Cooking traditional dishes from around the world can be a great way to spice up your food repertoire. While living in Nigeria, I came to love one of the most notable national dishes, Pepper Soup. My particular favorite is Ukodo or Fish Pepper Soup from the Urhobo people of the southern Delta region. For years, I have tried to make an honest version of this time honored meal and have only come close of late, due to the pressures of my daughter’s maturing palate. She knows what true Ukodo tastes like and will not settle for less. When made correctly this soup is like an elixir of pure passion. It is a hot, spicy, rich, bountiful broth filled with delicious and healthy surprises. I found a local Nigerian market that sells the authentic Pepper Soup spices and without knowing the names of the actual ingredients (something similar to cloves, juniper seeds or nutmeg, perhaps), I can only rely on the proprietor’s word and of course, my olfactory memory.
I have been to the village in Warri where the spices come from, watched my sister-in-law grind them to a powder in a wintery Paris kitchen and spent many a humid Sunday in Lagos waiting for the sweet smelling Pepper Soup to finish cooking. I feel like I know this scent, like a favorite perfume. Then, there is the Egusi, a pumpkin seed-like gem that is ground and added to impart a luscious texture and nutty flavor to the broth. I found some packaged at the same shop.
Lots of fresh hot pepper, a whole red snapper to add flavor and substance and finally plantain or yam are all included to make one of the most stunning, nutritious and tasty one pot meals on the planet. Oh, and don't let me forget the Palm Oil. This, you add as a sort of condiment to be eaten with the yam and plantain on the side. The organic, wild-crafted type by Jungle Products is very, very good for your skin, as well, and has all manner of healing properties.
This soup will cure any cold, revive any blah mood, and delight all the senses in your body. It is most certainly a charmed dish. Food for the Gods.
The Pepper Soup really influenced my state of mind and I started to grow nostalgic about Nigeria and its unique comforts. I needed to explore a bit more into the lovely things that I remember about my time spent there. So, I went out and bought these.
When we were living on Ikoyi in Lagos, there was a wonderful Mango tree on the grounds. The workers would dine on these delicious fruits daily and so we would have to be vigilant about asking for some samples, of our own, to enjoy. The process of retrieving these gems involved a very long stick and a shaking of the tree or simply being patient until some did fall naturally. The Organic Mangoes from the Korean market, though delightful, failed to fulfill my Naija craving. I was no longer hungry, but still craved a visceral connection. Hence, I decided to make my own small batch of Dudu Osun or Black Soap with rosemary, clove and orange peel. I even added a little cayenne pepper in honor of the Pepper Soup.
The soap came out amazing and very medicinal. I showered with it and finally experienced the - wrapped up in the humid air of Lagos - feeling I was looking for. Cayenne is actually very good for the skin and hair. Of course, it tingles a little but this is only because it is getting rid of unwanted bacteria. I couldn’t resist naming these bars, Pepper Soap! I would love to give one away for you to try. Just send me a note about your favorite healthy traditional dish and I’ll send you a bar of soap.