Vegan egusi + plantain amala

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Yes, I know I haven’t posted in like a million years, and I sincerely apologise for the silence. I’ve been living in a hotel the past few months and haven’t been able to cook. Because I travel often for work, there will be long stretches of time like this when I won’t be able to do recipe posts. In future I’ll do posts on other topics at such times.

During my time away from Lagos I spent a weekend in Accra, where I rediscovered shitor. Shitor is a magical Ghanaian pepper sauce that you can basically add to anything to make it taste better. It’s super versatile; you can use it to upgrade bland fried rice or simply eat it with boiled yam. I used to love shitor, but as it’s typically made with crayfish or shrimp I gave up on it after going vegan. Until now. While I was in Ghana, a friend introduced me to vegan shitor!

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At the store, the jar said ‘Vegetarian shitor’, so I was a bit apprehensive. Would I find ‘milk solids’ in the ingredients? But I scanned the very short ingredients list and saw that the shitor was not just vegetarian, it was actually vegan! I was in heaven. As the cashier checked us out I was already thinking up a shitor-licious recipe for vegan egusi soup.

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I learned how to make egusi from my mum, and she would always make the lumpy kind. She would mix crayfish and palm oil with the ground egusi and roll it into balls, then drop into the pot. The egusi lumps tasted so good. For my vegan egusi I decided to go the same way, but mixed shitor into the balls instead of crayfish. But that’s not all, I added a couple more twists – I toasted the melon seeds in the pan before grinding for a deep smoky favour, and I used blended tatashe to achieve the red colour while using very little palm oil. The result – intensely flavourful egusi with tasty, chewy lumps. Here’s how to make it!

What you will need

(Makes 2-3 litres of soup)

+ 4 cups egusi (melon seeds)

+ a bunch/fistful of ugu (pumpkin leaves), chopped

+ 5 large tatashe (red bell peppers); seeds removed

+ 1 medium red onion

+ 8 garlic cloves

+ 2 atarodo (scotch bonnet peppers)

+ 4 tablespoons vegetarian shitor (Ghanaian pepper sauce)

+ Spices: 1 tablespoon iru (fermented locust bean), 1 teaspoon curry powder, 1 small bunch of uda pods (grains of selim/negro pepper), salt

+ 3 tablespoons palm oil

How to make it

1.Blend the peppers, onions and garlic into a thick paste. Add only a little bit of water to help the blender along

2.Toast the egusi seeds in a dry pan on medium heat, a cup at a time, for 5-10 minutes. When they are ready they will be slightly browned and popping. Stir continuously to prevent burning and to avoid having all your seeds jump out of the pan!

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3.Grind the toasted egusi seeds in a food processor or using the milling attachment on a blender, until the powder just starts to clump together. This means that the oils have begun to be released.

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4.In a large bowl, mix the shitor with the ground egusi and form two-thirds of it into small balls (slightly smaller than a ping pong ball). Set the balls out on a tray and keep the rest of the shitor-egusi mix in the bowl.

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5.Add the palm oil and ground pepper paste to a pot and leave to simmer on medium heat for 10 mins. Add the spices.

6.Stir in the shitor-egusi mix that you left in the bowl earlier, and add 3 cups of water. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Then add the egusi balls to the pot. Do not stir the soup from this point on, as this will cause the balls to break up. Cover the pot and leave to simmer for 10 minutes.

7.Add the chopped ugu to the pot and cover. Leave to simmer for 10 mins until the leaves are wilted but still crunchy. Turn off the heat. Carefully use a ladle to incorporate the leaves into the soup by pushing them beneath the surface, taking care not to disturb the egusi balls. And you’re done!

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I ate the egusi with plantain amala. I just used plantain flour (the kind you find in a store where they sell bean flour) in place of yam flour and made it like regular amala.

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