are using dried meat or fish, ensure you wash your meat or fish first; then soak them in hot water for a while before using any of them for best results.
For ground pepper, you can mix it in a bowl with some small quantity of water and set it aside. Otherwise if you are using fresh pepper, tomatoes and onions, wash and blend them together in a blender or food processor, then set the pepper mix aside. You can also prepare sliced/chopped onions and set that aside as well.
Defrost any seafood or poultry/meat you are using, wash and cut them in sizeable pieces as necessary and set them aside. The meat or poultry can optionally be boiled with seasoning and spices afterwards, so that both the meat and stock will be used in the soup. (You may or may not fry any fresh fish you desire to use).
Get a clean saucepan and pour in the palm oil to heat up for about 30 seconds, then add the chopped onions. Within a minute thereabout, add the locust beans, and stir them together.
Now add the pepper mix, stir everything together and bring it to boil for between 5 to 15 minutes. You can add water in small quantity till you get the right consistency.
Add the dry fish or meat and the ground/shelled crayfish. Add salt and seasoning to taste, and stir everything together. Boil or simmer the mixture for about 5 minutes.
Now scoop the egusi paste in small spoonfuls and drop them gently into the pepper mix. You do not need to stir the soup at this point – just cover the saucepan, reduce the heat, and leave the soup to simmer for about 10 minutes.
Remove the lid and stir the soup gently. The egusi paste by now would appear as small lumps. If you wish, use a cooking spoon to break the lump into smaller sizes.
Add the boiled meat or poultry, crayfish/prawns, and fresh fish and stir together. Taste to check if you need to add a little more salt and seasoning. Cook for another 10 minutes and stir the soup at intervals to avoid burning. Add more water as necessary.
Finally, you can add your chopped vegetables and stir the whole mix together, then let the soup cook/simmer for another 3 to 5 minutes before removing it from the heat.
Now your sumptuous egusi soup is ready!