In West Africa, the seeds of the egusi melon are a common component of the soups that are integral to daily life. Coarsely ground up, they thicken stews, adding texture and another layer of flavour.
Total: 40 minutes
100 grams whole egusi seeds
3 teaspoons salt
1 large red bell pepper
200 grams baby plum tomatoes
3 medium yellow onions
3 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 Scotch bonnet pepper
400 grams fresh plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato purée
½ teaspoon dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon hot paprika
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
400 grams cooked chickpeas
300 grams baby leaf spinach
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1. Heat the oven to 180ºC/gas mark 4.
2. Roast the egusi seeds on the middle shelf of the oven for 12 minutes, turning once. The egusi should be crunchy and some will have taken on a golden brown colour. Remove from the oven and grind half the seeds in a pestle and mortar. Leave the rest whole and set all the seeds aside.
3. To make the base sauce, finely dice the onions and gently fry in the oil for 5 minutes on a medium heat. Deseed and finely dice the Scotch bonnet pepper. Chop the garlic and crush to a paste. Add both to the pan and cook for a further 10 minutes on a low heat.
4. Add the tomatoes, tomato purée and dark brown sugar. Stir and taste. It should have a pleasant sweetness from the tomatoes, onions and sugar, with a spicy undercurrent from the Scotch bonnet pepper. Add the black pepper, paprika and the other 2 teaspoons of salt.
5. Pour in 200 ml water or vegetable stock, then cover and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. This allows the flavours to meld together. Remove from heat and blend base sauce. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
6. Add the ground egusi to the base. Simmer on a low heat, uncovered, for 5 minutes. The sauce should thicken and become a creamier colour as the seeds absorb liquid.
7. Rinse the red pepper, then remove the stalk and seeds. Cut it into 5mm squares.
8. Quarter the baby plum tomatoes. Then add the chickpeas, red pepper and plum tomatoes and simmer for a final 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the spinach and the extra virgin olive oil. Serve just as the spinach begins to wilt, and scatter the reserved whole egusi seeds on top.