My first recollection of eating pepper soup was at a Nigerian restaurant my mother used to take me to when I was still in primary school. The restaurant was called Labalaba (butterfly) and was situated somewhere in Brixton. Their pepper soup was a rich broth, filled with tender goat meat. It didn’t look hot, but after two or three spoonfuls my nose would be stinging from the intensity of the spice. Despite that, I would keep gulping the soup down because it was so full of other flavours. I wasn’t alone in this – I once watched a man break out in a sweat and start dabbing his head profusely with a handkerchief. He would dab his forehead twice, sip the soup, pause and repeat. Pepper soup can also be made using catfish, but I enjoy mine with crab. However, there is no reason you can’t add a range of different seafood. The secret ingredient that makes this dish so moreish is calabash nutmeg. As it’s not easy to find, I’ve substituted a range of different spices close in flavour.
How to make Crab Yam And Pepper Soup?
1. Put the cloves, cinnamon stick, nutmeg, uda pods, if using, and cumin seeds into a small dry frying pan set over a medium–high heat. Shake the pan constantly for 1–2 minutes to keep the spices from burning. Once they’ve darkened slightly and your kitchen smells fragrant, take the pan off the heat, cut the nutmeg in two and crush the other spices slightly. Put the spices into a bowl and set aside.
2. Melt the coconut oil in a large stock pot over a medium heat. Add the onion and pierced Scotch bonnets and cook for roughly 4 minutes. Stir the yam into the onion, along with the crushed spices and bay leaves. Mix the shrimp paste and stock cubes with 800ml hot water, add to the pan and turn up the heat. Once bubbling, turn the heat down to low and let cook, covered, for 10 minutes until the yam can easily be pierced with a fork. Taste and season with salt and cayenne pepper and cook for a final 2 minutes. Discard the Scotch bonnet, any large pieces of spice and the bay leaves.
3. To serve, evenly divide the yams between four bowls, followed by the crab meat. Ladle soup into each bowl and sprinkle with efirin or basil. Enjoy hot.
If you prefer your yam chopped into larger squares you’ll need to increase the cooking time.