NRI NDIGBO: Ofe Achara With Akpuruakpu Egusi (Mgbam)
By Joy Chinecherem
The food menu at every occasion is not complete if Ofe Achara is not on the list, maybe somewhere else but not an occasion in Abia state. Ofe Achara is a salacious dish indigenous to the people of Isiala Ngwa and Umuahia people of Abia state, a delicacy served during special occasions to important people.
The soup is prepared with Achara, gotten from the matured shoots of edible elephant grass. The outer layers are ripped out to expose the tender stem which in turn is broken into smaller pieces to be boiled for the soup.
Another important factor in the soup is the Akpuruakpu Mgbam, which is molded egusi balls easily mistaken for meat in the soup. As we all know we love food over here, especially native delicacies, so we will be talking about the recipe and steps involved in preparing Ofe Achara.
The first step in preparing any food is getting the ingredients, the ingredients include:
- Egusi (melon) seeds
- Sliced okapi leaves
- Achara Red palm oil
- Pieces stockfish
- Dry catfish
- Ogiri open
- Stock cubes
- Pepper (atarodo, ose oyibo, atarugu)
- Handful crayfish
- Dry pepper
- Salt (to taste)
Preparing The Ingredients
- Soak the stockfish and dry fish with cool or lukewarm water to soften. When soft, clean thoroughly and debone.
- Grind the egusi seeds and the ósú with a dry mill.
- Grind the crayfish with the ogiri okpei, also with a dry mill or spice grinder.
- Peel the achara by removing the coarse outer husk till you get to the tender part. Then break the tender part into 1 cm long pieces. Any part of the shoot that is not brittle (easily breakable), should be discarded. Rinse the pieces of achara and set aside.
- Pound the pepper with a mortar or grind with a hand blender.
- Cook the stockfish combined with the meat, adding the stock cubes (seasoning cubes) till soft and pour some of the stock into a bowl. Yes, this has been soaked earlier but stockfish is quite tough and soaking alone does not get it as soft as we need it. The soaking is necessary so that it can be cleaned very well.
- Pour most of the ground egusi (about 70%) into a clean dry bowl.
- Season the egusi with dry pepper and some of the crayfish and ogiri okpei blend. It’s important to season the egusi very well so that the mgbam will not taste bland when one bites into it.
- Add some of the fish stock to the egusi and mix till a thick dough is formed.
- Mold the egusi dough into flat discs, as big as a coin, and set aside.
- Boil some water and throw the molded egusi into the pot of boiling water. Cook for 10 minutes on medium heat.
- Set the pot of stockfish on the stove. It should still contain some stock from cooking the stockfish. If not, add the water from boiling the egusi balls.
- Add the deboned dry fish, habanero pepper, and the remaining crayfish and ogiri okpei blend and bring to a boil.
- Once it boils, take off the fish and set aside. Add the remaining ground egusi to the stock, stir and cook till you see some clear egusi oil come to the surface. This should take 15 to 20 minutes. Stir the soup often so it does not burn. Add the water you used in boiling the molded egusi when necessary.
- Once you are sure you see some clear oil at the top, add palm oil and cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the boiled akpuruakpu egusi, Achara, okazi, and the fish we took out earlier.
- Add salt to your taste, cover and once it boils again, it is done!