Spicy Mango Bisque with Scent Leaf

A chilled soup is my dinner party savior. Anyone who has ever hosted a couple dozen people in a small apartment knows that some courses can't require 12 components, three hours of prep time, or an optimal serving temperature. When I'm hosting guests, a soup like this helps me stay calm, or at least lets me get a few sips of wine in between courses! Since March of last year I've been hosting a dinner series with the intention of helping people connect with my native Nigerian cuisine through the recipes from my childhood spent there. I've had the ambitious, if not exactly practical goal of trying to cram the harried chaos of Lagos — Nigeria's most populous city — onto a plate. This cool mango soup was inspired by the frenzied crawl, the hurry-up-and-wait pace of driving into Lagos from the west, and when I first served it I named it "Lagos-Badagry Expressway." I took a road trip with my family to Badagry, a city a few hours outside Lagos. The expressway's unimaginative name fails to capture the wild exuberance of the road itself, as teeming with life as a bazaar. Buses spill out their riders without coming to a complete stop, pedestrians stride along the dusty strip between eastbound and westbound traffic, and cars cross over that same strip to use any lane they can to pass—even joining the traffic going the other direction! Small markets line the road. Food sellers hawk their wares alongside the "go-slow." And there is plenty of go-slow. When I was visiting, it was during mango season. Mango trees lined the road, and all of those standstills lent me plenty of time to stare out at the branches heavy with ripe fruit, dreaming up recipes. So here it is—a burst of tart sweetness, and then a slow enveloping of herbs. Like the traffic coming into Lagos. The cold, smooth emulsion of mango and coconut milk is the vehicle that highlights the scent leaf—"efirin" in Yoruba—a magical leaf that embodies the essence of cinnamon, mint, and basil. (Thai basil has a similar, if not exact aroma and is a good stand-in here.) The soup ends with a note of habanero oil, a tingle just barely hitting the back of your palate. Frozen mango cubes are great for smoothies; just don't use them here. Any fresh and lusciously ripe mangoes will do—they don't have to be harvested from the roadside in Lagos to be delicious.

Spicy Mango Bisque with Scent Leaf
Photo: Caitlin Bensel
Active Time:
25 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs 40 mins


  • 1 fresh habanero chile (about 5/8 ounce) 

  • 3 1/2 cups well-shaken and stirred coconut milk, divided (from 2 [13.5-ounce] cans)

  • 2 ounces fresh scent leaves and tender stems or Thai basil, plus more leaves for garnish

  • 4 cups chopped mango (from 4 [15-ounce] mangoes)

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons fresh juice (from 1 lemon), plus more juice to taste

  • 1 tablespoon honey (optional)

  • Warm crusty bread, for serving


  1. Cut a slit in side of chile. Combine 1 3/4 cup coconut milk and chile in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium, stirring occasionally. Add scent leaves, and stir until submerged; remove from heat. Let steep at least 1 hour at room temperature or chill up to 12 hours. Strain coconut mixture through a fine wire-mesh strainer, pressing on herbs to release their oils; discard solids. Reserve 1/4 cup infused coconut milk for drizzling.

  2. Combine remaining infused coconut milk, mango, salt, lemon zest and juice, remaining 1 3/4 cups coconut milk, and, if using, honey in a blender. Process until smooth, about 20 seconds. Season with more salt and lemon juice to taste. Refrigerate until cool, about 15 minutes.

  3. To serve, divide the soup among cups or bowls. Drizzle with reserved 1/4 cup infused coconut milk, and garnish with scent leaves. Serve with warm crusty bread.

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