Friday, January 11, 2008

Peanut sauce/Groundnut stew


We waited impatiently for lunch, trying to keep cool. Some of us sat on the hard tile floor of the large front room fanning ourselves, while others tried to catch a breeze on the wrap around porch. Our bodies shined with sweat that seemed to only vary from slight to prolific rather than disappear all together. When the breeze did provide sweet relief, it came with a price; the putrid smell of exhaust and fish permeated the air, followed closely by a handful of red dirt. We knew that our wait would be rewarded; we were having peanut sauce, or kansi as it is called in Guinea, for lunch.

Just a year ago my partner, son and myself traveled to this coastal West African nation along with about 20 other drum and dance enthusiasts. We stayed in the capital city, Conakry, in a three-story house that towered above the other structures in the neighborhood. This was my 4th trip to West Africa, where the food had ranged from incredible to nauseating. In Cameroon, the Ndole, a green leafy stew, and Bongo Chobi, a delicious fish in basil sauce, stood out, while the Ba Kungolo-fermented goat head- that I tried in Mali didn’t make it past my lips. This time around, in Guinea, our hosts had regularly dished out a thin, salty fish sauce flavored with palm oil and tomatoes, and fish bones. Well, most of us survived. A variety of stomach ailments were cropping up and my son pronounced himself allergic to Guinea fish. By this time we were begging for something else, and frequenting neighborhood restaurants. Those of us who had been to West Africa before craved peanut sauce. We craved vegetables and ice cream, too, but that’s another story.

Peanut sauce usually induces love-at-first-taste, a rich broth of ground peanuts and spices, surrounding some kind of meat—fish in Guinea, beef or lamb in Mali. Peanut sauce can be bought on the cheap—about .25 cents per plate from a street vendor, but you will taste the most basic version—thin sauce with a very tough chunk of meat (for .25 cents extra). The addition of vegetables, such as spinach, eggplant or pumpkin, and tender cuts of meat results in a much tastier, but more expensive, meal. The best peanut sauce I ate was in Mali where the tigedigena included tender lamb, pumpkin and bitter eggplant simmered in a sauce of ground peanuts, tomatoes and spices, served on a bed of hot rice.

Peanut sauce has become a staple in our house. My permutation varies a bit from the recipe I learned in Mali, but still evokes wonderful memories of West Africa. Feel free to experiment with different vegetables and meat, such as okra, carrots sweet potatoes, beef or lamb. I make this household favorite about every 2 weeks, and here, as in Guinea, it is well worth the wait. Guten appetit!

Peanut sauce/Groundnut stew

1.5-2 lbs chicken breast or thighs, chopped into 1”pieces
2 tbsp canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp ginger
1-2 clove garlic
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
1 tsp tomato paste
8 oz peanut butter (unsweetened. salted is okay, just reduce salt elsewhere)
6-8 cups chicken stock, (or water with bouillon)
1 large yellow potato peeled and cubed
½ pound broccoli cut small
2-3 WHOLE habanero peppers
salt and papper to taste
1 tbsp hot sauce, or to taste

Heat oil in large cooking pot. Sautee onions and chicken over medium heat until chicken is mostly cooked. Press garlic clove, stir, and quickly add can of diced tomatoes. Add tomato paste, habaneros*, stock or water, peanut butter and stir. Let simmer for a few minutes (10-12) until peanut butter disperses evenly. Add potatoes other vegetables that need longer cooking times, and broccoli if you like it well-cooked (my son will eat it if it disintegrates into the sauce), otherwise add it later. Add other ingredients except for salt. Simmer on low with lid mostly on. Stir occasionally. Cook sauce for a total of about 45-60 minutes, adding water/stock if it becomes too thick. It should be the consistency of pancake batter. Add salt to taste. Serve over hot rice. Enjoy!

* Do not chop or cut habaneros. Cook them whole in the sauce--they do not add significant spice. If you like your food hot, remove one pepper from the pot when the sauce is cooked and pass it around on a plate. You just tap the side of the pepper with your spoon and then take a bite of your food. Habaneros are VERY hot, so only a drop of juice is needed, unless you like it HOT!

Chicken Peanut Stew on FoodistaChicken Peanut Stew

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