In May 2019, Zuhra opened her home to me to share a typical Nigerian iftar. She taught me how to make this spicy and delicious Pepper Soup with chicken, and the required accompaniment of Kosai (bean fritters).
Zuhra is an accomplished professional chef, known for her contemporary take on traditional Nigerian food. One way she blends her upbringing with her French culinary training is by cooking the foods of her childhood in Nigeria, and plating them in a fine-dining style. She also creates dishes that fuse those two aspects of her experience. You can learn more about her on her site, and see some of her sample menus here.
I’ve known Zuhra for a few years. I first ate at her table through EatWith, when she cooked an amazing gourmet Nigerian meal centered around the peanut. It was simultaneously a socio-economic lesson in the history of peanuts in Nigeria, an outstanding gourmet meal, and an art opening. She had partnered with an artist who used the peanut shells in several pieces of art that were on display, which meant it was also a zero-waste event!
Since then, we have shared many meals, at my home or hers, and even at restaurants. She also happens to have been one of the two guests at the first iftar we ever hosted, in 2018.
Last year, she invited me to cook with her at her apartment in lower Manhattan. She taught me how to make the spicy and delicious Nigerian Pepper Soup, and Kosai. They are typical foods found at iftar meals during Ramadan in Nigeria.
Also pictured are the ma’amouls I’ve grown fond of making during Ramadan ever since learning about them in speaking to Hanadi Doleh for her Ramadan reflections portrait.
Like many of chefs, Zuhra didn’t have the recipes written down, but now she does! Try them for yourself and let us know how it goes.
Zuhra had her playlist of Nigerian favorites on while we cooked together, and this playlist represents some of my favorites.
Zuhra’s Nigerian Pepper Soup
Zuhra’s Pepper Soup
Zuhra opened her home to me May 2019 to share a typical Nigerian iftar. She taught me how to make this spicy and delicious Pepper soup, and the required accompaniment of Kosai (Bean Fritters).
food processor or blender
1whole chickenor equivalent, with bone ~3.5 lbs, cut into 10 pieces
1.5tspsaltplus more to taste
1cupchopped tomato, quarteredoptional but preferred
1 1/2cupsonion, peeled and quartered1 med/lg
2red peppersseeded and quartered
2tsppiece of fresh ginger
2habanero peppers w/ seedsor remove seeds for less heat.
2chicken or vegetable bouillon cubes, mashed
1tspdried thymeoptional but very Nigerian
~ 1.5 quarts of hot water
1bunch of scallionschopped
Trim chicken and salt it heavily to help remove impurities. Allow to sit while you prepare the veggies. Boil water and keep aside.
Wash and quarter vegetables. In a blender or food processor, pulse onion, peppers, garlic, ginger (and tomatoes, if using) until chopped small but not completely blended. If using tomatoes put them at the bottom so that they get pulverized, but the others don't get as pulverized.
Heat a medium-sized pan to medium-high heat, and add olive oil. When very hot, add the vegetable mixture, bullion, thyme and bay leaf, and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the oil begins to separate. If it begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, add 1/4 cup of the hot water and de-glaze with a wooden spoon.
Meanwhile, rinse chicken of excess salt, and keep aside until the vegetables have cooked per above. Add the chicken in the vegetables and cook for about 10 minutes, allowing it to brown on the pan a bit, not worrying about lack of water. After about 10 minutes, de-glaze the pan if needed, and then add just enough ot water to cover the chicken. Stir to combine. When it comes to a boil, reduce heat to simmer until chicken is fully cooked. Taste, and season with salt an pepper per your preference.
Meanwhile, chop the scallions, putting the whites in the soup, and reserving the greener tops for garnish.
Serve with scallion greens and Kosai or ??
Notes About Ingredients
Chicken: is most typical in her family, but Zuhra says other meats are also common, too.
Red peppers: the slightly longer-shaped version of red bell peppers is closest to the type she would use in Nigeria.
Habenero: red is most often used in Nigeria, but whatever color is available will also work.
