Thursday, February 16, 2012

Nkatiekonto & Omotuo
(Groundnut Soup & Riceballs)

groundnut soup & riceballs: veggie voyager style

Here is a favorite recipe from Ghana. It is one of the more famous foods of the region, with good reason: it's delicious! Nkatiekonto is most commonly found on Sundays at chop bars (small street-side restaurants), especially in the bigger towns and cities. It is also prepared frequently in homes across the country.

As always, this is the veggie voyager version. I have made a number of changes to suit my tastes and needs. Typically this soup is thinner than the version I make. Nkatiekonto also, invariably, has meat and fish. And the riceballs are usually made with white rice, and are the size of a baby's head. When we make this in the village, my friends are always gracious and accommodating, omitting the meat and "beefing it up" with all kinds of vegetables, beans, mushrooms, etc. It is a phenomenal dish that is easy to make...

If you want to remain authentic, the following vegetables can be found in Ghana: green cabbage, green bell peppers, carrots, tomatoes, garden eggs (a small, egg shaped relative of the eggplant), okra, green beans, and sometimes, if you are lucky, cauliflower. Ghana has many other veggies, of course, but these listed are the ones you'd want in your groundnut soup. Two more exotic additions include local mushrooms (see linked image below) and kontomire (which are the leaves of the coco-yam). In fact, the "konto" in the title of this recipe refers to the chopped kontomire in the soup. (Plain groundnut soup is actually called Nkatiekwan.) In Ghana there are only two types of dried beans found in the market: black eyed peas (simply called "beans" or "adua") and a more exotic bean, the bambara bean (which is actually more closely related to groundnuts than to proper beans). As it is virtually impossible to find bambara beans outside of Africa, go for the black eyed peas.

This is what mushrooms look like in Ghana.
They are seasonal and a real treat when you can get them

If you are willing to stray from authenticity, go ahead and add whatever vegetables you like to this. I took a middle road, adding carrots, green beans, crimini mushrooms, red bell peppers, zucchini, black eyed peas, chopped tomatoes, and kale. The soup base is seasoned with ginger, garlic, hot peppers, tomato paste, and salt. You should definitely like peanut butter if you're going to have this soup. 
In Ghana, groundnuts are a main staple in the diets of nearly everyone. I imagine that children with peanut allergies just don't make it long there. When I was in the Peace Corps, I served with a fellow who was allergic to groundnuts. I couldn't imagine the difficulties he had in eating every single day, not to mention all the tasty treats he missed out on because of his allergies. (Why the Peace Corps sent a nut-allergic person to West Africa is completely beyond me.) Ghanaian groundnuts are very similar to American groundnuts (peanuts) so you may use peanut butter when making this dish. When purchasing peanut butter for this recipe, try to get the all natural variety that has no additives. I like the kind that you can grind yourself in the market.

If you have a blender, then this soup is a breeze. If you don't, no problem. You'll just be mincing and/or grinding a little more. I got experimental this last time and used a pressure cooker. It worked great, cooking the soup and the beans in about 15 minutes, albeit burning the soup to the bottom of the pan. If you don't have a pressure cooker, know that your soup needs to simmer for about 1-2 hours, or until the oil in the peanut butter begins to separate from the rest of the soup. I like this thick, almost like stew. If you want a more authentic Ghanaian soup consistency, simply thin it down with stock or water as you are cooking it.

Now for the rice balls, which are but one of the myriad of balls of starch that are eaten in Ghana, and definitely the most accessible here in the States and abroad. Others include kenkey (fermented corn dough), banku (fermented blend of corn and cassava dough, and my personal favorite), and tuozafi (corn or millet dough). There are others but these are the main players. I chose omotuo (riceballs) because they are simple to make and the main ingredient (rice) is sold everywhere. I like to use brown rice and I make mine about the size of a lemon, using an ice cream scoop as my measure. If I were Ghanaian they'd be much bigger, and I'd get mildly offended if you didn't finish your whole ball.

eating with your right hand...

To eat this dish, one has a rice ball in a bowl of soup, often a shared dish with one or two other people. Using your hand like a knife, 'cut' off a bite of rice ball and scoop some of the soup up with it. Carefully convey this handful of soup and rice to your mouth. Only use your right hand, and only eat on your side of the ball when sharing a bowl with someone else. (That right hand rule is very, very important.) Sharing a dish with someone else is bonding, intimate and culturally gratifying. Try it at home! Just make sure your soup isn't too hot...

Nkatiekonto & Omotuo
(Groundnut Soup & Riceballs)
 Nkatiekonto (Groundnut Soup with Greens)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 head garlic, peeled
  • 2 inches ginger
  • 2 hot peppers (habanero is the most authentic)
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 1-1/2 cups natural, creamy peanut butter
  • 6-8 cups water
  • 1 TBS of salt (or so)
  • 1 cup of black eyed peas, soaked for a few hours
  • 8 cups of vegetables, chopped into large-ish chunks (carrots, green or red peppers, green beans, cabbage, mushrooms, zucchini, tomatoes, etc)
  • 1 head kale, chard, spinach, or collard greens (chopped)
ingredients of the soup base

Chop the onion and saute in a large soup pot with a small amount of oil. Once translucent, add the mushrooms if using. In a blender, combine garlic, ginger, hot pepper, tomato paste (which is widely used  in Ghana, by the way), peanut butter, and a couple cups of the water. Blend until smooth and pour into the soup pot. (If you don't have a blender then mince the ginger, garlic, and pepper and toss everything into the pot, it will work just fine). In Ghana they use a locally made clay mortar and wooden pestle to grind the ingredients; most people do not have a blender. Add the rest of the water, the beans, and the remaining vegetables, except for the greens, which you should add in the last 10 minutes. Simmer on medium low heat for an hour or more, until the beans are soft and oil begins to separate and float on top of the soup. If you have a pressure cooker, you can cook this whole concoction that way, but be aware that some will burn on the bottom. I let the pressure cap jiggle and spurt for 12 minutes. Serve with Omotuo.

Omotuo (Riceballs)
  • 3 cups brown or white rice
  • 6 1/2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons salt

scooping the smashed rice

In a rice cooker or on the stovetop, cook the rice as you normally would, adding the salt before you cook the rice. The 1/2 cup extra water will help to soften the rice and make it into balls when the time comes. Once the rice is cooked and all water is absorbed, use a wooden spoon or spatula to smash and mash the rice in the pot until it is pasty and sticky. Have ready a smooth surfaced, round bowl and a small amount of clean water. Moisten the bowl and scoop about 1/3 cup of rice into the bowl. Using a swift circular motion, swirl the riceball in the bowl for a few seconds to create the ball shape. Flip the ball over and repeat, and then transfer to a serving dish. Repeat with all the rice until finished.
shaping the riceballs
mushroom photo credit


  1. Wow! the only problem i have with your nkatiekonto is that it is too thick, almost like stew other than that well done. I wish i can find those fresh mushroom somewhere here in Finland. You make me miss my homeland Ghana. Thanks

    1. Hi Rita,
      I love it thick like this... I know its not usually that way in Ghana but the addition of stock or water fixes that. Cameroon, Mali, Senegal and several other West African countries serve a thicker version of nkakienkonto, called sauce arrachide or mafe. And, in the summer months in Finland you should get your hands on wild chanterelle mushrooms! Or other varieties of will mushrooms. You're in the right place. And I hope you are enjoying your time there in Finland... You're a long way from home!