Mama Saga’s Pepper Soup with King Prawns and Tilapia

I thought it was about time I began to share some of the dishes from my Sierra Leonean and Liberian Supper Club, Cham Cham, that takes place once a month with a different menu each time. First up is Mama Saga’s Pepper Soup!!

Each West African country, even family, has their own take on this fiery soup.  Growing up this was, and still is, served at the end of a big family celebration, be it a wedding, christening or funeral. It was only recently my Mama told me that it is served at the end of the party to sober the guests up!!!! Sure enough, if it has enough scotch bonnet peppers in it, this will definitely knock the sense right back into you.

You can use the meat of your choice, usually chicken or beef and sometimes tripe or a firm fish such tilapia, kingfish or seafood such as prawns. At my family parties it is not uncommon for it to be served with chicken, beef, tripe and pig trotter – everything goes in!

In my family we tend to have it with chicken or beef.  I call this Mama Saga’s Pepper Soup as my Mama loves to add LOADS of lemon juice to it, including washing the meat with lemon before cooking it, as she does with many or most of the dishes she prepares.  One of my Mama’s classic lines is, ‘I don’t know how people can survive without lemons and ginger in their home.’  I laugh but it has clearly warn off on me as I always have lemons and ginger at home, though she’ll be disappointed that I don’t wash my meat with lemon! But tonight I shouldn’t laugh and be thankful to her as having these ‘key household ingredients’ is exactly what I need to knock this cold out of me, and unfortunately not to sober me up from a day of drinking in the sun!

This post is dedicated to the gorgeous Honey.  At 10 years old, she is my youngest guest to date at Cham Cham.  She had seconds of this fiery soup and also wanted to take some home! I promised I would give her the recipe – so here is my take on my Mama Saga’s pepper soup with king prawns and tilapia and plenty of lemon juice.



Serves 4


  • 1 fish head and tail of the tilapia and shells of king prawns
  • 1 ½ litres of water
  • 300g king prawns, shelled
  • 2 fillets of tilapia, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped/blitzed in a food processor
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped/blitzed in a food processor
  • 1 cm ginger, finely chopped/blitzed in a food processor
  • 3 – 4 fresh tomatoes, finely chopped/blitzed in a food processor
  • A few sprigs of thyme
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of vegetable oil
  • 1 – 2 scotch bonnet peppers, finely chopped/blitzed in a food processor
  • 5 – 6 lemons, juiced
  • 2 spring onions, sliced to garnish
  • Salt to taste
  • Muslin

The cooking/assembling part:Pepper Soup

  • Rinse the fish head, tail and prawn shells and place in a pot with 1 ½ litres of cold water.
  • Place on a high heat and after about 20 minutes it will begin to simmer and the scum will come to the surface.
  • Turn down the heat and allow to cook for a further 20 minutes.
  • In the meantime, throw the onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes and scotch bonnet peppers (deseed if you don’t want it to be too hot) into a food processor and blitz until it forms the consistency of a puree. Set aside.
  • After 20 minutes strain the stock through a muslin into a jug or bowl.
  • Put a pot onto a low heat and add veg. oil.
  • Once the oil is warm add the pureed ingredients to the oil, along with the sprig of thyme, and stir for 2 minutes. You don’t want the ingredients to brown just to be coated in the oil and begin to cook.
  • Now add the stock to the pan and turn up to a medium heat and allow to come to a simmer.
  • Turn down the heat and allow to cook for a further 30 minutes. Do not cover.
  • Add the lemon juice and season with salt.
  • Once happy with your flavour (add more lemon juice or thyme, if you wish), add the tilapia and king prawns. These need 2 -3 mins at the most to cook, any longer they will have overcooked.
  • Garnish with spring onions and serve either with rice or boiled cassava, yam or just as it is.

Mama Saga's Pepper Soup 


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