Growing up in the Deep South, peanuts and peanutty foods were part of my scenery, rather like chips are here in Scotland, or good bread is in France. At its most basic is the peanut butter and jelly sandwich: always on white bread and usually with wobbly Concord grape jelly oozing out of the sides. This sandwich is an everyman food that literally everyone, whether rich or poor, black or white, Democrat or Republican, is happy to eat. A good honest sandwich. Real sweet-tooths might sub the jelly for marshmallow Fluff (the Fluffernutter), but neither is anything without a solid slather of peanut butter.
It is thought that this all-American mini-meal was born from the WW2 US Army ration packs, where each man got new-fangled white sliced bread, some grape jelly (itself mass produced for those serving in WW1) and a jar of naturally protein-rich peanut butter. Even some of our presidents were involved in peanut growing: Thomas Jefferson cultivated them at Monticello, Jimmy Carter at his family farm in Georgia, and it is said that our first president, George Washington, enjoyed a peanut soup not a million miles from the one I am posting today. A similar soup to President Washington’s is served all over the state of Virginia, and is a constant on the menus in historic Williamsburg.
There are peanutty pleasures beyond the basic sandwich, although internally embellished with a plain salty potato chip – or three – the PB & J was quite the treat in my day. But if you were lucky, and your mother was a baker, then some really decadent treats could be yours for the price of cleaning your room.
The apogee for me is the peanut butter cookie, which is basically butter, flour, peanut butter and sugar, leavening, vanilla and an egg. In my house these would be made in massive batches, ostensibly for a bake sale or for a poorly church member, but always enough to fill the battered enamel Christmas cake tin that we used year-round, and smelled faintly of rum. You can keep your Girl Scout Do-Si-Dos, and your Nutter Butters, this is THE peanut butter cookie to end all peanut butter cookies. The best bit as a kid was getting to roll the sticky, sweet dough into balls, roll the balls in yet more sugar, then pressing them onto the cookie sheet with a fork, criss-cross style. Basically multiple opportunities to lick the delicious raw dough – and incur the wrath of the safety police, aka my mother: “That’s disgusting. No one wants your germs. And there’s more in you than on the tray.”
Another peanutty delight is something that sounds hazardous and disgusting to many non-Southerners: the boiled peanut. Ah, the boiled peanut. That salty legumous treat, dispensed from steaming, dubious-looking drums at roadside stands, and served en-shell in styrofoam cups. The only snack where spitting is not only allowed, but encouraged. Bless him, Mr A is a brave soul, but the first time I introduced him to this southern delicacy he thought it was some kind of joke natives play on foreigners. He really thought this was some sort of initiation rite, a kind of culinary Deliverance. His first visit to Florida to meet my folks came during peanut season and, as is the norm, there were plenty of peanut shacks and trailers advertising their singular snacks on homemade, usually misspelled, signs. I pulled over to one in my car and asked my then-fiance to do the honours of getting us some peanuts. His pupils dilated in what I now know was fear, but still with only the smallest of hesitations he procured a scalding pot of shell-on peanuts, the dimpled goobers cowering in an evil-looking brine (his probable view). Delighted, I plucked one from the pot and, with a manicured hand (this was a looong time ago, when I had time for that level of grooming) plucked a peanut from within, and proceeded to crack it open with my teeth. Classy, or what? He soon got the idea and we both polished off the pot while leaning on my little Mazda 323. Those were the days. I haven’t had these peanuts in years, but I can almost conjure up their soft, saline nuttiness.
What Mr A had grown up eating, or rather most probably slurping, was a stew something like this. He spent his formative years in Zambia, which is in southern Africa. And although these kind of stews are more common in West African countries, like Mali and Senegal, my mother-in-law Ann cooked something not dissimilar with whatever was available, including peanuts, yams and scrawny market chickens. Most groundnut stews will be made with chicken and staple items like yams, peanuts, tomatoes, spices and whatever is good at the market, like okra and greens. It is a delicious hodgepodge of a stew combining foods that were at various points in time either ‘slave food’ (peanuts, peas, yams, greens), or travelled on slave ships (the spices). A sad and shameful backstory but one that has been absorbed and transformed by the peoples who make and eat groundnut stew. Traditionally it is served with mealy meal (rather like polenta), millet, sorghum or a sticky starchy porridge that you roll into balls called fufu. Rice, quinoa and even rough country bread are also good.
