CUISINE AFRICANA: ACHARA SOUP
One of the most popular traditional soups in the Eastern part of the country, especially Abia and Ebonyi states is Achara soup. Achara is actually the edible stem of elephant grass but to some people especially non-Igbo, they might wonder how anybody could eat ‘grass’. Then, for those who have tasted this soup, it is delicious any anybody who eats it would certainly crave for more.
Meanwhile, according to research, Achara contains Vitamin B, iron, potassium, phytochemicals and fatty acids. According to www.biodiv2014.sciencesconf.org, Elephant grass has enormous potentials for alleviating hidden hunger and providing food security.
Achara is readily affordable and could even serve as meat for those who enjoy beef in their soup because it has enjoyable crunchy textural quality. Usually prepared with mgbam (egusi balls), the soup is spicy and very nutritious.
300g egusi (melon) seeds
1 handful of sliced okazi leaves
1 cup of shreded pieces of achara (15 stalks of achara)
3 cooking spoons of red palm oil
3 pieces of stockfish
1 dry cat-fish
1 ogiri okpei
3 stock cubes
Habanero pepper (atarodo, ose oyibo)
1 handful of crayfish
1/2 teaspoon of dry pepper
Salt to taste
Cook the stock fish with the stock cubes (seasoning cubes) till soft and pour some of the stock into a bowl. This has been soaked earlier but stockfish is quite tough and soaking alone does not get it soft as needed. The soaking is necessary for it to be cleaned thoroughly.
Pour most of the ground egusi (about 70%) into a clean dry bowl. Season it with the 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. Mould the dough into flat discs as big as a coin and set aside. Boil some water and throw the dough into the boiling water. Cook for 10 minutes on medium heat.
Set the pot of stockfish on the burner; it should still contain some of the stock from the cooked 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 it to a boil.
Once it boils, remove the fish and set aside.
Add the remaining ground egusi to the stock, stir and cook till you see some clear egusi oil on 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 moulded egusi when necessary. Once you are sure of seeing clear oil at the top, add palm oil and cook for 5 minutes.
Add the boiled akpuruakpu egusi, achara, okazi and the fish taken out earlier. Add salt to taste, cover and once it boils again, it is done!
Serve warm with fufu or eba.