Oil: Best to always start with a good amount of oil first so that nothing scorches, and you can always skim it later if needed.
Zuhra opened her home to me May 2019 to share a typical Nigerian iftar. She taught me how to make these Kosai (Bean Fritters) to accompany the spicy and delicious Pepper Soup.
1lb dried black-eyed peas
1med-large onion, peeled and quartered
1red peppers, seeded ad quartered
3garlic cloves, peeled
1tspworth chunk of fresh ginger
1habanero peppers w/ seedsremove seeds for less heat
2cupsolive oil for deep fryingdepends on your pan
Place the dried beans in a food processor or blender. Pulse very briefly to help separate the skins. You do not want to get it to a powder! Just broken a bit.
Place them in a bowl and cover with hot tap water, allowing them to soak in preparation for removing skins. Meanwhile, wash, and quarter veggies, and set aside.
When veggies are prepared, take your first round of rubbing the beans between your hands , back and forth, in small batches. When you begin to see a lot of skins, pour the water off, catching the skins for the compost (lest you clog your drain), and repeat the soak and rub a few more times. You want most of the black to be gone.
Once beans are ready, working in batches, add mixed handfuls of the veggies and beans to the food processor adding a very small amount of water only to help combine, if needed. When combined, blend on high to whip in some air (the fritters should be fluffy).
To fry, get a heavy bottom pan and fill it with enough olive oil so that a tablespoon amount of batter would be submerged. Heat it on medium high until it is very hot. When hot, drop small tablespoon-sized amounts of batter into the oil and allow to cook. When beginning to brown (about a minute), use a slotted spoon to flip them to brown the other side. When fully browned, remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and allow to cool on a paper towel-lined plate.
Serve with pepper soup or ??. Batter can be kept for the next day but take care to whip air back into to make them fluffy when fried.
* Pulse the beans first so that the blender is dry. Then use the blender for mixing the peppersoup and kosai.
Ever since first making them after posting Hanadi’s Ramadan reflections, I bring them to every iftar I am invited to, and also give them as gifts near Eid. You can see from the photos that my iftar at Zuhra’s home was no exception.
Keywordcookies, dates, ramadan
1 1/2-2cupsdried dates, pitted and chopped, or 13 oz package of baking dates / date paste
1 1/2tbspsunflower oil
1/2tsppure almond extract
[ground anise or fennel next time if we have it….]
1pinch of salt
1-3tbspwater, to get desired consistency and so it doesn't scorch
For The Dough
1/2tspactive dry yeast
4cupsunbleached all-purpose flour
6tbspunsalted butter, melted
1tsppure vanilla extract
¼cupwater(if needed for dough to reach correct consistency)
Heat a small saucepan over low heat.
Add all the filling ingredients and continue stirring and mashing continuously until it becomes thick and pasty, for likely not more than 5 minutes.
Allow to cool completely.
Prepare the Dough
In a small bowl, mix the warm (not hot!!) milk and yeast. Set aside until the yeast has softened and is foamy, 8-10 minutes.
In a medium bowl, mix flour and sugar.
Rub the oil and melted butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture is an even, sandy texture.
Add the yeast and milk mixture and vanilla. Mix gently with your fingers.
Add water, a little at a time, mixing gently after each addition, until the dough comes together in a soft and shaggy dough.
Cover the dough and set aside to rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the filling.
Shaping the Cookies
Preheat your oven to 350°F and prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Take 1 tbsp of dough, roll it into a ball, flatten it into a disc of about 1/8-1/4 inch thick.
Place 1 tsp of filling on the center. Wrap up the edges of the dough around the filling and pinch it together.
Roll it between your hands again to make a ball shape.
Flatten it into a cookie shape.
Place the cookies on the parchment lined sheet 1 inch apart.
Bake for about 10-12 minutes, turning halfway through. Cook only until just barely beginning to brown on the top.
Allow to cool completely then dust with powdered sugar using a sieve.
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