Sep 8, 2012

Liberian Groundpea Soup and Rice

Groundpea Soup; the Liberian name for the popular African dish of Peanut Sauce which is usually served over rice.

Peanuts for sale in Liberia. My photo.
Known as Sauce Arachide in the Cote d'Ivoire and French speaking West Africa, and Groundnut Stew in Sierra Leone and Ghana, Peanut Sauce is not only common in West Africa, but throughout many African countries. Peanuts are easily cultivated in Africa's warmer climates, and the countries of Senegal and Sudan are among the top five peanut exporters worldwide.

Liberian homes overlooking the rainforest. My photo.
Providing a cheap source of protein that will not spoil easily, peanuts are consumed regularly in Liberia. In addition to Peanut Sauce, they are eaten as a snack, both in the shell and parched, and are also used to make "Groundpea Candy" (peanut brittle), and several other peanut based snack foods.

Liberian peanut brittle. Made with just two ingrediants: caramelized sugar and peanuts. My photo.
During my time as a child in Liberia and the Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Peanut Sauce, or Peanut Butter Soup as we called it, was one of my favorite African meals. The dish varies from country to country, with some recipes calling for rich red palm oil and a mix of local vegetables, some being tomato based, and some, like the Liberian version, being a simple smooth sauce. This recipe is one of the easiest to make with surprisingly authentic flavors despite being made with American ingredients in an American kitchen.

Liberian child eating with her hands as is customary. My photo.
This recipe is from my brother John-Mark Sheppard who also spent several years working in Liberia as an adult. He and his wife Sara and my adorable niece Audrey are heading back to Liberia this fall as long-term missionaries.

John Mark in Liberia.
Another cool thing about John-Mark is that he has just published a book! Cracking the Code: The Confused Traveler's Guide to Liberian English is a Liberian English dictionary and culture guide. It's an invaluable resource for anyone who is a missionary in Liberia, anyone visiting Liberia, or those who have adopted from Liberia. John-Mark is a great writer and he has put a ton of time and research into this excellent resource. 

Go to their blog Wherever I Send You to learn more about the Sheppards and the ministry they will be doing with Muslims in the northern part of Liberia.

John-Mark uses boneless beef pieces in his recipe but I prepared this recipe with bone-in chicken pieces as this is how I usually ate it in Liberia. When we were served Groundpea Soup it was always with generous hunks of bone-in meat as this is how Liberians honor their guests. On a day to day basis your average family would have at least a small amount of dried fish in their sauces, but for guests a chicken may even be killed and added to the sauce. I've included boneless and bone-in options for this recipe. Using boneless meat pieces is easier to prepare and eat, especially if you are serving this to children.

Liberian Groundpea Soup

2-4 tablespoons peanut oil* (can sub refined coconut or palm oil)
1 pound cubed beef or chicken OR 4-6 pieces bone-in chicken pieces (I used thighs)
Seasoned salt
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 to 1 cup natural peanut butter (unsweetened creamy is best)
3 to 3 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 large bullion cube, MSG-free (can sub 2 tablespoons liquid aminos)
1/2 to 1 1/2 teaspoons chipotle chili pepper or comparable hot pepper powder with smokey flavor, or if you do not like hot pepper, use a few drops of liquid smoke.*

Brown rice, or rice of choice for serving, approximately 1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked rice per person.** 

Step 1: To prepare with bone-in meat:

Season chicken with seasoned salt by rubbing it all over the piece. Use approximately 1/8 teaspoon or a little more per piece.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat in a small pot (about 4 quart size). Heat another 2 tablespoons oil in another skillet. Fry chicken in the two skillets until browned on both sides - about 5 minutes per side. Turn off the heat and remove chicken from the pans. Keep warm in a covered bowl. Discard the extra skillet and the oil in that skillet.

Step 1: To prepare with boneless meat pieces:

Season the meat with about one teaspoon seasoned salt. Add 2 tablespoons oil to a small pot. Heat over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Add the meat and fry, stirring occasionally until fully cooked and  browned - about five minutes. Remove the meat from the pan and keep warm in a covered bowl.

Step 2: For both kinds of meat:

Return the pot to medium heat. There should be oil left in the bottom from frying the meat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion is translucent. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until the peanut butter is disolved. A whisk may help to break apart the chunks. Bring to a boil. The sauce should be the consistency of a cream sauce. If it seems too thick add an additional 1/2 cup water. Return the meat to the pan. Turn the heat to low and cover the pot. Let simmer for at least 20 minutes or until the bone-in chicken (if using) is cooked through and the sauce is smooth and of uniform consistency.

Serve over brown rice, or rice of your choice.

*Hot pepper and smoke flavoring are optional, but create the most authentic dish. Hot pepper is essential to almost all Liberian sauces and since the food is cooked over an open fire everything picks up a delicious smoke flavor.

**If using brown rice it's important to prepare it properly as rice is such a significant part of the Liberian diet. See my recipe here for Basic Brown Rice.

Preparation time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 35-45 minutes. Servings: 4-6.


  1. Thank you so much for posting this!! Our oldest Liberian daughter (Blossom) has tried to tell me how to make various dishes from what she remembers, but it is tough going that route. We do make great cabbage soup or eggplant soup like they do, but now we are itching to try this recipe!

    There is one dish she remembers with rice and something that looked like yellow lentils, but she does not know how it was made. Any ideas?

    1. Thanks for your comment!

      That is pretty good that you make cabbage and eggplant soup! There are a number of dark leafy green sauces (I'll be posting a recipe soon!) as well as gravies and bean dishes that are common in Liberia. The food she remembers is a sauce made from yellow spit peas. It is just called Split Pea Soup (Or "slit" pea as they pronounce it!). It is actually quite similar to a thick split green pea soup (only served over rice) but the peas are yellow and it is seasoned with dried fish as versus ham.

    2. I love Liberian food and like you have learned how to cook some dishes but always the student, I am trying to learn how to cook even more. I know of a website of authentic Liberian recipes posted by a Liberian lady who lives here in the U.S. I've tried a few of her recipes and they are excellent. My husband is Liberian and he loved the dishes that I made from her recipes. He actually knows the lady personally. I can tell you that her recipes are legit. The website is ... She is also has some youtube videos showing how to make yeast fried donuts, jollof rice - etc. Enjoy! I am putting together a cookbook featuring African desserts (just started working on it) but some of the recipes will be on my blog - EVENTUALLY :) Enjoy! ps - she has a very easy recipe for split peas using Campbells split pea soup. Looks delicious! Click on the "Dinner" link and you'll find the split peas, gravy and rice recipe link near the bottom of the page.

  2. Hi Melodie,

    Jennifer Dougan here. We talked off and on with our old blogs on xanga, years ago. It's so fun to see these beautiful photos of Liberia and to read the familiar recipes. mmm, peanut sauce over rice makes me salivate already.

    Have a great week!

    Jennifer Dougan

  3. I have a recipe for Groundnut Stew. It is basically the same sauce but Americanized!(Jiff peanut butter)One thing that my recipe calls for is toppings of cut up fruits and raw veggies.I use what ever is in season. Have you ever heard of topping this delirious dish with fresh fruits and veggies or was that just an add on from another source?
    Love your blog! Thanks for the recipes. Keep them coming!

  4. Hey Melodie! I always use this recipe to feed the beautiful mouths of the 4 girls I live with and it's such a hit :) Thanks so much for giving me this taste of HOME!