For as long as I can remember, I’ve been eating red hot chilli food. My family has an inside joke that I was weaned on chillies. One of my all-time favourite childhood meals is okra soup and eba, a cassava fufu, which has a grainy texture with a slight tart taste. This flavorful soup has layers of seasoning from stock fish, smoked fish, beef stock, and habanero chillies. It’s typical for Nigerian food to cross several different flavor profiles in a dish.
But cooking often feels like a chore to me, so I’m constantly looking for shortcuts: bottled and canned sauces, conveniently nearly ready-made meals, sandwiches, and microwaveable meals… and to meet my flavor profiles, I always generously douse the dish with additional seasonings. Like this Nigerian-brand curry powder, which has been a lifetime staple in enriching my dishes with the nostalgic flavor I know.
The aunty at the Afro foods shop always cracks a joke when I go in because she knows what I’m there for: Maltina (the best malt grain non-alcoholic drink you will ever taste), one tuber of yam (which I will be eating boiled or fried — depending on my mood), at least three plantains (which I will definitely be eating fried, after the slivers have been coated in just enough salt to create a stickiness that translates into a crisp coating).
These are my comfort foods — the only taste that’s missing is hot spice.
Up until a few weeks ago, I was still buying bottled hot sauces. I’ve probably cycled through 10 brands, changing it up every few months, searching for a bottle that could give me the right amount of straight-up-heat that I’m used to from habanero flavor and a minimal amount of sourness.
I’ve yet to find one that I am completely happy with, but the other day, it occurred to me that, rather than remain unsatisfied, I could make my own hot sauce.
My first attempt was a small batch, trying to get all the flavors just right. Then I scaled up my production and now make enough hot sauce to last me weeks. I personally find it to taste better than any bottled hot sauces I’ve used over the years.
The recipe is guaranteed to last for at least 2 weeks in your fridge and will provide you with smoky heat that you can use for everything from dipping sauce for pizza or chips to seasoning for your cooking.
- 4 large red onions
- 2 heads of garlic
- 1 medium ginger root
- 40 habanero or Scotch bonnet chilis
- 4 all-purpose seasoning cubes (I like the Maggi brand)
- 3 tablespoons dry curry powder
- 2 tablespoons dry thyme
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- Roughly chop all the ingredients. Take care when chopping the chilis: if you don’t have gloves, a neat trick is to coat your hands in vegetable oil before cutting. I chose to keep the chili seeds in my recipe because I wanted a really fiery sauce, but you can de-seed your chilis.
- Combine all the ingredients in a pot and simmer on low heat for at least 25 minutes, stirring every now and again.
- Allow to cool, then blend into a smooth, thick paste.
- Because this recipe has no preservative, store 1 weeks worth in a glass jar in the fridge, and freeze the rest till needed.
Furaha Asani is a postdoctoral researcher, teacher, mental health advocate, and writer. She can be found being unprofessional on Twitter.