Cheap Eats:
African Groundnut Soup

I’ll never forget the first time I bit into a tuna sandwich made with chunk light tuna and salad dressing, instead of albacore tuna and mayonnaise. I was too young to have even formulated the idea that my mother’s recipes were the "right" way to make things—I didn’t know there were other recipes.

I have since recovered from that early trauma, but it has amused me to discover that this disquieting experience must be more universal than I once imagined. I have discovered that any given "authentic" recipe will have a dozen or more versions, varying by season, region, personal tastes, and what ingredients were close at hand.

African peanut soup is a good example. First of all, of course, Africa is a huge continent, with widely varying terrain, climate, and human history. So, though peanut soup appears on the menu in most African countries, it varies hugely from region to region. But even within a region, there are variations. I’ve given you three versions here, two from Sudan, one from Ghana.

All this is very liberating. If you know that they don’t care what goes into it, that means you can do anything you want. I occasionally toss in a can of small, boiled potatoes, when I want to make a heartier meal. Rice is a good addition, too. You can add hot red pepper to any version. Or you can make the soup with the excellent vegetable broth available from College Inn, creating a perfect vegan meal.

In Africa, peanuts are usually called groundnuts since these legumes grow underground. (Legume, by the way, is from the Latin legere, "to gather," since plants in this family bear several seeds "gathered" in a pod.) Groundnuts are a good, cheap source of protein, have no cholesterol, and, pound for pound, have more iron than liver.

In all the recipes that follow, use a "natural" peanut butter, creamy/smooth style. Of the commercial brands, I like the Smuckers Natural, because it has good flavor and excellent consistency. A lot of healthfood stores and natural grocers offer good, freshly ground peanut butter, too.

African Groundnut Soup
Sudanese—Version 1

2 13¾ fl. oz. cans beef broth (approx. 3½ to 4 cups)

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbs. cooking oil

¼ tsp. black pepper

½ tsp. ground cinnamon

¼ tsp. ground cardamom

4 Tbs. peanut butter

Juice of ½ lemon

Sauté onion and garlic in cooking oil until transparent, and beginning to turn golden. Add spices and broth to onions, and simmer for 3 or 4 minutes. Ladle some of the hot broth into the peanut butter and blend well, then pour thinned peanut butter into the remaining broth. Simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and serve. (Unless you used unsalted broth, you probably will not need to add any salt to this recipe.)

Serves 4-6.

African Groundnut Soup
Sudanese—Version 2

2 to 2½ lb. chicken pieces

1 med. onion

6 cups water

¼ tsp. black pepper

½ tsp. salt

1½ cups peanut butter

2 cups milk

Remove skin and excess fat from chicken pieces. Put chicken, whole onion, salt, pepper and water into a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until chicken is tender, about 1½ hours. Remove chicken and onion. Remove chicken meat from bones, then chop chicken and onion, and add back to broth. Mix peanut butter and milk until smooth, and stir gradually into broth. Heat through. Season to taste.

Serves 6‑8.


4 13¾ fl. oz. cans chicken broth (approx. 7½ to 8 cups)

1 med. onion, chopped

2 cups chopped sweet peppers (see Note below)

2 Tbs. cooking oil

6 oz. tomato paste

1 cup peanut butter

¼ tsp. black pepper

¼ to ½ tsp. red pepper flakes (to taste)

Sauté onions and sweet pepper in oil until peppers are limp and onions have just begun to turn golden. Add the broth, and heat through. Ladle some of the hot broth into the tomato paste and peanut butter, and blend to thin, then pour mixture into rest of broth. Add the black pepper and red pepper flakes, then simmer gently for 20 minutes. (Again, it is unlikely you will need to salt this further, unless you use unsalted broth.)

Serves 6‑8.


Jewel sells something called "Pepper Strip Stir Fry," which is simply a bag of frozen red, green and yellow sweet pepper strips, with a little onion tossed in. It saves time and hassle, and is more colorful than using any one color of pepper. Other grocers may have similar—check it out.

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