A Soup for Special Times: Goat Meat Pepper Soup
In Lagos, Nigeria, one of the most famous dishes is pepper soup, a rich spicy dish that can be made in many ways. When I was a child my parents would serve this soup only on special occasions like birthday ceremonies, special family dinners, as a treat on a cold rainy day, and, as a family tradition, on every Christmas.
I remember the soup always being very special during that time of year. I can’t explain why, but perhaps it was the amount of joy and love put in by everyone in the family, helping to make the soup. It began with the butchers – “all the men in the family” – carving and smoking the meat all day, and the chefs – “all the women in the family” – prepping all the seasoning and finally cooking the dish.
I always enjoyed seeing everyone in the family come together during this time of the year because we got to see and reconnect with each other. In Lagos, during the month of December, everyone in the country is in preparation in anticipation of Christmas. We usually celebrate this day with a festival of food. Every family in the neighborhood has an open door, welcoming visitors for visiting and feasting. And what I enjoyed about this was that all meals were made in excess. I can honestly say that this is one time of the year that no one goes hungry in my country.
I remember thinking this tradition was going to be lost after my mother moved to the United States in the mid 1980s in pursuit of her culinary degree. I was still very young, growing up with my aunt and uncle on an Air Force base in Lagos. They made sure we still kept the tradition. My mom would travel back to Nigeria every December to spend Christmas with me and the rest of our family. We have always tried to keep this tradition going within our family over the years, even though we are scattered all over the world. It has not been an easy task. We do miss the reunions sometimes, but when we get together, we make sure we all have a great and enjoyable time with each other.
Since moving to the United States after finishing my secondary school in Lagos, I have always tried to recreate that special dish. It is surprisingly easy to make because you can get the spices and the assorted meats and all ingredients needed at your local international supermarket, or at an African store. Many African families around the United States have been able to recreate this dish, and it is well suited for the flu and winter season. The spices help to clear up cold symptoms like a stuffy nose, and I prefer it to chicken noodle soup.
First published October 2014