Shapka (Egusi Soup)

"Egusi (also known as agusi, agushi) is the name for the fat- and protein-rich seeds of certain cucurbitaceous plants (squash, melon, gourd), which are dried and ground, then used as a major ingredient in West African cuisine. This is another Salone classic, and again this is not something you can prepare on the fly. Preparing this and many traditional dishes takes time and is a labour of love. You may find the ogirie and white sorrel/hibiscus petals are challenging to track down. It is, however, well worth it.

This is a classic Saturday food or a Sunday morning breakfast in Sierra Leone and is one of my husband’s favourite Sierra Leonean mains. This and bittas (or bitter leaves), Tola Sauce, Okra Soup, and probably a few more. Okay, he’s a convert to Sierra Leonean cuisine. Probably didn’t have a choice. He’s even got a grading system for converting other people of European heritage: white belt (novice) is peanut soup; then Cassava Leaf Plasas is yellow belt; and this is black belt – Salone food Grand Master. At which point there’s no turning back."

Sweet Salone by Maria Bradford (Quadrille, £30) recipe photography by Yuki Sugiura

Browse Maria's pick of the Sous Chef ingredients she loves to use, here.

And read our exclusive interview with Maria about the flavours of Sierra Leone.



  1. Simmer the oxtail and stock in a large saucepan or stockpot over a medium heat for 1 hour. Grind the ogirie and 2 teaspoons of salt in a pestle and mortar and add to the pan with the oxtail. Add the goat meat and palm oil. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender; this will take up to 60 minutes.
  2. In a frying pan, toast the egusi until lightly coloured, then grind to a powder in a pestle and mortar and set aside.
  3. Put the white sorrel/hibiscus petals in a sieve (strainer) and rinse under cold water until most of the sour taste is gone (taste it: a slight sour taste is fine).
  4. Squeeze them dry, then blend in a food processer until smooth and set aside. Rinse the smoked barracuda flakes and add to the pan along with the egusi powder, onions and chillies. Stir and cover with the lid. Cook for a further 30 minutes on a medium-low heat. The meat should be very tender at this stage and the oxtail almost falling off the bone.
  5. Add the blended hibiscus petals to the pan, stir, taste and adjust the seasoning, adding salt if it’s needed. Cook for 10 more minutes on low heat, then turn off heat and let the soup sit with the lid on for 10 more minutes. Serve the soup with fufu or Garri Eba
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