Pepper soup, that most delightful of dishes capable of fighting off any cold, aches and pains, tiredness or just any bland, English rainy day… the possibilities are endless and a steamy, hot bowl of pepper soup is sure to keep any Nigerian man very happy indeed! Isn’t it strange therefore that I had never so much as attempted to make pepper soup before? The unfamiliar ingredients, the unusual scents… Time therefore to grab the bull by the horns and throw myself in the deep end.
Like Jollof rice, pepper soup comes in many varieties, comprising local spices and herbs depending on your tribe. It can be made with fish, beef, chicken, goat, offal, anything that tickles your man’s fancy, really. For those of you unfamiliar with some of the ingredients, here is my low down on the key ones.
Pepper soup mix
The main ingredient that gives the soup its distinctive flavour is of course pepper soup mix, which most shops sell ready-to-use.
While it is possible to grind your own spice, I struggled to find information on some of the ingredients, let alone finding them in a shop (Aziza and Ahuru seeds for example).
Herbs and spices
Ground Uda seed: a pungent and
aromatic spice with a bitter nutty taste. The seeds grow inside pods
on the ‘pepper tree’, an evergreen
in West Africa. Uda seeds can be
substituted by a mixture of half
pepper half nutmeg.
Utazi: a bitter-tasting pale green leaf that should only ever be used sparingly. It can be used as a substitute for bitter leaves.
Uziza: West African pepper from climbing vines native to central and West Africa. It gives the soup heat and a spicy, pungent aroma. Plus Pepper seed, Knorr powder, Aziza and Ahuru seeds.
These are the glossy leaves from the climbing vines that also give us Uziza seeds. The leaves have a spicy scent and a wonderful aroma.
FISH PEPPER SOUP RECIPE
I am a fan of crispy skin but otherwise prefer fish without the skin. I have incorporated this in the recipe below, perhaps ‘westernising’ it a little, but if you prefer to leave the skin on then just leave the fish in the pot.
1 large onion, chopped
1 tbsp. oil
1 Tilapia (or other firm flesh fish;
Sea Bream, Red Snapper, Catfish)
1 tbsp. pepper soup spice mix
1 Scotch Bonnet pepper, finely chopped or 1 tbsp. dried African hot pepper 500 ml water
1-2 Bigi Mama cubes
1 tbsp. dried Uziza leaves
1 tbsp. ground crayfish
Salt to taste
- First, slice, peel and cut the yam into large chunks. Bring them to
a boil in a pot with a little salt until cooked. This should take 15 minutes or so. Drain and set aside.
- In another pot, heat the oil and soften the onions for 5 minutes on a low heat.
- In the meantime, wash and cut the fish into steak-like chunks of about 1” wide. Add to the softened onions, together with the water and Knorr stock cubes. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes until the fish is cooked. With a slotted spoon, take the fish out and remove the skin. Set aside.
- Add the pepper soup mix, chopped Scotch Bonnet (or dried African pepper), and ground crayfish to the liquid and cook for a further 5 minutes.
- Then add the Uziza leaves, boiled yam and cooked fish and heat through for another five minutes before serving.