This past weekend was an intense missing my mummy weekend. I don’t know why, but I just woke up feeling really nostalgic and home sick for no apparent reason. My mum and I are quite close, even though I’m a Daddy’s girl to the core. I was named after her (first and middle name) and everyone says I’m the exact replica of her, down to manner of walking and tone of voice.
Whilst partaking in my regular weekend house chores, I kept getting flashbacks about her instructions on cleaning the house. I got my OCD-esque style of cleaning from her and I was smiling to myself remembering her many famous phrases “hard work does not kill but laziness destroys”, “Ola I would like to see the reflection of my teeth in those bathroom tiles”, “how many times did you scrub the toilet” and her funny ones “heaven forbid that they will tell you in your husband’s house that I didn’t train you well o”, “the fear of mummy is the beginning of wisdom”. I am the eldest child so you can say I was put through the ringer a bit.
She had a large repertoire of phrases designed to instil the fear of God in you and get you in line pretty quick, many of which were laced in the Yoruba language. After all that cleaning, mummy would cook a world-class breakfast and we had family friends and relatives who timed their Saturday morning arrivals just for that. You guessed correctly, after all the cleaning had been done; they nicely sauntered in like they had some extra special spidey sense.
So part of dealing with my nostalgia, I prepared one of the dishes from her famous Saturday morning breakfast and I picked up the phone and we talked shop for hours. I remembered all the sleepless nights she experienced during my childhood and teenage years, as I was very sickly during that period. Part of my recovery involved eating very spicy Yam and Catfish Pepper soup which mummy made so well. A good blend of carbohydrates and proteins for a body wracked with illness. Pepper soup is basically a fish broth cooked with spices. It is a Nigerian favourite, especially in the South and the East and it is seen as a festive or special dish.
There are many signature pepper soup joints scattered all over the place brimming with hot steamy pots of delicious pepper soup mostly cooked with fresh fish or goat meat. Culturally, it is said to be medicinal for women who have just given birth as the spices, herbs and peppers help cleanse the body. So, as an ode to Oladunni Snr, I am sharing a childhood favourite with you. I have taken mummy’s recipe and improved it by adding Prawns, which introduces an extra dimension of flavour to the pepper soup.
What You Need – (Feeds 2- 3 people)
1 whole catfish – cut into 5 pieces
1 heaped tablespoon of ground Pepper soup spices
3 pieces of Ata Rodo – scotch bonnet/habanero pepper
1 pound of deveined Prawns
1 handful of Efinrin/basil leaves
1 small red onion
1 teaspoon of onion granules/powder
Cubed raw yams – about 10 pieces
This is really spicy pepper soup. It is best enjoyed this way, but you can reduce the number of pieces of Ata Rodo that you put in it to reduce the heat
Preparation time: 10 minutes and cooking time is approximately 15 minutes
Clean the fish properly, rinse the prawns and set aside. Roughly blend 2 pieces of Ata Rodo (use a hand blender or pound using a small mortar and pestle as it is just 2 piece). Chop the red onion and 1 piece of ata rodo and set aside. Chop the efinrin/basil leaves and set aside .
Put the fish in a deep saucepan and add 3 cups of water, the chopped red onion and ata rodo, 1-heaped tablespoon of spices, and the blended ata rodo. I used a combination of blended and chopped ata rodo for two reasons. 1. The blended ata rodo will colour the water slightly, while the chopped ata rodo is for aesthetics to match the chopped efinrin leaves.
Let this boil for 10 minutes on low heat. Remember to cook catfish on low heat to allow for the spices to seep into the fish slowly and combine the flavour of the catfish beautifully. Intense heat destroys the flavour of the fish. While the fish is cooking, boil the cubes of yam under high heat, for the same amount of time. Ensure that you cook both simultaneously, so that the soup will be ready to receive the boiled yam. Add the prawns and let it cook for 3 minutes. Prawns cook pretty fast, and heat also destroys the flavour, so you add prawns towards the tail end of cooking so it releases its juices just in time to combine with the rest of the soup. Add the chopped efinrin/basil leaves, stir by shaking the saucepan in circular motions.
Do NOT stir with a cooking spoon. Let the vegetables cook in the soup for 2 – 3 minutes to release their essence into the soup.
You may ask, why mess with a traditional recipe and add prawns? Short story – I experienced a certain aha moment 2 weeks ago. I had leftover catfish pepper soup from hosting friends the day before with no fish. The volume was so small it was not enough to boil a piece of fish or meat and I didn’t want to dilute the soup with water. I also didn’t want to throw away the soup or eat it plainly, so out of desperation I decided to add fresh prawns, knowing prawns cook in under 5 minutes. The result was astounding and I gave a loud whoop in the kitchen for my accidental discovery.
The flavour of the catfish combining with the prawns was quite surprising. I tried it again to write this post and the 2nd time around I still got that amazing taste. Henceforth, when I make catfish pepper soup I will use prawns. You try it out too, and tell me it is not the best thing since the invention of fish pepper soup. If you have any questions leave a comment on the blog or send me an email – email@example.com.
Dunni Obata is an IT Project Manager by day and a cook the rest of the time. She loves entertainment and one of her bad habits is feeding people. When she’s not cooking, she’s watching the Food Network. Dunni is very passionate about Nigerian food and believes they have a lot to offer globally. Visit her blog – www.dooneyskitchen.com