Nigerian Pepper Soup with Chicken (Recipe)

Pepper soup finished

I find the foods and cooking of the many nations within West Africa fascinating – especially when it comes to soups and stews. In Nigeria, to take one country as an example, it is common to combine ingredients such as beef or chicken with smoked fish and other seafood in the same soup pot.

And palm oil is often used not as a cooking fat but to flavor and add color to soups. There is a real sense of freedom in this type of cooking as well as the creativity to work with what’s available.

One of the most common soups of this very large region is Pepper Soup. There are as many different recipes for pepper soup as there are for chicken noodle soup, and pepper soup is in many ways West Africa’s chicken noodle soup – a comfort food that tastes like home.

After researching and reviewing dozens of pepper soup recipes, I came up with my own “Nigerian” version, using chicken as the “meat” and dried crayfish as the seafood. Traditional pepper soup recipes generally call for cooking an entire chicken in the pot, and I will do that another time around. For convenience, I chose boneless chicken thighs and left a bit of the fat on them to help flavor the soup. Sweet potatoes are common in West African cuisine so I added a couple of those for additional texture and body. And palm oil is a must. Now, for the seasoning…

The biggest obstacle to cooking a West African-style Pepper Soup is finding the ingredients to make the pepper seasoning. Many of these spices are not easily found in the U.S. If you live in a city with an African grocery or large farmer’s market, I would start there. Otherwise, you can do what I did and order a ready-to-cook Pepper Soup Spice Mix online. The seasoning mix looks like curry powder, but the primary taste is pepper – different than black pepper but peppery all the same.

This is a very intriguing and delicious soup. The peppery spiciness is contrasted yet complemented by the smoky saltiness of the dried crayfish. Pepper soup is often reputed to have restorative powers, and is a favorite pick-me-up after a late night on the town, and it’s this see-saw balance of pepper and salt that I believe makes it so.

How To Make Nigerian Pepper Soup

Pepper Soup Ingredients

Nigerian Pepper Soup Recipe
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: African
Serves: 8
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 pound boneless chicken thighs
  • 2 onions
  • 15-ounce can plum tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons Pepper Soup seasoning
  • 2 sweet potatoes, diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons dried crayfish, ground with mortar and pestle
  • 2 tablespoons palm oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • Lime juice
  1. Cut 1 onion into thin slices and line the bottom of a Dutch oven or soup pot with half of the onion
  2. Lay the chicken thighs on top of the onion pieces and cover with the remaining half an onion
  3. Sprinkle the Pepper Soup seasoning over the chicken and onions
  4. Drop in the sweet potatoes, pour in water, add bay leaf and heat to a boil
  5. Reduce heat to medium and let cook 20 to 30 minutes, until chicken is cooked through
  6. Remove chicken, cut into small pieces and return to the Dutch oven
  7. Take the remaining onion and dice it, quarter the garlic clove
  8. Drop onion and garlic into a food processor or blender along with the tomatoes and process until smooth
  9. Add the pureed vegetable mixture to the soup
  10. Stir in the dried crayfish and palm oil and let soup simmer for 20 minutes
  11. Taste for seasoning and add salt as needed
  12. Finish with a drizzle or two of lime juice

Place chicken over onionsPepper soup spice seasoningAdd remaining onion half and spiceCut sweet potato into diceAdd sweet potatoPour in water and bay leafRemove cooked chickenCut cooked chicken into diceReturn chicken to soupDried crayfishGrind dried crayfishAdd ground crayfish and palm oilPlace onion and garlic in food processorAdd tomato to food processor

Process vegetables to smooth pureePour in vegetable pureeCook for 20 minutes moreServe pepper soup

If you are interested in learning more about the foods and cooking techniques of West Africa, I highly recommend the following cookbooks:

Yolele! Recipes from the Heart of Senegal (Pierre Thiam) – This hardcover cookbook introduced me to strange and exotic ingredients such as guedj (a dried, fermented fish), kong (a Senegalese smoked catfish) and fonio (a grain with a long history of use in West African cooking). There is a great variety of recipes here, with color photos of many finished dishes. The book also contains many images of day-to-day life in Senegal, and while they are interesting I would have preferred the space be devoted to more recipes. Even so, this is a great addition to any ethnic cookbook collection. And although not soup-related, Thiam’s recipe for grilled chicken with lime-onion sauce is worth the cost of the book alone. An amazing summertime dish!

