Last night I made groundnut stew for our dinner. It was a variation on an African recipe from Sunday at Moosewood - a massive tome of a book that I've had for years and dip into for inspiration for vegetarian delights. It offers insights and recipes from many countries and the results are almost always good.
I know very little about any food of African origin beyond their use of millet as a cooked grain in the way that I use rice and that most stews are thickened with ground nuts or seeds which is pretty poor really. The food of a whole continent is unfamiliar.
So I read through the chapter on the southern african and decided I would try groundnut stew. One ingredient was okra - a vegetable that I find utterly disagreeable in all its slimy incarnations, so I didn't put that on the shopping list but I did buy sweet potatoes and cabbage, I had some green beans in the fridge needed using so I substituted those for the okra and I had some tomatoes from the garden that I'd ripened in a paper bag. I bought pre packed tomato and apple juice so I was ready to roll.
Except that I had no idea what final dish I was attempting so I was suddenly filled with misgivings Thursday night when I got home, convinced it would be a disaster. Cabbage boiled in tomato juice - just didn't seem like a good starting point. So I read through the recipe again and decided that the biggest thing that didn't ring true was the spicing - half a teaspoon of cayenne, and one each of garlic and ginger simply didn't seem enough to have any effect.
When I first came to London I was planning to cook something one night that required some chilli. As I was in Brixton I went to one of the African groceries and bought a 500g tin of nigerian chilli powder. The first time I used it I was very generous with my measures - a habit of mine - and nearly blew the top of my head off it was so hot. But somewhere in the midst of the burning sensation was also an amazing flavour, so I kept the tin and practised using small amounts. Twenty years later I am coming to the end of that tin - I will go to Brixton and hopefully buy another when it's finished - but it seemed to me that it would be the source of reassurance I was looking for to make my groundnut stew. Using only a scant teaspoon I was delighted to smell its rich toasty aroma as it hit the heat and it was indeed the key. The final dish was lovely - deep terracotta, sweet and spicy and rich.
And, for the man and me, something entirely new.
1 large spanish onion, finely chopped
2 tbspns peanut oil - this adds flavour but use vegetable oil if you have none
5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tspn hot chilli powder - african if you're lucky enough to find some
1 small sweetheart cabbage, shredded but not too finely
1 large red sweet potato, peeled and diced into 2cm pieces
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
2 tomatoes, chopped
600ml tomato juice
200ml apple juice
Salt and pepper to taste
150g fine green beans, topped and tailed and cut in half
100g peanut butter - smooth or crunchy is fine
4 tbspns chopped coriander leaves
Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onion for about 15 minutes till translucent. Stir through the garlic and chilli powder and cook for a few more minutes. Add the sweet potato and cabbage, cover and sweat in the pan over a medium heat for five minutes. Add the ginger, tomatoes, both of the juices and the salt and pepper and simmer till the sweet potato is almost tender - about twenty minutes. Toss in the green beans and cook for a few minutes. Then stir in the peanut butter - it will instantly thicken the stew and turn it an even richer colour
Warm through gently. Add the coriander just before serving. We had it with a little spiced banana - probably too sweet and likely should have been plantain - and some sourdough bread for starch. Tonight I will have some brown rice and perhaps a boiled egg with the leftovers.
The end result was a fabulous dinner using seasonal vegetables and the pleasure of having tried something really new, to be daring. Perhaps fortune really does favour the brave.