- For the Spice Mix (See Note):
- 8 urheri pods (grains of Selim), seeded
- 6 erhe seeds (calabash nutmeg), shelled
- 2 gbafilo seeds, shelled and roughly chopped
- 2 umilo seeds, shelled and roughly chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon alligator pepper (grains of paradise)
- 1/2 teaspoon uziza seeds
- For the Pepper Soup:
- 1 small chicken (about 2 pounds; 905g), cut into 2-inch pieces (see note)
- 2 quarts (1.9L) cold water
- 2 teaspoons ground crayfish (see note)
- 1 teaspoon (4g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt, plus more to taste; for table salt, use half as
- much by volume or the same weight
- 1/2 teaspoon Nigerian red dry pepper or cayenne pepper, plus more to taste
- 6 fresh lemongrass leaves, divided (see note)
- 1 large (or 2 small) fresh makrut lime leaves
- 2 to 3 sprigs fresh scent leaf, finely chopped, for garnish (see note)
- Boiled yam, plantain, white sweet potatoes, or cooked white rice, for serving
- Unrefined West African red palm oil, for serving
For the Spice Mix: In a small stainless-steel or cast iron skillet, combine urheri, erhe, gbafilo, umilo, alligator pepper, and uziza. Over medium-low heat, toast spices, stirring and swirling frequently, until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes. Transfer spices to a spice grinder and grind until a crumbly, coarse powder forms, 2 to 3 minutes. Empty into a small bowl; set aside.
Nigerian spices transfered from a cast-iron skillet to a spice grinder.
For the Pepper Soup: In a large stockpot, combine chicken, water, ground crayfish, salt, cayenne pepper, half of the lemongrass, and prepared spice mix. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Simmer until chicken is cooked through and tender, but not falling off the bone, about 45 minutes (the time may vary depending on how the meat was cut).
Chicken, water, ground crayfish, salt, cayenne pepper, lemongrass and spice mixture in a stockpot.
Add lime leaves and remaining lemongrass. Season with salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Let stand to allow flavors to develop, about 10 minutes.
Lemongrass and lime leaves added to a stockpot full of broth.
To serve, divide chicken between warmed soup bowls. Ladle broth on top, garnish with scent leaf, and serve with or alongside boiled yams, plantains, white sweet potatoes, or rice, and a small bowl of palm oil for dipping.
Nigerian pepper soup served with white rice.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The spice mix can be stored in an airtight container at cool room temperature for up to 6 months. Store away from light and heat.
Pepper soup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to 2 months.
Individual spices and pre-made pepper soup spice mix can be purchased in Nigerian and West African stores, and online from websites like Ekaterra, Mychopchop, and OsiAfrik.
I prefer bone-in, skin-on chicken for its richer flavor. Cutting the chicken into bite-size pieces through the bone requires a heavy-duty cleaver. If you are unable to cut up the chicken yourself and you can’t find a butcher to do it for you, substitute with 1 1/2 pounds (680g) boneless, skin-on chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces, and 1/2 pound (225g) chicken wings, separated into drumettes and flats.
You can substitute ground crayfish with an equal volume of dried prawns or shrimp, which are available in Chinese or Asian markets.
This recipe is ideally made with the leaves of the lemongrass plant, which are more flavorful and aromatic than lemongrass stalks. If you can’t find them, substitute with 2 stalks of lemongrass. To prepare, discard the outer layer, smash the stalk under the flat side of a knife, and cut crosswise into 3 equal lengths.
Scent leaf is a Nigerian herb, which is available fresh or dried. If you can’t find it, feel free to substitute with cinnamon basil or other types of clove basil.