Okwu-oji is a spiced peanut paste served with garden eggs. One day at work, one colleague, P brings a rather large tub of Okwu-oji for another colleague, O. O is sure he’ll never see the bottom of the tub and so was glad to gift me some (that huge tub emptied out sooner than we thought but yeah, first impressions :)).
The instant he did, I knew I was going to put it in my pepper soup.
Why? Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about food pairing and extending flavours by reinforcing complementary elements.
See, some versions of Okwu-oji use ehuru – calabash nutmeg; or uda, grains of Selim – aromatic spices essential to pepper soup in the south of Nigeria.
Even before I tasted it, I knew it would work. Dry fish was the ready protein I had, its thick leathery skin ready to be softened in spiced water.
When I cook fish pepper soup, of any sort – fresh or dried, I try to create a strong flavour base because there isn’t time enough to coax the depth of flavour bones would.
In a pot, I began by toasting the spice blend to release the oils and aromatics, stirring till I begin to smell it and then I added some water, salt, dry pepper and let it simmer for a bit.
In another pot, my new yam cooked.
Once the soup had taken on flavour, I added my pieces of dry fish and simmered till the fish was warm all the way through.
Then I added a couple of dollops of the spiced peanut butter, stirring till it dissolved and the soup took on the right peanutty notes I desired, at which point I took it off the heat.
To serve, I cut up the yam – not very precisely 🙂 and placed in the soup, each piece wearing a leaf.
The skin of the dry fish looks and chews like soft leather. I love it.
The soup was thick, not stew thick but luscious and nutty – pepper soup can truly accommodate other flavours like coconut and peanuts/ groundnuts and even vegetables (peep this carrot pepper soup recipe).
What additions do you think would work well in pepper soup?