‘Nigerian Seasonal Produce’ is a monthly column published on the last Saturday of each month. In this column, a writer explores a specific seasonal fruit, vegetable or leafy green assigned by the editors of Kitchen Butterfly and based on the Nigerian Seasonal Produce Calendar.
Our author this month is Ramon – serial experimenter, documenter, eater with a le cordon bleu too. We bonded a few years ago over our mutual love (and exploration) of agbalumo and we haven’t looked back since.
Dancing with the Pepper Fruit
I have come to discover that when the Kitchen Butterfly (KB) starts a sentence with “Have you heard of…” my mind is about to be blown. The pepper fruit was no exception. After my first brief interaction with the fruit about a year ago, I did not think I would come in contact with it again. At first glance, it reminded me of a peanut in its shell. The flavor of flesh reminded me of fireball whiskey and the seeds of perfume. It is kind of funny how memory works. Biting into it, I was reminded of a time when I thought biting into a flower would taste how these seeds taste to me now.
Because of my cooking background naturally my mind started scanning memories to see if I could incorporate it into something edible. My first thought was that the pepper fruit should be able to fit anywhere rosewater or ginger could and thus the experiments began. I am not really one for long stories and for that reason I am going to let the pictures do the talking. Not all of these combinations tasted the best but without experimentation we would never create anything new. Just as a quick note, these are observations and not recipes. If you discover something based on information you read here, leave a comment and let’s start a conversation.
Would you like some tea?
My first thought was to extract some flavor from the fruit to have an idea of what the overall flavor would be. For this I tried out 2 ways. The first way involved steeping the cut fruits in hot water and waiting for it to cool. This by far produced the cleanest flavor out of all the experiments.
In the past when I did not have a juicer handy, I would make ginger juice by blending it with water. Thinking of the fruit in this way, I decided to do the same thing. The flavor that came out was pungent unlike the steeping above and the flavor reminded me of agbo (traditional herbal medicine).
According to the World Health Organization, WHO, 80% of Africans use traditional medicine for primary healthcare. ‘Agbo’ which is the Yoruba name for herbs is a variety of herbs and concoctions, an alternative medicine used by most Nigerians especially the native Yoruba people; Source – Information Nigeria
How about some sugar?
My first love being all things that contain sugar, I had to make a salted caramel out of the pepper fruit. My approach was to bring the sugar to a boil and deglaze with pepper fruit juice I collected from blending. To my surprise, the result did not taste of the fruit. From a previous experiment I did with ugwu (pumpkin leaves), I realized that high heat sometimes dampens the aromatic flavors during cooking. Taking that knowledge, I boiled a few of the pepper fruits and you would not believe what happened. The liquid had the most beautiful aroma but no flavor. I guess I now understand why my approach to making the caramel did not work. Now I have ammunition for the next time.
Do you drink Zobo?
Throughout my younger years, I would hear zobo and for the longest time I thought it was a kind of candy. In 2015 for the first time, I was introduced to it as a drink and it was stunning to me that a dried hibiscus flowers could have that much flavor. Till date, the most impactful combination I have made contains zobo, pineapple, cloves, sugar, ginger and water. Though this time I did not have pineapple, I substituted the cloves with a few pepper fruits. I never thought I would say this but I think I have found a new favorite combination.
Does your pepper sauce have peppers?
I have been an advocate of oil-less pepper sauces for a long time. My solution has been to roast the peppers in the oven before blending them. Due to the spice in the pepper fruit, I was curious if it would be possible to create an aromatic and spicy tomato sauce without peppers. Though the Idea was sound, what I did not know then was heating the pepper fruit to that temperature would kill the flavor. I guess it is possible to make a pepper-less pepper sauce but I did not nail it this time.