This is not everybody’s bowl of soup. To like Nigerian pepper soup you have to have a really hot tongue. I have had pepper soup in Nigeria that made me cry and sweat at the same time. It’s a spicy, clear soup that can be made with chicken, fish, beef or offal. It’s not just about the peppers though, the spice mix that goes into the soup is quintessential Nigerian. According to Jessica Harris’ The Africa Cookbook a traditional pepper soup spice mixture contains atariko, uda, gbafilo, uyayak, rigije and a little ground ginger. Apart from the ginger I have to admit I have never heard of these spices. Like Jessica Harris points out in the recipe, they belong to a ‘a world of new tastes that are yet to be discovered’ by non-Nigerians.
She offers an alternative list of spices for those of us who find the ‘traditional recipe reads like Martian,’ and I have found several others on the internet (check this lovely blog for example: http://www.kitchenbutterfly.com/2011/03/01/how-to-make-nigerian-pepper-soup/). The substitute spice mixes that I have found are very similar, and using what I had at home I came up with the pepper soup recipe below. My spice mix omits Sechuan pepper, which Harris’ recipe and some others include. I didn’t have any and couldn’t find it in the store, so I added a couple of fresh scotch bonnet peppers (habanero) to my soup instead. I also included a couple of Maggi cubes in mine, because West African cooking just isn’t West African without them.
The soup is great for a cold winter’s day, to ease a flu out of your body, or to set fire to a broken heart. Enjoy!
For the spice mix (this makes enough for a small jar to keep)
- 5g black pepper
- 5g cloves
- 5g ground cinnamon
- 10g coriander seeds
- 10g cumin seeds
- 10g allspice
- 10g ground ginger
- 10g fennel seeds
Blend all the spices in a spice grinder or by hand using a mortar and pestle. Keep in a airtight container (it will last for a couple of months).
For the pepper soup
- 700 g chicken pieces on the bone (drumsticks and thighs)
- 1.5 litres of water
- 2 table spoons pepper soup spice mix
- 1/2 table spoon dried chilli flakes
- 2 fresh habanero peppers
- 2 Maggi cubes
Cut the chicken into smaller pieces. Place in a pot with 500 ml of the water, the pepper soup spice mix, the dried chilli, the fresh habaneros and the Maggi cubes. Bring to a boil. Then add the rest of the water and simmer until the chicken is tender (at least 30 minutes).