Nkatsenkwan (Groundnut Stew)

updated May 7, 2021
Nkatsenkwan (Groundnut Stew)

One of West Africa’s ubiquitous dishes, Groundnut is a very simple slow-cooked one-pot dish with a piquant, slightly creamy spice and nutty aroma.

Serves3 to 4

Prep30 minutes to 40 minutes

Cook1 hour to 2 hours

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Credit: Lateef Okunnu

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So this is the worst-kept secret in the world: I love nkatsenkwan, otherwise known as groundnut soup or, in my home growing up, peanut butter stew.

One of West Africa’s ubiquitous dishes with many variations and names, groundnut is a very simple slow-cooked one-pot dish with a piquant, slightly creamy spice and nutty aroma that can literally have your friends drooling around the dinner table.

Known in Ghana as nkatsenkwan and most frequently eaten with fufu (pounded yam cassava or plantain) or steamed rice balls, you can also serve it with boiled yams, cassava, or even rice. It’s just as good plain as a rich winter stew on its own with a sprinkling of gari (ground cassava) and a side of dodo (fried sweet plantain).

This dish is full of the nostalgia of my childhood and is the reason I have a career as a chef today. It launched Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen back in 2010. The ultimate in warming comfort food, every mouthful is a hug of love, nourishment, and connection with my ancestors and a reminder of familial bonds. I used to cook this dish for school friends when I was a teenager and it continues to be the dish I’m most frequently asked to cook for friends today.

My journey with and exploration of Ghanaian cuisine has been led by a very personal desire to make a connection with an aspect of my ancestry — a people and a culture that were largely distant in my upbringing — and it has been supplemented by the joy of bringing folk together over food. 

My mum is Irish and my dad is Ghanaian. That makes me the first-generation British in my family — a third-culture child. While I was born to a Ghanaian father, I spent the majority of my childhood holidays in Ireland with my mother’s family. All of our summer and Easter vacations were spent building tree houses in rural West Cork, digging potatoes in my grandfather’s small field, and collecting mussels from the beach at Bantry Bay, which was pretty idyllic in many ways.

Back at home in South East London, my dad often brought home ingredients I had never been formally introduced to. Often he bought them to cook for himself and he didn’t seem to understand why I would be interested to know what they were, so I would have to quiz and bother him to gather as much information as I could. I remember standing next to him as he unwrapped kenkey (fermented corn dough) from its maize leaf casing and released that heady fermented odor, inquiring with an upturned nose, “What is it, Dad?” I enviously watched him devouring the kenkey with tilapia and lashings of shito (hot pepper sauce) and wanted in. This is what started my food journey — connecting with my dad and connecting with my Ghanaian heritage. It was my curiosity rather than his encouragement that instilled my cravings for the food and culture. We didn’t have any Ghanaian family in London and we couldn’t afford trips to Ghana, so that aspect of my identity was missing. Cooking Ghanaian food became the way for me to connect with my cultural heritage.

It’s with beautiful irony then that my Irish mother, Liz, was the one that kept this food culture active and alive in our home and my sister Natalie and I devoured this dish more than any other. Mum’s tweak on the heat was a minor adjustment to dad’s recipe, which I still in principle cook today, though over the years, I’ve spun the recipe into many different ideas and textures and finishes and preparation techniques. The original is always the best and that is the recipe in my cookbook. This recipe is for lamb on the bone, but you can use any combination of meat and seafood. There’s a traditional Fanti version of the recipe in the cookbook that includes large forest snails and blue crabs for the adventurous palate!

Nkatsenkwan (Groundnut Stew)

One of West Africa’s ubiquitous dishes, Groundnut is a very simple slow-cooked one-pot dish with a piquant, slightly creamy spice and nutty aroma.

Prep time 30 minutes to 40 minutes

Cook time 1 hour to 2 hours

Serves 3 to 4

Ingredients

For the chalé sauce:

  • 14 ounces

    canned or 18 ounces fresh tomatoes

  • 2

    red bell peppers

  • 1 ounce

    or 2 tablespoons tomato purée

  • 1

    small white onion roughly diced

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    dry chili flakes

  • 1

    small scotch bonnet (use half and de-seed if you have a low heat tolerance)

  • Salt to taste

For the stew:

  • 4 1/2 pounds

    mixed bone-in lamb (or mutton) neck and shoulder, cubed

  • 2 1/4 cups

    water or good-quality vegetable stock

  • 1

    onion, finely diced

  • 1

    (2-inch) piece fresh root ginger, grated (unpeeled if organic)

  • 1

    garlic clove, crushed

  • 8

    green kpakpo shito (cherry) chillies, or substitute 1 to 2 Scotch Bonnet chillies, pierced, according to desired level of heat

  • 1 tablespoon

    extra-hot chilli powder

  • 1 tablespoon

    curry powder

  • 2 teaspoons

    sea salt

  • 1 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 1/4 cups

    uncooked chalé sauce (recipe above)

  • 3 1/2 to 7 ounces

    organic peanut butter, depending on how thick you want it

  • 1

    red Scotch Bonnet chilli, pierced

  • 3 tablespoons

    crushed roasted peanuts or gari, to garnish

Instructions

For the chalé sauce:

  1. Blend all to a smooth consistency.

Make the stew:

  1. Put the lamb into a large, heavy-based saucepan, cover with the measured water or stock and add the onion, ginger, garlic, kpakpo shito chillies, chilli powder, curry powder, sea salt and black pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer over a medium heat for 25 minutes until the lamb juices run clear, skimming off any froth that rises to the surface.

  2. Stir in 2 1/4 cups of the chalé sauce and then add the peanut butter 1 tablespoon at a time while stirring until it has all dissolved.

  3. Add the pierced Scotch Bonnet and cook for a further 45 minutes to 1 hour over a low heat, stirring regularly so that the sauce doesn’t stick to the pan, until the peanut oil has separated and risen to the top, which means that it’s done. You should have a soupy consistency and super-tender meat falling away from the bone.

  4. Serve with your choice of side dish or with crushed roasted peanuts or gari sprinkled on top.

Recipe Notes

Reprinted with permission from Zoe's Ghana Kitchen by Zoe Adjonyoh, 2017. Published by Mitchell Beazley.