Before we were married, my husband had a roommate from Africa — Sierra Leone to be exact — and this roommate introduced him to a dish called peanut butter stew.
It’s made with an unlikely, but sumptuous culinary trio: chicken, peanut butter and a mix of hot spices called African spice. Stick with me here. I promise not to disappoint.
First a little history on African spice: It is a blend used in many African countries, and the spices vary, depending on the country. It typically is a mix of hot spices like red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper and curry.
My husband watched his roommate pair the unlikely ingredients with a small sense of wonder and a hearty amount of doubt. But when he tasted the dish, he was hooked.
His roommate was kind enough to show him the recipe. My husband, in turn, shared it with me.
It’s been a staple in our home ever since.
Our kids loved it growing up. Still do. Kids love peanut butter so there’s no big surprise in that.
Peanut butter stew sounds, well, weird to most people, so I don’t often plan to serve it to guests. But, as luck would have it, I’ve served it to many family visitors over the years. It seems like every time I make peanut butter stew, someone unexpectedly drops by at the last minute to share our meal.
And, although we’ve seen lots of raised eyebrows, wrinkled noses and more than a little hesitation at the first bite, just about everyone has loved it. It’s different enough to get peoples’ attention and tasty enough to keep it.
We’ve been fortunate to share peanut butter stew with many of our kids’ friends, an exchange student from Pakistan and our parents. My dad, at age 80, couldn’t get enough of it.
Last weekend our son-in-law unexpectedly brought his brother for a visit at suppertime. Guess what was simmering on the stove?
I think his brother was probably a little skeptical at first, but he was a good sport and dished himself up a small plateful. He took a hesitant first bite, which was followed quickly by a second.
And just like that I had another convert.
Sharing food is such a wondrous yet easy, generous yet appreciated, welcoming yet heart-warming gesture. Food is love and sharing food is sharing love.
When I shared the love last weekend, the realization hit me. I don’t need guests in my kitchen to share the love. I can do it in black in white, right here.
So, please consider yourself my guest today. I’d welcome the chance to sit across the table from you and share a plate of peanut butter stew in person, but here’s the next best thing: sharing the recipe. I’ve altered it a bit over the years, but it remains basically the same. Straight from Africa.
Peanut butter stew
2 pounds bone-in chicken (I like thighs)
Water to cover chicken in a large pot
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 medium onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, sliced
2 large tomatoes, dices (or a 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes)
Cayenne pepper to taste (Start with a small dose. You can always make it hotter.)
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
Curry powder to taste
1 teaspoon crushed garlic (about 3 cloves)
1 teaspoon white pepper (or black if you don’t have white)
2 cups creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup chopped green onions
Place chicken, water and salt in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Simmer for at least 90 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside. Skim fat from surface of water/broth. Pour broth through a strainer to remove errant bones, meat, etc. Return liquid to pot and place back on the stove.
Add onion, celery and tomatoes to broth. Remove chicken from the bone, chop meat and add to liquid. Discard bones and skin. Add cayenne, crushed red pepper, curry powder, garlic and white pepper. Simmer to combine flavors, at least 30 minutes — more is better. Add peanut butter and stir until creamy. Add water, if needed, to get to the thickness you desire. Taste and add salt if needed. Simmer until boiling and reduce heat. 10 minutes before serving add green onions. Serve over rice (or pasta in a pinch).
Enjoy and let me know what you think!
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.