Thursday, March 4, 2010

African Peanut stew & a little soap box....

As is so often the case in life my professional and personal lives overlapped in tonight's dinner. My students are currently learning about the music from the continent of Africa. Dinner to night was an African Peanut Stew. Both of these things, dinner and music class illustrate a key problem we have in public perception. Africa is a CONTINENT full of many different countries and cultures. So to call something African is about as definitive as to call something European.... it doesn't really define the culture that it is from nor (since Africa is so large) does it really even pinpoint a region. Is it from Egypt? Ethiopia? South Africa? Nigeria??

Before you assume that I am going ballistic over something as simple as the name of a stew, please understand that I see this as symptomatic of a larger problem. We (and I am including myself in this) simply lack knowledge about the vast continent of Africa. Perhaps this is due to the way Africa is portrayed in the media, educational bias, or lack of exposure. However, once we are aware of such a vast hole in our knowledge; the appropriate thing to do (in my humble opinion) is not to sit back and be content in our ignorance but to work to correct it. So I am learning new information about Africa along with my students this month.

And I hope to share some of that (the food stuff) with you! So for your information and possible enlightenment, here we go! Nearly every vegan cookbook worth it's salt has a version of an African Peanut Stew which is made with veggies (such as Yams) and peanuts.

Yams (often replaced with sweet potatoes) are common throughout West and Central Africa. In Nigeria (according to one of my kiddie books) they are commonly served fried as a snack.

Peanuts are also common throughout Western Africa and are the main crop of Senegal. In fact though, it seems peanuts were not native to Africa or North America. The versatile peanut was first brought to Africa by Portuguese Travelers from South America.

(FYI: If you want more information about African food crops, this website is incredibly informational!)

Where did the "African" stew actually originate though? Is there really such a thing? Or is it a North American creation based on African ingredients? Well.... that's an interesting question. It seems that many of the West African Countries have some sort of Peanut Stew tradition: Senegal, Nigeria & Ghana just to name a few. My recipe seems to be most similar to the Senegalese version. So I think that the name could be more specifically West African Peanut Stew OR Senegalese Peanut Stew. Take your pick. (If I am wrong and you know differently, I am happy to hear about your experiences.)

This was a lot of talking, when you probably just wanted a recipe.... So I will now put away my soapbox and pull out my oven mitts!

West African/ Senegalese Peanut Stew


1TBS oil

1 Large onion, chopped

5 garlic cloves, minced

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 inch of ginger, finely chopped

1 heaping tsp cinnamon

2 heaping tsp cumin

1 tsp tsp coriander

hot chillies (minced to taste** see note)

1 can chick peas

28 ounces canned diced tomatoes


2 bouillon cubes, veggie or not-chicken flavored

4 sweet potatoes or yams

1/2 cup natural peanut butter

1 cup frozen spinach

corn starch, if necessary


  1. In oil saute onion until translucent then add red and hot peppers. Saute 2-3 more minutes.

  2. Stir in garlic, oil, and spices. Saute one minute (be careful not to burn garlic!!) then add tomatoes and bring to a boil.

  3. Add bouillon cubes, sweet potatoes, and beans. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil.

  4. "Dissolve" the peanut butter into a small amount of the boiling liquid and add to stew.

  5. Cook until sweet potatoes are done.

  6. Stir in spinach, heat through.

  7. Thicken with corn starch, if necessary.

(** Note, I cheated on the hot peppers and used a very hot pepper puree that I had already prepared. The flavor was still great and prep time was reduced.)

1 comment:

  1. On further inspection, while looking for recipes to fix with my students I came across this Tunisian recipe ( ... which is very similar to mine! Tunisia is farther North than Senegal but....perhaps Tunisian Peanut Stew is a better name?

    It's funny though because acording to the site it is from Fat Free Vegan and I wouldn't have thought to look there due to the high fat content of the peanut butter.