The Spice of Life

by Teresa Lynch

When ‘Sadé Oshinubi first moved to Bloomington, one of her first concerns was whether any local store carried a particular array of spices and ingredients she needed.  Fortunately for her, she found them at 10thStreet Market.  She has been going there ever since to purchase ingredients for a variety of the dishes she loves to make.  If she had not been able to find these ingredients in Bloomington, she would have had to turn to the Internet or far away relatives for help.  These ingredients are vital because for most of the dishes she cooks it’s all about the spice.  She describes the type of food she makes as being a bit more “season-y” than average food, as she ends up adding in a bit of every spice and seasoning in her cupboard.

Stew similar to the type ‘Sadé enjoys.

Her favorite recipe?  Rice and stew.  If that sounds less exciting than you expected, wait just a minute until you hear the description.  Chopped tomatoes, onions, green and red peppers, chili peppers, curry powder, cayenne pepper, garlic, slab or chopped beef and hen all poured over rice.  The dish is often eaten with your hands and a side of fufu or yams pounded in a mola bowl with what ‘Sadé describes with a laugh as “a tool that looks similar to the club Fred Flinstone used.”

‘Sadé grew up for the most part in Atlanta, Georgia, but her parents are from Nigeria.  Back when she lived in Atlanta, finding the spices for the Nigerian dishes she and her mother cooked wasn’t too difficult because of the presence of many specialty stores for African and Caribbean goods.  Here in the much smaller town of Bloomington, ‘Sadé relies on 10th Street Market and her family sending her spices in the mail.  However, recent changes in food transportation regulations have made it tougher for her to receive spices.  Still, ‘Sadé’s mother has managed to send plastic baggies of the peppers, herbs, and curry mixes to her daughter over the years.  And, it was from her mother that ‘Sadé first learned the basics of cooking and later learned its art.

When she was a young girl, ‘Sadé’s mother would make her largely disinterested daughter stay in the kitchen to watch how dishes were prepared.  When her younger brother was born, ‘Sadé’s grandmother came from Nigeria to live with her immediate family for a while.

Efo, a traditional Nigerian vegetable stew.

Young ‘Sadé was still required to sit and watch her mother and her grandmother making traditional dishes such as efo, a vegetable stew made with collard greens, gizzards, and shaki (cow tripe).  Eventually, sitting and watching turned into helping and helping turned into true learning.  Later in life, ‘Sadé has recognized that she enjoys cooking for people and the pleasure that comes along with seeing people enjoy the dishes she learned to cook.  She explains that for Nigerian women, being able to cook well is a point of pride as well as a huge part of maintaining the food-centric culture.

She describes that traditionally meals aren’t stored which consequently makes cooking an every meal event.  Additionally, food made at home for family is quite different from party food and street food.  Making party food such as jollof rice, in particular, is seen as an entirely different skill set.  Now, ‘Sadé has mastered the nuance of the dishes she makes.  One dish she particularly loves and thought to share here is Pepper Soup.  Be warned, this dish isn’t for the faint of heart or the unadventurous.  It’s a dish that she describes as being so spicy “they give it to you and you will be well because the spice burns away the sickness.”  But, it’s one of her all-time favorites.  “You will be crying, tears coming down your face, but you won’t stop eating it because it’s so good.  You’ll literally want it that bad.”

Pepper Soup

Chicken/Goat Meat/Cow Leg/Assorted Beef  (1 kg/2.2 lbs)
Ehu or Ariwo or Calabash Nutmeg – 4 seeds
Chilli Pepper (to taste)
Dry Uziza – 2 teaspoons (optional)
Onions – 2 medium bulbs
Crayfish – 2 tablespoons of ground Crayfish
Salt – to taste
Seasoning – 3 Maggi / Knorr cubes & 1 teaspoon of Thyme

Prep

If preparing Chicken Pepper Soup, it is preferable to use whole chicken instead of drumsticks. The different parts of the chicken will bring variety to the pepper soup. So wash and cut up the whole chicken and set aside.

If you want to prepare Assorted Beef Pepper Soup then you should buy different parts of beef – best cut, offal (shaki, round-about, liver and kidney). Wash the offal thoroughly especially the round-about which should be turned inside out during the washing. Cut these into medium pieces, just big enough to be chewed in one go.

For Goat Meat Pepper Soup and Cow Leg Pepper Soup, just wash and cut the goat meat or cow leg into medium pieces. In this case also, make the pieces just big enough that it can be chewed in one go.

Now it is time to prepare the ‘secret’ ingredient. Using an old frying pan, roast the Ehu seeds (stirring constantly) till you can smell it. Don’t worry you will know when it is OK to take it off because it has a distinctive aroma. Another way to know that it is OK is to take one of the seeds and try to remove the outer membrane. If the membrane comes off easily, then the Ehu is done.

Peel off the membrane from all the Ehu seeds and grind with a dry mill.
Cut the onions into tiny pieces.
Rub the dry uziza with your fingers to break them into tiny pieces.

Cooking Directions

This cooking direction describes Chicken Pepper Soup. To prepare Goat Meat Pepper Soup, Cow Leg Pepper Soup or Assorted Beef Pepper Soup just substitute chicken with goat meat, cow leg or beef and offal respectively.
Place the pieces of chicken in a pot and pour enough water to cover the contents of the pot. Add the stock cubes, thyme and onions and cook till done.

Note: When cooking Assorted Beef Pepper Soup, you should cook the shaki for sometime before adding the other beef parts. Shaki is tough and will take longer to cook than the other beef parts. Cow leg is a tough meat part so when cooking Cow Leg Pepper Soup, you should use a pressure cooker if you have one. This will save you some gas or electricity.

By now, you will notice that some of the water has dried. Add more water to bring it to the level of the contents of the pot.

Add the ground Ehu, crayfish, dry uziza, chilli pepper and salt to taste. Ehu has some spicy taste so you should add chilli pepper with care. Even though it is called pepper soup, you still want to be able to taste and enjoy the recipe itself. Too much chilli pepper will ruin it for you.

Cover the pot and leave to boil for 5 minutes and the pepper soup is ready.

Pepper Soup should always be served hot. It can be eaten alone with a chilled drink by the side. You can also eat it with Agidi, White Rice or Boiled Yam. (Recipe specifics from http://www.allnigerianrecipes.com/soups/pepper-soup.html)

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