I continue to celebrate the much-maligned palm fruit, basic to this most wonderful of soups, abe nkwan. Incidentally, nkwan means “soup” in the Twi language, and abe is the Twi name of the red fruits of the palm tree.
2 large onions, any type (enough to get about 3 cups, chopped)
2 pounds meat (beef, lamb, or goat, or a combination–I use lamb and beef)
1-2 pounds of soup bones
1 medium eggplant (to get about 3 cups chopped)
1 28 oz can plum tomatoes (I’m such a purist I usually remove and strain out the seeds first)
1 29 oz/800 g can cream of palmnuts (NOTE: to locate an African market near you, check African Chop )
1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms (I like crimini and portabella)
6 oz smoked fish (I like Duck Pond’s smoked mackerel, but also white fish, whiting or salmon. I don’t recommend smoked herring, however. Even desalted, it has a strong flavor.)
3 crabs (or I generally use a combination of crab and King crab legs)
1 pound fresh shrimp with shells (the larger, the better)
1 10 oz package frozen chopped okra (or fresh if you can get it)
seasonings, to taste:
salt (~ 2 teaspoons)
fresh peeled, grated ginger (~4 teaspoons)
hot pepper, to taste [NOTE: if you are not used to handling habanero peppers, which must be done very carefully, you might want to skip the fresh peppers, and stick with dried ground red pepper ] How much pepper varies greatly: if you like HOT, throw in one or two habanero peppers whole, but with the stem removed and let them steam with the meat and then cook in the broth. After they’re soft you can squeeze them to increase the heat in the soup, or remove them and serve them on the side for people to add heat individually. OR you can remove them and blend one or two of them with the eggplant or tomatoes. OR you can remove the seeds and membranes before cooking them. OR you can substitute milder peppers like jalapenos. OR to start with you can simply add dried ground red pepper to taste (for a mild soup, about 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon). I always serve extra dried pepper flakes with the soup for the men in my family, who like their soup very spicy.
2-4 cloves garlic[if you like, add a tablespoon or 2 of powdered dried shrimp or prawns]
I use a can opener, pot holders, paper towels (to wipe the mushrooms), cutting board, ginger grater, garlic press, blender or food processor, strainer, knives, large 8-qt soup pot, wooden spoon, slotted spoon, soup ladle, and 2-qt sauce pan. Unlike most Africans, I also use measuring spoons and cups.
1. Peel and chop the onions (I prefer them medium-to-fine) and put them into a large, heavy soup pot.
2. Remove and discard fat and gristle on the meat, then cut it into chunks (I usually make them about 1/2 inch cubes), and add to the soup pot, along with 1/2 cup water.
3. Peel and crush the garlic cloves and sprinkle over the meat. Peel and grate the fresh ginger and add to the pot. Rinse and remove the stem end of the hot peppers (de-seed and remove membranes if desired), or sprinkle dried red pepper over the meat, along with about 2 teaspoons salt (NOTE: at this point many West Africans would crumble a few Maggi or Royco cubes over the meat, too, but it’s unnecessary.). Stir meat and seasonings with the wooden spoon and place the pot over a medium-high heat to steam, covered, for about 15 minutes.
4. While the meat is steaming, rinse, peel, and cube the eggplant and put it in a saucepan with a few cups of water. Cover the pan and bring to a boil over high heat, then simmer for about 10 minutes.
5. While the eggplant is simmering, blend the tomatoes in the blender or food processor and add to the soup pot.
6. Open the canned cream of palm fruits and add to the pot. Use a little water, or a spatula or spoon, to get all of the palm cream out of the can.
7. When the eggplant is soft, remove the pan from the heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer the eggplant to the blender or food processor in two batches. Add a little of the cooking water to the blender (maybe 1/2 cup). No need to rinse out the dregs from the tomatoes. If you wish, transfer one or more of the chili peppers into the blender container and grind with the eggplant. After grinding, add to the soup pot.
8. Also add 4 to 6 cups of water (or, simply add 1 1/2 to 2 cans of water using the tomato or palm fruit cans), depending on how thick you desire the soup to be. I often use part of the water to rinse out the blender or food processor container.
8. Stir well and allow the soup to simmer for 30 minutes while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
9. Quickly rinse the mushrooms and wipe them dry with paper towels, trimming (but not removing) the stem ends. Leave the mushrooms whole or halved (for small mushrooms), or thickly sliced for larger mushrooms, and add them to the pot.
10. Remove and discard the skin and bones from the smoked fish, then add the fish to the pot.
11. Rinse and devein the shrimp, but do not remove their shells. Add them to the pot.
12. Clean and rinse the crabs/crab legs and add to the pot.
13. Add the frozen okra (and powdered dried shrimp, if using) and stir.
14. Cover the soup pot and allow the soup to simmer on low for about 20 minutes, until the meat and vegetables are soft and flavors have blended together.
15. As the soup cooks, use a spoon to skim off the red palm oil that rises to the surface. This may be set aside and saved to be used for other cooking. Add more salt or red pepper if needed.
Serve this lovely, filling soup with fufu, rice, or omo tuo (rice balls) (or, if you prefer, thick slices of French or a hearty bread).
Rice Balls (Omo Tuo)
1 cup white rice (I use long-grain, but not precooked)
~4 c water
½ teaspoon salt (optional, I usually omit this)
· Bring the rice, water and salt (if using) to a boil in a large heavy pot (or a rice cooker)
· Turn down the heat to low, cover, and allow the rice to cook for about 20 minutes.You may have to take off the lid and let it cook down another 5-10 minutes.
· When the rice is cooked (but not too dry), turn off the heat and let it sit until it is cool enough to handle.
· Using a potato masher, a strong wooden spoon, a heavy glass, or something similar, mash the rice until it is fairly smooth. (If you have a wonderful wooden masher from Ghana like the one here, lucky you! It’s easy to hold and use.)
· Fill a cup with cold water and put it next to the pan.
· Wet hands or dip an ice cream scoop or spoon into the water, then scoop up enough of the rice to shape into a ball, like a snowball. If the balls will not stick together, put the rice back on the stove to dry it out slightly.
To accompany a main dish soup, a cup of rice makes about 6-8 rice balls, depending on the size.
To serve in place of rolls as a first course, say, with groundnut or light soup, I use a small spoon or melon baller (dipped in water first) to scoop out the rice and then shape tiny balls. I serve 2 or 3 in each bowl of soup. Rice balls can be made ahead of time and warmed in the oven or microwave just before serving.
NOTE: It’s also possible to make this using a rice cooker: just add everything, but use at least a cup less water, and turn off the cooker when the rice is cooked and most of the water is gone. Also, it is possible to make these using brown rice, though I’ve never had them that way in Ghana (remember my theory that white is somehow always perceived as somehow better or purer). Brown rice balls are somewhat heavier. Just use less water, and allow more cooking time.