Five attempts…it took me five attempts over about four years to finally get it right. Egusi stew is my favorite Nigerian meal, and maybe one of my favorite foods in general. The problem is that I’ve always had to get it from a restaurant or caterer, so it’s usually a rare delicacy reserved for big parties…or family gatherings if an Auntie wanted to spoil me. I first tried to tackle it in my dorm kitchen years ago, and I failed completely. I can’t even pick out what I did wrong, but it was terrible. Then I tried it again at home later that summer…FAIL. New year, new dorm, new result? NOPE that attempt went down in flames too. I waited until sometime last year to try again– as a married, working, “functioning adult” but it still ended up completely wrong. I didn’t get it– I’m used to cooking pretty complicated stuff, but somehow this one always got me. Until now…Mo ti ṣe é. I did it.
Egusi are the seeds from a few different types of melons that grow around West Africa. Now, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen one, but I’ve loved this stew just the same. You can usually get them whole–they look just like pumpkin seeds–at international markets and specialty West African stores. I got them pre-ground this time because I’ve had trouble grinding them to the correct consistency.
Otherwise, this stew calls for most of the standard Nigerian ingredients: dried prawns (“crayfish”), peppers, onions, and greens. I used a mix of spinach and dandelion greens this time, but I think that pumpkin leaves are more traditional. It’s just too early for pumpkin spice though, so those aren’t available. I don’t use Maggi/Knorr stock cubes, but I try to mix my own spices to make up for that ubiquitous flavor. Those cubes are mostly salt, anyway…
Now, you can use a bunch of different proteins in this stew, but I only used goat this time. I mean…I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, so I didn’t want to empty the fridge all at once. Either way, sear the meat, cook it in it’s own stock until tender, then use that stock for the stew. I broiled the meat once more before tossing it in the stew, but that’s just me being extra…I do that sometimes…
In the meantime, stir-fry the egusi with onions and peppers in a little palm oil until you see the oil float to the top, then add stock in small batches–just like when you make risotto–because you don’t want the egusi to get too runny. Next, add the meat, and greens, then season to taste. This was all going too well this time, so naturally there had to be some mishap. In this case, it happened waaay before I even started cooking this. See, Yorùbá people usually serve Egusi with pounded yam, but I accidentally grabbed the wrong type of yam flour…
I wanted white yam flour for iyàn, but when I went to pick up some at the market, I picked up dark yam flour that’s used for amala, the much more bitter, fickle cousin to iyàn. I knew I messed up when the yam turned brown/purple and I got flashbacks to childhood when my dad insisted that I try amala for the first time. Absolutely not! So, I ended up eating it with cassava instead. This wasn’t a quick lunch– but look: at least I got to eat something!
So now, you’re about to eat with your (right) hand. If you’ve followed the blog, this is probably your second or third time, so I believe in you!
2-3 lbs Goat or Beef, cubed
2 Red Bell Peppers, blended
1 Onion, sliced thinly
1-2 Scotch Bonnet Peppers, minced
2 Cups Ground Egusi Seeds
4 Cups Greens, chopped
1 Cup Palm Oil
1 Tbs Dried Crayfish
1 Tbs Bitter Leaf
1 Tbs Onion Powder
1 Tbs Garlic Powder
1 Tsp Ginger Powder
4 Cups Yam/Cassava Flour
6 Cups Boiling Water
Salt & Pepper to taste
- Season meat with salt, and onion powder, then sear on all sides until brown, then add bitter leaf, ginger powder, dried crayfish, remaining onion/garlic powder, and cover with water. Simmer until the meat is tender.
- Remove the meat from the stock, and place under the broiler for two minutes to build flavor, then set aside. Strain the stock, then return to the stove and keep warm.
- Heat palm oil on med-high heat until fully melted, then stir in the ground egusi, and stir continuously for approximately three minutes. Add blended peppers/onions, and simmer until thickened.
- Add meat stock, and stir sparingly until the stew reduces and thickens again.
- Add the greens, and stir carefully to mix, and simmer uncovered to boil-off any excess water.
- Return the meat to the stew, then turn the heat to low, and cover to keep warm.
- Combine yam/cassava flour to a separate pot, and mix slowly with boiling water. Once absorbed, cover and simmer for one minute until a dough forms.
- Serve the yam/cassava with stew, and serve.