Buenos Aires – I happened across an interesting article yesterday on the subject of mafé, a peanut stew that is a common dish throughout western Africa and the Caribbean. The article, in the Kitchen Window section of National Public Radio’s website, was written by a journalist in Cleveland, and talked about how she learned to cook this native dish, and how its significance in her life has changed over the years. The article was fascinating, but, even more so, the dish sounded really good. Who knew that Senegal is pretty much the world’s leading exporter of peanuts?
I used to make an African peanut and lettuce soup, a recipe that I’d gotten out of some cookbook back when I was in college. It was cheap and easy to make, and tasted “gourmet.” It was the kind of thing that you couldn’t not make after trying it once because it stretched a student budget so far and so well. That recipe is lost to time, I haven’t made it in years. I have a vague recollection that it might have been out of one of the Time-Life cooking series, but I’m not sure.
Back in mid-September when we went off on our misadventures in Bolivia, I tried a local dish, sopa de maní, that I really liked a lot. Reading the article reminded me about it, and the article provided a recipe for the mafé, so why not? Most of the ingredients I either already had or were readily available. I had to make some changes to fit some things that I couldn’t find.
So here, a couple of recipes. The first, for the Bolivian soup, is quite easy to make, and is a classic throughout that country. Surprisingly, my favorite South American cookbook, The Art of South American Cooking, by Felipe Rojas-Lombardi, does not contain a recipe for this one. But it’s a simple dish, and really quite good!
Bolivian Sopa de Maní – Peanut Soup
4 cups of beef broth
1 cup of diced stewing beef
1 onion, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon cooking oil
½ cup of cooked, fresh peas
1 carrot cooked and sliced
3-4 potatoes, peeled
½ cup peeled, roasted, and salted peanuts, finely ground in a blender
salt to taste, if needed
Saute the onion in the oil over low heat until it is soft and transluscent. Add the beef, tomato, carrot, and parsley and cook, stirring regularly, until the beef is browned on the outside. Add the beef broth, peas, potatoes, and peanuts, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through. You can also add some noodle type pasta to the dish during the last ten minutes or so of cooking if you want this to be a heartier dish. The original dish calls for raw, unsalted peanuts – I couldn’t find any, I like the flavor the roasting adds anyway, and the salted just means you’ll use less salt to adjust the flavor at the end.
Mafé – Senegalese Peanut Stew with an Andean twist
6 chicken thighs, skinless
1 green bell pepper
1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon of black pepper
1 teaspoon of ají amarillo
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 large, pureed tomato
2 cups of chicken stock
1 small green cabbage
1 large batata (yam or sweet potato)
1 cup of peeled, roasted, and salted peanuts
1 tablespoon of olive oil
salt to taste if needed
I found it easier to prepare a few things in advance and have it all sitting ready for combing as the process went on. First, combine the salt, black pepper, and ají amarillo. Take about half of it and toss it with the chicken thighs. In a food processor, finely chop the onion, green pepper, and garlic clove. Wash the cabbage, remove any tough outer leaves, and then slice it into thin wedges, leaving the core intact so the wedges stay together. Peel and dice the batata. In the food processor, grind the peanuts to a paste – add 1 tablespoon of the oil to help with the consistency. I used peeled, roasted, and salted peanuts because that’s what was available – the original recipe called for raw, unsalted ones – the salt is easy to correct, you just won’t add more salt at the end; I like the flavor of roasted peanuts more than raw.
Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in a large saucepan. Add the remaining spice mixture and saute, stirring, for about a minute. Add the chicken thighs, and saute until golden brown on the outside, turning regularly – about 1o minutes. I found it easier at this point to remove the chicken thighs temporarily and set aside on a plate. Add the chopped vegetable mixture to the pan and saute until the onion is soft and transluscent. Add the tomato paste and pureed tomato, and cook for a minute more. Put the chicken back in the pot, layer the cabbage on top, and add the stock to the pan. If needed, add a little more water so that the chicken and cabbage are just covered. Bring the stew to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes. Add the batata and the ground peanuts, cover and continue simmering for another 30 minutes. If you want a thicker broth, you can remove the chicken at this point, turn the heat up high, and boil the broth until it is reduced a bit. Adjust the salt if needed. Serve over rice..