Palm Nut Soup

Abε Nkwan

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes

    10 to 12

    servings

Appears in

The Ghana Cookbook

By Fran Osseo-Asare and Barbara Baëta

Published 2015

  • About

Palm nut soup is a much beloved dish. When my adopted nephew from Ghana celebrated his 23rd birthday, I asked this Americanized young Ghanaian what he wanted for his special dinner (Mexican, Italian, Asian, Indian, Ghanaian, “American,” etc.). Two years in a row he answered: “palm nut soup and cocoyam (taro) fufu.” It took some time to scout around and come up with the necessary ingredients, however, the end result (and his hearty enjoyment) made everything worthwhile.

Palm Nut Soup is also a family favorite at our house for ringing in the New Year. Here I give you a special rich birthday or holiday version. It is loaded with seafood, meat, and vegetables, and adapted to our local environment. This includes a number of “extras,” but can be simplified to make an “everyday” version, mixing and matching ingredients of your choice.

For this particular soup, apart from fresh palm nuts there is no substitute for the canned cream of palm fruit. If none is available from a nearby West African or international market, there are sources available online.

Ingredients

  • 1 to 2 pounds meat (beef, lamb, goat, or a combination)
  • 1 to 2 pounds soup bones (optional)
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped
  • 4 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon dried ground red pepper (for the adventurous: instead add 1 fresh seeded jalapeno [mild], or 1 sliced seeded cayenne pepper [hotter], or 1 or 2 whole unseeded habaneros with the tops sliced off [hottest])
  • 2 teaspoons salt or seasoned salt
  • 3 cups peeled and cubed eggplant
  • 1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes, pureed in a blender (seeds strained out and removed, if desired)
  • 1 (29-ounce/800-gram) can cream of palm fruit
  • 8 ounces fresh mushrooms of choice, cleaned and left whole or sliced in half
  • 6 ounces smoked fish (e.g., smoked mackerel, white fish, whiting or salmon; avoid smoked herring with its pungent flavor), skin and bones removed
  • 20 to 25 fresh okra, trimmed and sliced or whole, or 1 (10-ounce) package frozen okra, whole or sliced
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons powdered dried shrimp or prawns (optional)
  • 1 pound fresh shrimp with shells, deveined
  • 3 crabs or king crab legs, cleaned and rinsed (optional)

Method

Directions

Season meat

  1. Remove and discard fat and gristle on the meat, then cut it into chunks and put in a soup pot, along with the soup bones, if using, and ½ cup water.
  2. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, chili pepper, and salt. Stir meat and seasonings with a wooden spoon and place the pot over a medium heat to steam, covered, for about 15 minutes, checking to make sure water hasn’t evaporated.

Prepare eggplant

  1. While the meat is steaming, put the eggplant in a saucepan with a few cups of water. Cover the pan and bring to a boil over high heat, then simmer for about 10 minutes. When the eggplant is soft, remove the pan from the heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer the eggplant to a blender or food processor in two batches. Add a little of the water used to cook the eggplant to the blender and puree. (If desired, but being careful not to make the soup too spicy, transfer a piece of fresh chili pepper you cooked in the soup broth to the blender and blend with some of the eggplant.)

Assemble soup

  1. After the meat has steamed for 15 minutes, add the pureed eggplant, pureed tomatoes, cream of palm fruit (use a swish of water to get all of it out of can), and 4 to 6 cups of water (depending on desired thickness of soup). Stir well and allow the soup to simmer for about 30 minutes. Taste soup as it begins to cook and remove the chili peppers, if used, when the desired spiciness is obtained.
  2. Add the mushrooms, smoked fish, okra, and powdered dried shrimp, if using, and stir. Cover the soup pot and allow to simmer on low for about 20 more minutes, until the vegetables and meat are soft and flavors have blended together.
  3. About 10 minutes before the soup is done, add the shrimp and crab, if using, and continue to simmer until they are cooked and flavors have blended.
  4. Taste for salt and ground red pepper and add more as needed.

To serve

Serve this lovely, filling soup with Ghana-style Dumplings (Fufu), or Rice Balls (Omo Tuo), or thick slices of sourdough or any hearty bread.

Variations

  • Include a pound of a firm white fish, like cod in addition to or in place of part of the meat. Add near the end of the cooking time with the shrimp and crab.
  • For a velvety soup, strain the soup after it has simmered for 30 minutes, before adding the mushrooms, okra, etc. (save the “dregs” to use another day in a sauce, or puree them in a blender and return to the soup).
  • This makes a large pot of soup. More recently, smaller 400 gram cans of palm fruit are becoming available. For a less rich version, one could use the smaller can in the recipe. Alternatively, the recipe could be cut in half.