What is nkate nkwan?
Nkate nkwan is one of Ghana’s most famous national dishes. It is a soup made from peanuts. Many people refer to it as peanut butter soup, peanut or groundnut soup. There is a wide variety of peanut soups and stews across West Africa. This version is simply made by adding peanut sauce to an onion, tomato and pepper soup base. It is almost always served with omo tuo, but also goes very well with any kind of fufu. Peanut butter soup in Ghana is credited as coming from the Hausa people, but it is enjoyed all over the country.
History of peanuts in West Africa
Their introduction to Africa came via the Portuguese in the 16th century, as early as 1502; possibly to the Senegambia region of West Africa or the Angola and Congo regions of Central West Africa. Their use in culinary applications spread throughout the rest of the continent and are an important food today throughout West, East, South and Central Africa.
It is interesting to note that peanuts are not actually nuts but legumes closely related to peas and beans. Prior to the introduction of peanuts, Bambara beans, also referred to as Bambara nuts, were more prevalent on the continent. They are indigenous to Africa and take their English name from the Bambara people, who are found in the North West African region from Mali to Senegal. Studies suggest, however, that Bambara beans originate from the North West region of Nigeria. Bambara beans are a traditional food in widespread use in Africa from West to Southern Africa.
Some traditional recipes such as mutakura in Zimbabwe or umngqusho in South Africa are different varieties of a very traditional dish consisting of corn, beans, peanuts and Bambara beans. Variants of this dish can be found in Central and Southern Africa.
It is highly possible that when peanuts were introduced to Africa, they replaced Bambara beans in most dishes, although it is not certain why this happened. Similar dishes which use peanuts can also be found where Bambara beans are the main ingredient. Bambara beans are used to make kangu cake, similar to kuli-kuli. They are also boiled or roasted and salted then eaten as a snack, much like peanuts. Furthermore they are used to make a famous Igbo dish called okpa, which resembles moin moin.
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Whatever the case, peanuts were introduced to Africa centuries ago, and were adopted into the most traditional of dishes. They are very much loved today and used as thickeners, spice or flavor (in the case of suya) and a simple snack. Their acceptance and adoption into African cuisine is remarkable, even though they are not the original goober in Africa.
How to make nkate nkwan
The first step is to make a soup or broth by adding whole onions, tomatoes and peppers to a pot of meat such as chicken, goat or beef. These ingredients are topped off with water and stock cube or seasoning and allowed to simmer.
While this is happening, a peanut sauce is made in various ways. Some people opt to fry peanut butter in a saucepan with a little tomato puree, like a roux, prior to adding water to create a thick but runny peanut sauce. Others simply mix the peanut butter with water until smooth prior to heating until peanut oil separates and rises to the surface of the sauce.
From the broth, the whole vegetables are removed and processed before reintroducing them to the pot. The peanut sauce is then poured into the pot and soup is allowed to simmer until ready.
Like many other Ghanaian dishes, there are no hard and fast rules to making nkate nkwan. Some people opt to fry the onions and tomatoes as they would in a stew prior to following the steps to introduce the peanut sauce. They would then finish off by adding enough water to create a soup consistency. The thickness of the soup is down to the preference of the cook and using less water will result is a peanut stew.
The different versions of peanut soups around the world
In West Africa alone we have a variety of peanut soups and stews. Senegal is famous for a peanut stew called mafé (or maafe), and it has a thicker consistency than peanut soup. Maafe is thought to originate from the Bambara and Mandinka people of Mali.
Gambia has a peanut stew called domoda.
Across to East Africa, binyebwa in Uganda is a ground nut sauce made from ground peanut powder.
Nkate nkwan is one of Ghana’s most famous national dishes. It is a soup made from peanuts, also known as peanut butter soup, peanut or groundnut soup.
- 3 lb chicken (with bone)
- 6 kpakpo shito peppers (pettie belles)
- 2 onions , whole
- 3 cloves garlic (optional)
- 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger
- 3 large ripe tomatoes
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 2 bay leaves
- Scotch bonnet pepper or chili power (according to taste)
- ½ cup unsweetened peanut butter
- 2 cups water (plus extra as needed)
- 10 whole okra pods
- Place the chicken pieces into a pot. Cut off the top and bottom edges of the onions and add them whole into the pot.
- Add the tomatoes whole into the pot, removing the core tips. Add the garlic and ginger into the pot. They may be grated or added whole, then processed afterwards.
- Add the bay leaves, kpakpo shito and chicken stock then bring to the boil and simmer until tender.
- Prepare the peanut sauce while the soup is simmering by placing the peanut butter into a pot and mixing it with ½ a cup of water. This will allow the peanut butter to meld well with the water prior to adding the rest.
- Place the peanut sauce on a high heat and add the remaining water. Simmer for about 20 minutes until peanut oil rises to the surface.
- When the onions and tomatoes are soft, remove them from the broth and place them into a blender. If you want the soup to be very spicy, you may add some of the kpakpo shito now. Process them in the blender, then pour back into the soup and stir. Simmer for 5 minutes.
- Pour the peanut sauce into the soup and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.
- Cut off the head and tail of the okra and boil them briefly before adding them to the soup. This is used as a garnish.
- Check for seasoning and add salt and chili powder if desired. The dish is now ready to be served alongside omo tuo.