Pity the peanut. It is neither a pea nor is it a nut, and in this age of nutrition scaremongering, often brushed aside supposedly more “healthy” nuts and seeds, or maligned for harbouring aflatoxins. If we just put aside our ingrained, learnt beliefs, there are few who will deny the delicious taste of roasted peanuts. This oil-rich underground-growing bean exudes its highest potential when ground to butter. Our affinity for peanut butter has made it a indispensable pantry staple in most households where it finds its way into cookies and cakes, porridge and toast. In Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Southeast Asia, ground peanuts show up in sauces and stews.
Today’s dish bears reference to Africa, where the the peanut (locally called groundnut) is a backbone of their agriculture and cuisine, and it is used in a different ways throughout the continent. The most common use is to thicken and flavour soups, such as in the ubiquitous groundnut stew. Groundnut stew changes its name across Africa. From West Africa there is Maafe (Senegal / Mali), Nkatenkwan (Ghana), Omisagwe (Nigeria), from Central Africa there is Mtedza Malawi (Chad), and from East Africa there is Dovi (Zimbabwe). The consistency can be thin and soupy, or thick like a stew. Regional nomenclature and nuances aside, the groundnut stew is a tempting flavour combination of peanuts, tomatoes, spices, and any manner of vegetables, greens, beans and protein. Piquant, hearty, nutty, earthy, and intense, this dish does a good job to provoke the appetite and digestion. For the sake of capturing the essence of my version which is thick and stew-like, I call it Dovi (the Zimbabwean version).
How to prepare Pan-african Vegetable Peanut Stew
Peanuts. Ground peanuts are far more traditional than peanut butter. But for the sake of time and convenience, peanut butter is a great alternative. Be sure to use natural peanut butter made from ground roasted peanuts and nothing else.
Tomatoes. Tomatoes lend acidity, sweetness and harmonises the dish. Passata, which is cooked down tomato puree is good because it has a more intense flavour. You can also use fresh tomatoes, but be sure to bump up the flavour with tomato paste.
Spices. Groundnut stew is meant to be very spicy and slightly sweet. It should contain a mixture of African curry spices like cumin, coriander, ginger, turmeric, and chilli. You could use curry powder + chilli powder. Or to elevate the ethnic element, go for an African spice blend such as North African harissa or East African berbere, the latter which I used in this dish.
Vegetables. This is a very forgiving dish that is open to many variations based on your preferences and availability of ingredients. Root vegetables like sweet potatoes seem to be a classic, but for a lighter touch you can mix okra, zucchini or eggplant. Bitter greens such as kale, fenugreek leaves, moringa are a great addition to balance out the sweetness of this dish.
Protein. Animal protein such as chicken and beef are usually used in groundnut stew. Vegetarians can opt for beans (adzuki, chickpeas, black beans work well) to make this dish more substantial.
How to serve Pan-african Vegetable Peanut Stew
I like to eat groundnut stew with cauliflower rice, since the stew is rather high-carb from the beans and sweet potatoes. Otherwise you can also enjoy groundnut stew with plain long-grain rice. For an authentic experience, pair groundnut stew with fufu, a thick starchy dough made from boiling and mashing cassava root and plantain.
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Berbere Dovi (Pan-African Spicy Vegetable Peanut Stew)
Peanuts, tomatoes, spices, and vegetables come together in this Pan-African peanut stew pepped with a Blast of Berbere. Piquant, hearty, nutty, and intense, this dish does a good job to provoke the appetite and digestion.
For the Stew
- 10 g (1 tbsp) coconut oil
- 70 g (1 medium) red onion, sliced
- 20 g (4 cloves) garlic, minced
- 110 g (2 stalks) celery, medium dice
- 150 g (1 large) bell pepper, medium dice (any colour)
- 180 g (1 large) sweet potato, medium dice
- 2 tsp Blast of Berbere powder (recipe follows)
- 960 g (4 cups) filtered water
- 250 g (1 cup) cooked adzuki beans (from 100 g (1/2 cup) dried beans)
- 160 g (2/3 cup) chopped tomatoes or passata
- 150 g (3 cups) leafy greens, roughly chopped (kale, collards, moringa, fenugreek, or spinach)
- 60 g (1/4 cup) natural peanut butter
- 1/4 tsp Himalayan salt
Blast of Berbere powder
- 5 no dried red chillies
- 2 tbsp sweet paprika powder
- 1/2 tbsp cayenne powder
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 1/2 tsp cardamom powder
- 1/2 tsp ginger powder
- 1/4 tsp allspice powder
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
- 1/8 tsp cloves powder
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg powder
For the Stew
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the coconut oil over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and saute for 3-5 minutes until it starts to sweat. Add the garlic and saute until both ingredients start to caramelise. Add celery, bell pepper, sweet potatoes and Blast of Berbere powder. Saute until vegetables start to sweat.
Next add water, adzuki beans, and passata. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for 20 minutes until the beans are tender, or beyond, if you wish to give the soup a creamier consistency. Be sure to check the sweet potatoes to make sure they are tender.
Add in leafy greens and simmer for another 5 minutes until wilted.
In a small bowl, make a peanut butter slurry by removing some liquid from the stew and mixing with the peanut butter until a loose, liquid consistency. Pour the peanut butter slurry into the stew and simmer for another 1 to 2 minutes until all the flavours come together.
Season the stew with salt, to taste.
Serve stew with cauliflower rice, plain rice, or fufu.
For the Blast of Berbere powder
Over medium-low heat, toast the dried red chilies until they warm up and become fragrant. Transfer to a plate to cool. Toast the black peppercorns, coriander seeds and fenugreek seeds until fragrant. Cool then grind all the spices to a uniform powder. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months at room temperature, and longer in the refrigerator.