Chicken Peanut Soup

Nkate Nkwan

This is a famous West African 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 and dairy products. Thus, to make rich, creamy soups or stews, thickeners like ground legumes, nuts or seeds, pureed vegetables or okra, or palm butter were used. Ground peanuts were a wonderful addition.

A delicious introduction to West African cooking, this soup is very accessible to the North 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 is easily adapted to a vegetarian version. Besides the peanut butter, however, the tomatoes, chili peppers, and onions are necessary ingredients. They are a holy trinity in much of Ghana’s cooking.

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Ingredients

  • 3 to 4 pounds bone-in chicken parts, skin and fat removed
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced, pressed, or ground
  • 1 heaping teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • teaspoons salt (or to taste)
  • dried ground red pepper to taste (at least ¼ teaspoon), or fresh hot chili pepper of choice
  • 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • ½ to 1 cup creamy natural-style peanut butter (no sugar added)
  • About 8 fresh okra or 5 ounces frozen okra, tails removed, left whole or chopped

Method

Directions

  1. Put chicken pieces into a heavy pot with ½ cup of water. Add 1 cup of the chopped onion, the garlic, ginger, salt, and ground red pepper. Cover and steam the chicken over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, making sure the water does not cook away.
  2. Stir in the tomato sauce and paste, the remaining 1 cup of chopped onion, and 5 more cups of water. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer.
  3. Ladle about 2 cups of the soup broth into a medium saucepan, and mix in the peanut butter. Heat the mixture on medium heat, stirring constantly, until the oil separates and rises to the surface. This may take 15 to 20 minutes. Be sure to stir the mixture constantly or it will scorch. Add a little more soup broth as necessary. (NOTE: One can simply stir the peanut butter/broth mixture directly into the soup, but I was taught to cook it separately. It somehow flavors the peanut sauce more, like browning would.)
  4. When the oil has begun to separate out, ladle some more of the soup broth into the peanut sauce, stir it, and carefully stir the mixture into the soup.
  5. After a few minutes, add the okra. Allow the soup to simmer for about 20 to 30 more minutes, until the flavors blend and the chicken is cooked. Add more water for a thinner soup. Check the seasonings and adjust salt, red pepper, etc., to taste.
  6. Before serving, skim off any oil that rises to the surface. If the soup is not going to be eaten immediately, remove the chicken pieces to prevent them from overcooking, and return them to the soup just in time to heat them through.

To serve

Use cooked okra or fresh chopped scallions as a garnish and instead of bread or rolls, serve the soup with mini-rice balls. Serve dried ground red pepper or red pepper flakes on the side so that people can add more spiciness if desired. Nkate Nkwan is traditionally served with Ghana-style Dumplings (Fufu), boiled African yam, or Rice Balls (Omo Tuo). Boiled potatoes or thick slices of whole-grain bread are easy Western accompaniments.

Variations

  • When serving this to large numbers of people, the cooked chicken may be deboned and cubed and then added back into the soup.
  • There are several short-cut options, especially if this soup is served as a first course/starter: use prepared chicken broth in place of the water and add all the other ingredients but omit the chicken pieces; and/or add the peanut butter after mixing it with the hot broth without simmering the mixture first.
  • Cook and serve the okra separately so that people can decide whether or not they wish to add it.
  • For a change of pace, make the soup using turkey pieces in place of the chicken.
  • Instead of the tomato sauce, substitute 1½ cups ground, seeded, fresh or canned tomatoes (do not use canned tomato puree, however).
  • For a smoother soup, remove the chicken and strain the broth before preparing and adding the peanut butter mixture, or puree the second cup of onion.