The various soups we have in Nigeria today replicate our undeniable love for our culture and tradition. There is a cultural significance in how the soups are prepared, the ingredients used, the occasion or celebration when they are made, and most especially, how they are consumed. Egusi soup is one of the most popular soups in Nigeria. It is especially loved in the southeastern part of the country. The Egusi Soup is by far my most favorite of them all when it comes to the various Nigerian soups.
Egusi soup, also called melon soup, is made primarily from a plant called the melon plant. The melon (Cucumus melon) is part of the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae), native to central Asia. Other members of this family include pumpkins, zucchini, and squash. The melon is not to be confused with the watermelon. While both species are very similar, the main difference is that melon seeds exist within a central cavity, while watermelon seeds are spread all around within the whole fruit.
The melon’s coated seeds are dried and peeled to reveal a whitish, oval-shaped interior (NB. See the picture above). This is the core ingredient of making Egusi soup. To peel Egusi from its outer shell (or shelling, for short) is time-consuming and strenuous. Many children in rural communities recall having to perform this task as punishment in the household. Thankfully, technology has provided new ways of getting this done, as shelling machines are now readily available. After shelling, these seeds are then ground and prepared into a puree-like form.
You can serve Egusi soup (as it is fondly called) with any “swallow” such as pounded yam, fufu, tuwo, amala, eba (cassava flakes), and wheat flour, oats flour, plantain flour, rice, yam, and so many others. Those looking to start watching their weight via reducing calories can resort to other kinds of swallows made with carrot, cabbage, eggplant, etc. Now, many people may be oblivious to what the African “swallow” food types are. The best image to use to describe the African food type called “swallow” is a spherical lump of the kneaded dough for making bread.
So, you see a full meal of deliciously prepared Egusi soup and a pounded yam swallow in the picture above. Like the photograph above, other kinds of swallows are also fixed to look the same spherical way as we have listed above. However, there is no hard and fast rule that it must be spherical. I have seen some chefs put their own twist in making swallows in different shapes. For instance, I have seen some chefs knead it flat and then fold it into a wrap. Some go the extra mile of sculpting it into a creative piece that even triggers your salivating taste buds to go on overdrive. After kneading their choice of swallow, some can choose to serve it on a separate plate, place it on the same plate as the soup like in the photograph above, or elect to wrap it in plastic wrap.
How do you eat that–you ask? Don’t worry; I have you covered on that note. A lot of Africans prefer to ingest soups and swallow with washed hands. However, some elect to use a fork and knife as well. However, this kind of food is best enjoyed by hand. Do you take the whole massive ball and dip it in the soup and attempt to swallow it all? Umm, no. Striving to consume an enormous portion size of the fufu is not advisable, as it could lead to a choking hazard. The best way to eat it is to take little lumps that you can swallow, rounded off, dipped into the soup, and then ingested heartily. Some people elect to chew their fufu, but the majority rather swallow it. The soup usually acts as a lubricant for easy ingestion into the body.
Egusi Soup Ingredients
Now, the savvy sage will be rhetorically asking, ‘I’m interested in making myself some Egusi soup, but what ingredients do I really need to pull this soup off? Where could I buy most of these ingredients—especially if they are not common ingredients sold in the local grocery store?’ Not to worry, chef, you’ve come to the right place. We will put you through to the ingredients that you need for making this soup. Additionally, we will also give you some scoops of the different ways you can cook this soup. However, before we get to how we cook this Nigerian delicacy, let us examine the primary ingredients for preparing the Egusi soup.
The principal component for making the Egusi soup is the Egusi (Melon) seeds. Sometimes it comes with its shells, or sometimes they are already removed. You can also find grounded Egusi Seeds in powdery form. The next ingredient is Palm oil (measured to taste). For making the soup, any protein of choice will do, but most especially beef and usually the flesh or the offal. Other ingredients for the dish include the following: crayfish; fish of choice, mostly dry fish and stock-fish; pepper and salt (to taste); vegetable (e.g., Nigerian pumpkin leaves, spinach, or bitter leaves); stock cubes (NB. Usually about three); and traditional locust bean seasoning—also known as either okpei, dawadawa, iru, offor, nsu—and they are optional. (NB. For our readers who do not live in Nigeria or other African countries where these ingredients are not locally available, there are various African/West African food markets in the diaspora. A quick Google search will do you some good).
There are different methods of cooking Egusi soup. In most cases, the process of preparing it determines the ingredients and when they are added. The first is adding the oil before the Egusi, and the second is adding “Efoelegusi” or “Akpuruakpumgbam.”
The first is adding the palm oil before Egusi. In this method, the Egusi is fried in palm oil before other ingredients are combined. The protein of choice is then cooked to taste and texture. You then add the crayfish, pepper, palm oil, and blended local locust beans to the pot and allow to boil for few minutes. The dried fish is then added and allowed to simmer for a few minutes. Next, the Egusi is combined with seasoning stock cubes and salt to taste and left to cook for about 7 minutes, after which the soup is ready.
The second is cooking the Egusi with “Efoelegusi” or “Akpuruakpumgbam.” In this method, the ground Egusi is mixed with warm water and other spices like pepper, salt, and onions, after which it is then molded into balls and cooked in the soup. This method requires lots of vegetables and hot bell peppers, or preferably with some habanero peppers. This second method of preparing the Egusi soup is used during big ceremonies such as traditional weddings and naming ceremonies.
Whatever the method used to prepare this soup, if done correctly, it usually comes out very delicious and finger-licking tasty, to say the very least. So, if you are craving a tasty Nigerian delicacy, you may want to consider the Egusi soup. For those of you in the Greater Seattle Area in the State of Washington, you may want to order this delicacy from Chef Kelchi at www.kelchiskitchen.com. She is a maestro when it comes to cooking West African dishes. The taste of her Egusi soup, and other dishes she whips up, as a matter of fact, will send your taste buds to Taste Bud Heaven.
Different people like their Egusi in different ways. Some people like eating Egusi with a healthy serving of vegetables (e.g., Nigerian pumpkin leaves, spinach, collard greens, bitter leaves, Wild African Spinach (Gnetum Africanum), popularly known as Ukazi/Okazi Leaves). Others prefer it without vegetables. This is called white Egusi because it turns out looking like a white paste. Finally, some others prefer a hint of tomato stew in their Egusi, thereby giving it a reddish coloration.
Egusi soup is also commonly eaten with rice. For the more adventurous food lovers, eating Egusi soup with yam can be quite the experience! In a way, there is no hard and fast rule about how you can eat the soup. As time evolves, I believe that more food connoisseurs will discover more creative ways of eating traditional Egusi soup. Nigerians love Egusi soup because of its versatility and its delicious taste and feel. Egusi soup can be enjoyed any time of the day but mostly before dinner because of its high protein and fats, and oil content.