Fran_Osseo-Asare_African_Cuisine_SpecialistThere’s a proverb among the Akan-speaking people of Ghana that says “The good soup comes from the good earth.” This saying recognizes that fresh, quality ingredients are the foundation for delicious food, and also that one needs to honor the earth from which these ingredients spring.



A famous West African soup is groundnut (also known as peanut or peanut butter) soup. Centuries ago, peanuts were introduced into West Africa from South America via the Portuguese and supplanted the native bambara groundnuts. At the same time, in much of Ghana, the prevalence of the tsetse fly made cattle-rearing impossible, which led to a diet without milk or dairy products. Thus, to make rich, creamy soups or stews, thickeners like ground legumes, nuts, melon, sesame seeds, pureed vegetables, okra, or palm butter were used.  Ground peanuts were a wonderful choice.

Groundnut soup is called nkate nkwan by Akan-speaking Ghanaians. A delicious introduction to West African cooking, it is very accessible to the American palate. Commonly made from a basic chicken stock, it is wonderfully flexible: one can use more or less peanut butter, or add a variety of vegetables from eggplant to mushrooms. Also, the recipe can be easily adapted to a vegetarian version by substituting fish stock or vegetable stock for the base. However, besides peanut butter, the tomatoes, (chili) peppers, and onions are necessary ingredients. They’re a holy trinity in much of Ghana’s cooking. The soup is often traditionally served with fufu (a thick pounded dumpling likely of boiled green plantain and cassava or cocoyam [taro]), a slice of boiled African yam, or omo tuo (rice balls made from rice cooked with extra water and mashed with a spoon or cup and formed into balls to be dropped in the soup). Boiled potatoes or thick slices of whole-grain bread are easy American accompaniments.

Here is a version we prepared at a recent cooking class in my home:

Simple Chicken Groundnut (Peanut) Soup or Stew

  • 3-4 lbs. of chicken pieces (free-range or roasting are best)
  • 2 onions (enough for 2 cups, chopped)
  • (NOTE: a few garlic cloves, peeled and chopped or pressed, and a teaspoon or 2 of fresh grated ginger, a sprinkling of salt or seasoned salt and ground red pepper are almost always optional seasonings for soups and stews)
  • 3-6 cups of water (depending on whether you want soup or stew)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt (or to taste)
  • ½ to 1 cup of creamy natural style peanut butter (no sugar added)
  • 1 8-oz can tomato sauce (or substitute fresh ground, seeded tomatoes, or pureed canned tomatoes)
  • a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste, or to taste
  • ground red pepper to taste (at least 1/8 teaspoon), or fresh hot chili pepper
  • okra, optional (about 8 fresh or about 5 oz. of frozen okra, tailed and left whole or chopped), can be cooked and served alongside as a condiment or stirred into the soup while it is simmering after the peanut butter mixture has been added.Frans_Groundnut_Soup

Remove skin and fat from chicken and put pieces into a heavy pot with a cup of the water. Peel and chop one of the onions and add them to the pot along with any additional seasonings (like a little salt, garlic, ginger, red pepper, etc.) and steam the chicken in a covered pot for a few minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.

Add the tomato sauce and paste, the rest of the chopped onion, the red pepper, and the remaining water (start with 4 cups for the soup). Bring the soup to a boil and reduce the heat to simmer.

In a medium saucepan, ladle about 2 cups of the soup broth into the pan, and mix it with the peanut butter. Heat the broth and peanut butter mixture on medium heat, stirring constantly, until the oil separates from the nuts and rises to the surface. This may take 15 or 20 minutes. NOTE: you can simply stir the peanut butter/broth mixture directly into the soup, but I’m describing how I was taught, and how I do it. Cooking it separately somehow flavors the peanut sauce more, like browning would). Keep stirring or the peanut butter will scorch, and add a little more soup broth to it if necessary.

Ladle some of the soup into the sauce, stir it, and stir the mixture into the soup, taking care not to splatter yourself.

Add the okra, if cooking in the soup. Allow the soup to simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until the flavors blend and the chicken and okra are ooked. Add more water if you prefer a thinner soup. Check the seasonings and add more salt, red pepper, etc., to taste.

When this is prepared as a stew (thicker) it can be served over rice like a curry, and small bowls of ingredients, from chopped unsalted dry roasted peanuts, bananas, pineapple, oranges, tomatoes, red or green sweet bell peppers, coconut, grated hard-boiled egg, onions (raw or sautéed), cooked chopped okra, etc. can be served in small bowls alongside it.

NOTES and serving suggestions: When serving this as a stew and for large numbers of people, I often debone the cooked chicken since Americans don’t usually like to chew on bones the way West Africans do. Also, there are several short-cut options, especially if you wish to use this as a first course/starter: use prepared chicken broth, add all the other ingredients but omit the chicken pieces, and simply add the peanut butter after mixing it with the hot broth.

Use cooked okra or fresh chopped scallions as a garnish and instead of bread or rolls, serve the soup with mini-rice balls. If made a day ahead and reheated it seems to taste even better.

copyrightsymbol Fran Osseo-Asare, 2010


Meet the Chef

Dr. Fran Osseo-Asare is a culinary expert in African cuisine. The author, freelance writer, teacher, sociologist and mother married her Ghanaian husband in 1972 and has been celebrating African cuisines ever since. Her memoir, A New Land to Live In was followed by her classic introduction to African food and culture, A Good Soup Attracts Chairs: A First African Cookbook for American Kids written for (and with) her children. In 1997, Fran established BETUMI: The African Culinary Network to preserve and promote accurate information and resources about African cuisines, and to provide a voice and support network for those with similar interests.

She has presented, written and published widely on African culinary culture and history. She authored Food Culture in Sub-Saharan Africa (Greenwood, 2005). In 2007, she was named a TED Fellow and invited to Tanzania to represent African cuisine at TED GLOBAL: Africa—The Next Chapter. In 2009, University Review Online placed her BETUMI Blog ( among the 50 top blogs for studying Africa. She holds an MSW from UC Berkeley and a PhD from Penn State.

A member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Fran teaches regional African cooking classes in her home. She will be in Ghana for the month of June finishing up a Ghanaian cookbook, followed by several weeks in Abuja where she’ll be teaching a writing course at the African University of Science and Technology and exploring Nigerian cuisine. Visit Fran's blog for more info.