Happy New Year everyone! It’s been a while since my last post and the period between has been quite the emotional roller-coaster filled with life-changing events that I will talk about in time. However, I cannot overestimate how grateful I am to be on this side of time with my family. So, it is with this contemplative air and love for family and community that I introduce ‘Edikaikong’ as the first recipe of the new year. This soup also called Edikang Ikong soup is another ethnic staple famous in my home state and native to the Efik and Ibibio people of Cross Rivers and Akwa Ibom states.
Edikang Ikong Soup is a highly nutritious, delicious and savory vegetable soup natively prepared using ‘ugwu’ (the native name for fluted pumpkin leaves) and Malabar spinach (locally called water leaf in Nigeria). Like most soups from these coastal regions, this dish comes loaded with various seafood delicacies (periwinkles being a regular staple) and “obstacles” (Nigerian slang for the preponderance of assorted meat cuts Nigerians love to feature in their soups) elevating this soup to a Nutritious adventure into the green, coastal depths of Cross Rivers culture.
Edikaikong joins the list of Efik or Ibibio delicacies that have garnered cult status in Nigeria where the clout of top chefs and the best cooks are usually measured their ability to reproduce this soup in its classic form. Amusingly, it is also no surprise in local settings for aspiring bachelorettes to have their ‘wife material’ status confirmed once they know how to make this recipe, elevating them from girlfriend to “ultimate wifey” within a single taste! In fact, a fond memory I have of this recipe growing up is that of my father’s colleagues at work consistently accompanying their greetings to my mum with requests for an encore taste of her edikaikong recipe after a sampling of it during one of their house visits.
Edikang Ikong soup kindles the same visual impression as afang soup albeit a bit dryer with a comparatively milder but intense and nuanced vegetable and seafood umami flavor. This soup is almost exclusively eaten with a fufu or other form of ‘swallow’ (another local slang for any of the collection of local starch-based mounds eaten as a side with one of these soups).
Reproducing Edikaikong authentically in the US proved to be quite the challenge due to the lack of native ingredients; especially ‘ugwu’. Indeed, one of the common challenges in identifying native ingredients in the west is the transcribing of the native names of such ingredients to English since their native names do not necessarily lend themselves to a direct translation of their English counterparts. While you might be lucky to have a Nigerian, African, Caribbean or International store in your neighborhood with ugwu in stock, it is more common to have this supplied by well-meaning Nigerian neighbors who have decided to import and grow this crop in their garden or backyard. Malabar spinach on the other hand is usually more readily found in Asian stores if you are fortunate enough to live near one.
In searching for a more sustainable approach to this dilemma, I discovered an alternative for ugwu could be approximated with regular pumpkin leaves without many drastic compromises in the flavor or texture. Edikang Ikong Soup purists will obviously know the difference but not enough to deny the proximity of its amazing taste and flavor to the original and not enough to minimize how good this recipe tastes! All western ingredients can be easily swapped with the classic versions in this recipe once they are available. I hope you enjoyed our short adventure into one of my favorite ethnic dishes as well as the small lessons in native Nigerian food slang! You will find yourself revisiting this coastal dish adventure time and time again so give it a shot and let me know how you like it!
Edikaikong Soup Recipe (Edikang Ikong Soup)
- 2 lbs Malabar Spinach aka Water leaf
- 2 lbs Pumpkin leaves (you may use ugwu if you have that available)
- 3 lbs Goat meat cut into large bite size cubes
- ½ cup Cooked shelled Apple snails
- 1 lbs Smoked Shrimp
- ½ cup Palm oil
- 2 Red onions
- 2 Scotch bonnet peppers
- 4 tbsp Ground smoked dried shrimp aka Crayfish
- 3 tsp Chicken bouillon
- Salt to taste
- Slice both onions and scotch bonnet peppers, and set them aside.
- On low- medium heat in a large stock pot, braise the goat meat with the one of the onions, scotch bonnet peppers, 1 tsp bullion and 1 tsp salt for 30 minutes or until the meat is tender.
- Half way into braising the goat meat, add ½ a cup of water and stir the meat to prevent in from burning. Keep the pot covered at all times during the braising process.
- While the meat is braising, wash the Malabar spinach in cool water to get rid of sand and dirt. Pick off the tough stems, but save the tender stems and leaves. Chop and set aside.
- Wash the pumpkin leaves in cool water to get rid of sand and dirt. Pick off the tough stems, but save the tender stems and leaves. Chop and set aside.
- Once the meat is tender and is done braising. Set aside.
- In a deep pot heat up the palm oil on medium heat (be careful not to over heat the oil on high heat) and sauté the other sliced onion for 10 minutes until it is starting to get caramelized.
- Add in the snails and smoked shrimp, and continue to sauté for another 5 minutes.
- Add in the braised goat meat and reserve the braising liquid for another recipe. It is a very flavorful stock, and be used for another dish.
- Add in 2 teaspoons of bullion, crayfish, then add in the chopped water leaves and the pumpkin leaves. Stir and allow to stew uncovered on medium heat for 10 minutes.
- After 10 minutes, taste the stew for seasoning and adjust the salt if necessary. Turn the heat off and allow the stew to sit for 5 minutes, then serve hot