Principles of Cooking in West Africa: Learn the Art of African Heritage Foo Foo and Soup Cooking  (Raymond Essang) – As the title suggests, this cookbook places a greater emphasis on soups and stews, although it contains recipes for everything from breads to beverages. Many of the recipes call for difficult-to-find ingredients, so go in with an adventuresome spirit and the expectation that you’ll need to do some digging to bring some of these dishes together. To me, these recipes seem to represent the “soul food” of West Africa and have an authenticity that makes them just as fun to read as to prepare. If the book has a downside, it’s the lack of images. There are no photos. And some recipes suggest quantities like as “needed,” which isn’t very helpful when you’re trying to re-create something that may be entirely new to you. But I still love this cookbook.



African Peanut Soup with Beef

Serve soup topped with cilantro and peanuts

Peanuts are used in the cooking of many countries in West Africa, and African Peanut Soup is one of the region’s tastiest dishes imaginable. There are many different peanut soup recipes, some contain chicken; other recipes, like this one, use beef. And for a bit more flavor punch I added a beef soup bone. Try to find a natural peanut butter that does not contain sugar. You can use creamy or crunchy peanut butter, depending on your preference – or a combination of both! Increase the amount of crushed red pepper if you want a spicier soup. And although it is not traditional in West African cooking, I like to finish this soup with chopped fresh cilantro for a bit of Caribbean-style flair. And to make it extra good, I spoon on some chopped roasted peanuts as well!

African Peanut Soup with Beef
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: African
Serves: 6
  • 1 pound stew beef cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 beef soup bone (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons palm oil (if you don’t have palm oil, you could substitute peanut oil or canola oil)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound tomatoes,diced (I used Roma tomatoes)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced fine
  • 1 quart beef broth
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper or cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • ⅔ to ¾ cup natural peanut butter (chunky or smooth)
  • 1 large sweet potato (approximately 1 pound) cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 6 sprigs of cilantro
  1. In a Dutch oven or soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon palm oil over medium heat
  2. Add half the beef and cook until browned
  3. Remove beef and set aside, again add 1 tablespoon palm oil and brown the remaining beef and set aside
  4. Add the final tablespoon palm oil to the pot and heat over medium
  5. Dump in the onions and bell pepper and cook for about 5 to 6 minutes, until the vegetables become soft
  6. Add garlic and cook for another minute or two
  7. Put the beef (and soup bone if using) into the pot
  8. Stir in the tomatoes, salt, crushed red pepper, coriander and chili powder
  9. Pour in the beef broth and bring to boil
  10. Cover and simmer for 1 hour, or until beef is tender
  11. Add the sweet potato
  12. Stir in the peanut butter and bring to a boil once more
  13. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, until sweet potatoes are tender
  14. Serve topped with some freshly cracked black pepper, chopped cilantro and a spoonful of peanuts

Looking for the perfect pot to cook up your next batch of soup? I recommend the Lodge Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven. It comes in 11 different colors and is an excellent value for the price.

Heat Palm Oil
Cook beef until browned








Add onion and red bell pepper








Cook onions and bell pepper until soft








Stir in garlic








Stir in beef and tomatoes








Pour in salt, crushed red pepper, coriander and chili powder








Add soup bone








Pour in beef broth








Simmer for 1 hour








Add sweet potatoes








Add peanut butter








Let simmer until sweet potatoes are cooked








Peanut soup is ready to serve







Serve soup topped with cilantro and peanuts