Abenkwan (Palm Nut Soup)

updated Jun 23, 2023
at the table
Abenkwan Recipe

Abenkwan, or palm nut soup, is made from a palm cream base combined with flavorful, marinated meats, smoked dried fish, and aromatics to create a deeply flavored, rich soup.

Serves 4 to 6

Prep20 minutes

Cook1 hour 25 minutes to 1 hour 40 minutes

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Soup in pot
Credit: Erica Beckman/ Clean Plate Pictures

In the Akan language (the native language of the Akan people of Ghana), abenkwan translates to “palm nut soup.” This traditional, indigenous dish has been made and enjoyed by the different regions of Ghana for centuries. The soup is made from a palm cream or palm nut base. (Palm oil is very significant to Ghanaian and West African cuisine.)

The palm cream is combined with flavorful, marinated meats (in this recipe I use goat meat and oxtail), smoked dried fish, and aromatics to create a rich, deeply flavored soup that you can eat with fufu (pounded yam or cassava), omo tuo (rice balls), banku (made of a slightly fermented cooked mixture of corn and cassava doughs balls), fonio (African heritage grain), or rice

My mom taught me how to make abenkwan and it’s a dish that I’ve grown to love so much. When you make abenkwan, it really brings everyone together. The soup is very filling, very nutritious, and rich in protein. It truly represents Ghana in a pot. 

Other Substitutions

Smoked dried fish is a well-loved ingredient that can be found throughout many Ghanaian dishes, but it can sometimes be difficult to find. As a traditional ingredient in this recipe, it’s worth seeking out online or in your local African market where you can also explore other ingredients we use often, such as pettie belle chiles, garden egg eggplants, and herring powder.

Abenkwan Recipe

Abenkwan, or palm nut soup, is made from a palm cream base combined with flavorful, marinated meats, smoked dried fish, and aromatics to create a deeply flavored, rich soup.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 1 hour 25 minutes to 1 hour 40 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1

    (2-inch) piece fresh ginger

  • 1

    large shallot (about 5 ounces)

  • 9

    cloves garlic, divided

  • 1 teaspoon

    anise seeds

  • 8 ounces

    oxtails, cut about 1 1/2-inches thick

  • 8 ounces

    goat stew meat (about 1 1/2 inch pieces)

  • 2 tablespoons

    plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1

    (780-gram) can palm cream or palm soup base, such as Nkulenu

  • 4 cups

    water, divided

  • 4 ounces

    dried smoked boneless fish, such as tilapia, catfish, tuna, or grouper

  • 1 tablespoon

    herring powder

  • 1 tablespoon

    smoked shrimp powder

  • 1

    bay leaf

  • 1

    large red onion

  • 1

    habanero pepper (optional)

  • 1

    large plum tomato

  • Garnish options: okra, pettie belle chiles, and garden egg eggplants

  • Serving options: fufu, banku, fonio, or soften cooked rice molded into balls

Instructions

  1. Prepare the following, placing each in a mortar or mini food processor as you complete it: Peel and finely chop a 2-inch piece fresh ginger (about 2 tablespoons), 1 large shallot (about 1/2 cup), and 5 of the garlic cloves (about 2 tablespoons). Add 1 teaspoon anise seeds and use the pestle to pound or process in the mini food processor until the mixture forms a paste.

  2. Pour into a small (about 3 quart) Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot. Add 8 ounces oxtails, 8 ounces goat stew meat, 2 tablespoons of the kosher salt, and 2 cups of the water. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil until both meats are just starting to become tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

  3. Meanwhile, place 1 (780-gram) can palm cream and the remaining 2 cups water in a large (about 6 1/2 quart) Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot and stir to combine until the palm cream mixture is fluid. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

  4. When the meats are tender and there is a visible layer of oil on the surface of the palm mixture, add the oxtail, goat meat, and cooking liquid to the palm cream. Stir to combine. Boil until a visible layer of oil has risen to the surface, about 15 minutes.

  5. Add 4 ounces dried smoked fish, 1 tablespoon herring powder, 1 tablespoon shrimp powder, 1 bay leaf, and remaining 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Continue to boil until slightly thickened with a substantial amount of oil rising and settling at the top, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, peel 1 large red onion and trim the stem from 1 habanero if using.

  6. Add the remaining 4 garlic cloves, 1 large plum tomato, red onion, and habanero to the soup. Continue to boil over medium heat until the vegetables are softened, 15 to 20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the garlic, tomato, red onion, and habanero to a blender and blend until smooth. (This will be used to thicken the soup.)

  7. Pour the blended vegetable mixture back into the pot and stir to combine. Continue to boil over medium heat until the meat is very tender and the soup has thickened, 25 to 35 minutes more. There will be a substantial amount of oil on the surface. If using the garnishes, trim the stems from the okra, petite belle chiles, and garden eggs, then quarter each one.

  8. Use a spoon or ladle to skim off the surface fat; reserve the fat if desired to cook with at a later time. Garnish the soup with the okra, petite belle chiles, or garden eggs as desired. Serve with fufu, banku fonio, or soften cooked rice molded into balls and enjoy!

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The oxtail and goat meat can be cooked up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in airtight containers for up to 1 week.