It is hard to miss the whiff of a curry simmering in the corner of a home or a restaurant. Thick, rich and aromatic, it often comes seasoned with cultural anecdotes, just like the popular peanut stew from West Africa.
It was during the Colonial period from 1881 to 1914, also known as the Scramble for Africa, that groundnut (peanuts are commonly referred to as groundnuts in many parts of Africa because the nut pods grow underground) cultivation gained momentum. From traditional groundnut recipes, rose the newer versions of the peanut curry, also called Mafé that West Africa, but in particular, Senegal and the Gambia, came to be known for subsequently.
Mafé, which goes by many names, including Mahfe, Sauce d’Arachide, Sauce Z’ara, and Groundnut Stew, was originally the food of the Mandinka people of Mali, who called it domodah or tigadegena. The peanut curry was a special treat since peanuts were hard to come by. They were also a source of nutrition in a region where child malnutrition was and still is rampant.
Peanuts flavour everything from soups, salads, stews, marinades, rubs and oil in West African cuisine today. Ground peanuts, whole peanuts, roasted ones, peanuts made into a paste or butter… the legume is used as a base or garnishes, along with the West African trinity ingredients—habaneros or scotch bonnets chillies, onions and tomatoes—and ground spices such as cumin, cardamom and black pepper (differs across variations). The dish has today become a popular choice among curry lovers.
While beef and lamb versions are popular, the chicken comes next, followed by fish. It goes well with rice, flatbread or couscous. In Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote D’Ivoire, Nigeria and Cameroon, the curry is typically had with fufu, a fluffy dough-like accompaniment. To enjoy it as the locals do, take a small amount of the rice and the curry in your hand, and pinch it into a small ball before having it. Curried away, already?
West African Peanut Stew, Senegalese-style
✥ 5-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
✥ Salt and pepper, as needed
✥ 1 tsp olive oil
✥ 1 yellow onion, diced
✥ 1 sweet potato, cut into cubes
✥ 2 tsp cumin
✥ ¼ cup fresh minced ginger
✥ 4 large garlic cloves, minced
✥ 1 scotch bonnet pepper, ribs and seeds removed
✥ 4 cups kale, chopped
✥ cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped, plus extra for topping
✥ ½ cup creamy, natural peanut butter
✥ 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes
✥ 14.5-ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained (optional)
✥ 3 cups chicken stock
✥ Add oil to a large pot. Set it over medium-high heat. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and brown them for about 2.5 minutes, per side.
✥ Transfer to a plate and set aside.
✥ Reduce the heat to medium and add the diced onion and sweet potato to the pot. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook until the potatoes begin to tenderise. Add cumin, ginger, garlic, peanuts, peanut butter and kale.
✥ Add the crushed tomatoes, chickpeas (if used) and chicken stock.
✥ Slide the chicken thighs with their juice into the pot. Simmer the stew, uncovered, until the chicken and sweet potatoes are tender. Remove the chicken and shred it. Add back to the pot, while adding more peanuts and cilantro. Serve hot.
(Credit: Lauren McDuffie, Mykitchenlittle.com)