Chicken Pepper Soup

September 29, 2020
1 Ratings
  • Prep time 5 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour
  • Serves 6 to 8
Author Notes

In the southern Niger Delta where I was born and raised, pepper soup is not pepper soup without a mix of spices—erhe (calabash nutmeg), urheri (grains of Selim), alligator pepper (grains of paradise), umilo (cocoplum) and gbafilo (rough-skinned plum). Growing up, my grandma, mum and I would toast, grind, and blend these spices from scratch, yielding a powder that’s at once bitter, sweet, herby, and astringent. Now that I’m older, I buy a pre-toasted and -blended mix from Warri that very closely resembles the blend my grandmother used to make.

Pepper soup is the only traditional “drinking’ soup” in Nigeria and though it is called pepper soup, itss name hearkens more to its spiciness for which “pepper” is the closest word in traditional Nigerian languages from where it is translated. I sometimes make a cold version, served in a mug laced with honey and heady with fresh lime juice, perfect for hot weather.

This recipe will make extra spice mix, which is not only good for future pepper soups, but for ukodo—a pottage based on pepper soup that gets thickened with yam, plantains, or other tubers, too.

The pepper soup spice mix will keep in an airtight jar in a cool pantry (or the freezer) for several months.

Want to hear more about Nigerian food? On our new podcast Counterjam—a show that explores culture through food and music—host Peter J. Kim talks dodo, jollof, egusi, and more with comedian Ego Nwodim and Afrobeat pioneers Femi and Made Kuti—check out the episode here. Kitchen Butterfly

What You'll Need
  • 2 3/4 pounds bone-in, skin-on stewing chicken, cut in bite-sized pieces
  • 10 cups cold water, divided
  • 3 tablespoons pepper soup spice mix (below), divided
  • 2 teaspoons ground crayfish
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, bruised, cut into 3 pieces, and tied into 2 bundles
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large (or 2 small) lime leaves
  • 2 to 3 sprigs African basil, torn or roughly chopped, for garnish
  • Red palm oil, for finishing
  • Pepper soup spice mix
  • 8 skins/barks of urheri (grains of Selim), bitter seeds discarded
  • 4 seeds of erhe (calabash nutmeg), shelled
  • 2 seeds of gbafilo, shelled, and seeds roughly chopped
  • 2 seeds of umilo, shelled and seeds roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon alligator pepper (grains of paradise)
  • 1/2 teaspoon uziza seeds
  1. In a large stockpot, combine the chicken, 2 cups water, 1 tablespoon pepper soup spice, the ground crayfish, 1 lemongrass bundle, a pinch of dry pepper, and the salt. Stir well and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  2. When the liquid has reached a boil, add the remaining 8 cups water and the rest of the pepper soup spice mix. Simmer steadily on medium to medium-low heat until the meat is tender, but not yet falling off the bone, about 30-40 minutes.
  3. Add the remaining lemongrass and lime leaf, and take off the heat. Let infuse for 5-10 minutes before serving. Taste broth and adjust seasoning dry pepper and salt. Finish with the basil and a drizzle of palm oil, and serve with boiled yam, plantains, or potatoes.
  1. Pepper soup spice mix
  2. Toast the spices in a dry skillet on medium- to medium-low heat, stirring frequently until fragrant, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.
  3. Powder in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle until finely ground. Store in an airtight jar in a cool pantry or the freezer, where it will last for several months.

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