Jessica B. Harris, chronicler of many things African, at least when it comes to cooking anyway, includes a recipe for “Traditional Peppersoup Spice Mixture” in her book, The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent (Simon & Schuster, 1998). She says, “I have included this recipe so that you can see the world of new tastes that are yet to be discovered.”
Eleven years on, we are still doing that discovering.
The peppersoup spice formula reads as follows:
1 tablespoon atariko
1 tablespoon uda
1 tablespoon gbafilo
1 tablespoon ground ginger*
1 tablespoon uyayak
1 tablespoon rigije
Mix all the ingredients together and grind them in a mortar and pestle or in a spice mill. Store the peppersoup spices in a tightly closed clean glass jar.
Uh, what are those spices?
It goes to show you that just when you get comfortable with what you perceive to be your profound knowledge of food, along comes a tiny little seed or a scrap of bark to knock you off your self-carved pedestal.
Fortunately, a briefly written blog, “Nigerian Dishes,” explains a few of the spices:
Atariko: Small seeds sold in, or removed from, an alligator pepper-like pod. Highly scented, but not as hot as alligator pepper. It is expensive so use only a few of the tiny seeds to flavour pepper soups, or banga soup with rigije. Sold in the markets by traders from the Niger-Delta areas.
Gbafilo: Large, egg-shaped seed with rough sandpaper-like surface. The nut, which shakes freely inside, is removed and ground for inclusion in pepper soups. Sold in the markets by traders from the Niger-Delta areas.
Rigije: Small brown flat seeds used with atariko in banga palm fruit pulp soups. Sold by Niger-Delta market women.
It’s a start.
For as chef Marcus Samuelsson said in an interview with Rachel Philipps Shapiro, “… There’s a miseducation in general about African food. We know regional Italian food and regional French food. But a billion people’s experience is just a blur.”
And so here’s a recipe for Nigerian Peppersoup with chicken.
Nigerian Chicken Peppersoup
Serves 6 – 8
Guinea fowl or turkey can also be used.
3 lb. chicken (cut into pieces)
2 quarts water or stock
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 T. chopped chiles, preferably Scotch bonnet (or to taste)
Salt to taste
¼ c. peppersoup seasoning**
2 T. ground dried shrimp (available at Asian grocery stores)
2 T. chopped mint
Mint sprigs for garnish
Wash the chicken pieces and place in a pot with stock, onion, garlic, and chiles.garlic. Season with salt and boil for 30 minutes. Add the peppersoup seasoning; cook for another 30 minutes or so until chicken is tender. Stir in the ground shrimp and the chopped mint leaves. Simmer for 10 minutes. Season to taste and serve hot in soup bowls with a few mint sprigs for garnish.
Resources on spices (Not much discussion of these African spices):
Chemistry of Spices, edited by Villupanoor A. Parthasathy, Bhageerathy Chempakam, and T. John Zachariah. (CABI Publishing, 2008)
Spice Crops, by E. A. Weiss (CABI Publishing, 2002).
World Spice Plants: Economic Usage, Botany, Taxonomy, by J. Seidemann (Springer, 2005)
*Some commentators on peppersoup spices state that adding ginger to the mix makes the whole dish more Ghanaian. Note: Peppersoup is not the same as Pepper Pot Soup, but the Campbell’s can intrigues, does it not?
**Available by mail order from various vendors on the Internet. Sold in cubes like Maggi cubes. (I am not recommending any particular vendor.)
© 2009 C. Bertelsen