Nigerian pepper mix is the base for a lot of Nigerian recipes and even recipes from other parts of West Africa. Having it in your fridge or freezer is a life saver! It makes it easy prepare those dishes quicker.
What Is Nigerian Pepper Mix?
It is known by different names. Some call it Nigerian stew base. In my language (Yoruba), we call it “ata lilo” which directly translates to blended pepper or just “ata”, which means pepper. This red pureed combination of tatashe (red pepper) , tomatoes, onions and a hot pepper, typically ata rodo (scotch bonnet peppers) is the main base for a lot of stews, sauces and soups. Nigerian pepper stew is the pepper mix cooked with meat or fish. Ata dindin is the blended mix fried in oil to be used as a sauce. Egusi, jollof rice, asaro, all start with blended pepper mix
This blended pepper mix is the mainstay of the cooking in the South Western part of Nigeria and every two or three streets apart, there is usually a mechanical grinder (ero ilota or tata kuku) operator who blends the pepper mix for a living.
How To Make Nigerian Pepper Mix
Here is what you need...
Notes about the ingredients...
- Tomatoes: In Nigeria, fresh tomatoes is used to make the stew base, but for those who live abroad, where tomatoes are not available in abundance most of the year, canned tomato products are used. In the UK, most people use canned plum tomatoes. You can also use chopped tomatoes or tomato passata (pureed and sieved tomatoes) depending on what you can get your hands on. A can of plum/chopped tomatoes contains roughly 6 whole tomatoes. If you are using fresh tomatoes, use red ripe ones. Most varieties should be fine apart from the very sweet ones like cherry tomatoes. These could make the Nigerian stew base taste sweet, which is not desirable as it is mostly used for savoury recipes.
- Hot Pepper: Pepper mix usually contains some type of hot pepper, with quantities depending on individual heat tolerance. Ata rodo (scotch bonnet/habanero) or shombo (cayenne pepper) is typically used. Omit, reduce or increase depending on preference. You can also substitute with other hot peppers. If you are not sure how hot a particular pepper is and you know the name, look it up on the Scoville scale to judge how much to use.
- Tatashe: What we call tatashe in Nigeria is called “poblano pepper” in Mexican cooking. It is a mildly hot pepper which belongs to the same Capsicum annum group as bell peppers. Tatashe is not common in the UK, so we substitute mostly with red bell pepper and sometimes with romano pepper depending on availability.
- Texture: Ata lilo is usually a smooth puree. Traditionally, mechanical grinders were used to achieve this smooth texture. As more people now use blenders, the texture should be as smooth as your blender can make really. However, some specific recipes like “fried stew” call for chunky pepper mix.
- Ratio of ingredients: The ratio of the main ingredients in the Nigerian blended pepper mix depends on preference. Some people like it really hot, others like theirs slightly sweet etc; and this determines the quantity of the respective ingredients used. I prefer to have more tatase than tomatoes and so opt for roughly around 50% bell pepper, 30% tomatoes, 15% onions and 5% scotch bonnet. This is not a precise percentage, but it works for most recipes including jollof rice.
How To Make It
Remove the stalk from the scotch bonnet and the bell pepper. Wash the peppers and the tomatoes. Peel the onions.
Remove the seeds from the bell pepper if you are using a blender at home.
If you have a very powerful blender or have access to a mechanical grinder, leave the seeds.
Cut up all the ingredients. Add into a blender with some water and grind to a smooth puree.
You can save time by making large batch and keeping in the fridge or freezer. It you are doing this, it helps to boil the puree, as this will save time when you need to use it later. It also helps to reduce the water content which will save space in storage, and also extend the life of the pepper mix.
Recipe FAQ & Notes
Most blenders are not capable of blending these and you will haves seed floating in your mix. If you have access to mechanical grinder, then there is no need for this as it will grind the seeds too.
In the UK, they are usually available to buy in Asian, African and Caribbean stores.
Here are some recipes which call for the Nigerian stew base;
Nigerian Pepper Mix
- 4 Bell pepper
- 6 Tomatoes medium size or 1 can plum or chopped
- 2 Onions medium size
- 3 Scotch bonnet peppers
- Remove the stalk from the scotch bonnet and the bell pepper. Wash the peppers and the tomatoes. Peel the onions.
- Remove the seeds from the peppers if you are using a blender at home. If you have a very powerful blender or have access to a mechanical grinder, leave the seeds.
- Cut up all the ingredients. Add into a blender with some water and grind to a smooth puree.