I have been making seasonal variations of this recipe for a very long time – over 20 years. And I have recently introduced it with thumbs up all round to my Nutrition Workshops at the Maggies Cancer Caring Centre in Edinburgh. I am sure it was something I had tried somewhere, or read about, but it is basically my vegan, and American, version of a very African dish. The photos show a summer version, with aubergines, fresh tomatoes and borlotti beans. This time of year I use black eye peas. This thick, almost satay-like, vegetable-heavy stew welcomes any legume or bean, but I like black eye peas best: partly to do with the whole New Years’ tradition thing, But mostly because their special creaminess is perfect here, with the sweet-savoury flavours that leap from the pot and fill the house with warm spice. We will be having this with American friends on New Years’ Day and I will serve it with hot sauce-doused kale and a big skillet of cornbread. And no Mark, I won’t forget the dime for luck!
Although this is a long way from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the groundnut stew has become a staple winter warmer here at food to glow. And like the PB and J, it tastes great with a few salted crisps!
Similar recipe: Hoppin’ John For New Year’s Day Luck Southern Style
West African Groundnut Stew
Other traditional garnishes are chopped hard-boiled egg, shredded lettuce, sliced tropical fruit (e.g. banana, mango, pineapple), parsley, chutney and chopped tomato (perhaps not all at once though).
20 thoughts on “Warmly Spiced Peanut, Sweet Potato and Black Eye Pea Stew (Groundnut Stew)”
Brought back Zambian memories. It took me ages to discover that rather than shelling raw peanuts, roasting and then grinding them for my groundnut stew if was a lot easier to use peanut butter.
A Happy New year to you and yours
Lovely to hear from you Daphne. I hope it didn’t take long to cotton on to peanut butter over roasting and grinding, because that sounds a right palaver! All the best to you and your family in 2013. I hope you can smell the groundnut stew stew over in greater Glasgow!
We found an African cookbook with this recipe (in Tokyo of all places), and have tried a few variations on groundnut stew over the years. Mine has never managed to be as photogenic or inviting as yours, and always sat dull brown on the plate, not advertising its tastiness (and never felt like something we could serve to company). You’ve managed to make this look as good as I know it to be. I’ll need add “improve plating” to my list of New Year’s resolutions … think your blog will be an invaluable resource there.
If you miss your boiled peanuts, you might want to try making Chinese braised peanuts – which are placed on the table at the same time as the menus in Chinese restaurants in Southeast Asia. They are braised with soy sauce, sugar, salt, star anise and cinnamon, and served shelled (so there’s no spitting, which is very un-Chinese now that I think of it). I’ve never seen anyone turn their nose up at them.
J-F those peanuts sound fabulous! I will have to investigate that for sure. I don’t know about my plating skills. Other blogs are way better (I’m not indulging in false modesty here) so I would consult more widely for styling tips! But thanks for the vote of confidence 😀
This sounds perfect! I never used peanut butter for groundnut stew ill HAVE to try this!
If you usually do the roasting and grinding peanuts thing like Daphne here in the comments section then the peanut butter ‘trick’ is a time-saver. I buy Whole Earth brand I can get it no added sugar and salt, and just adjust the balance myself with a little brown sugar if needs be. Have a Happy New Year
Terrific post – learnt so much from it. Love the story about spitting peanuts with Mr A. My Canadian friend is staying right now and has bought a jar of peanut butter today – much to the disgust of my family – however I do like it in satay so there’s hope for me with this delicious sounding stew. Happy new Year Kellie
Gosh Sally with all of your delicious cooking you probably don’t need any new recipes, but I do think for peanut butter novices this is quite a good one as it isn’t sticky (which is a big objection for pb detractors) and you can be quite subtle with the amount. See what your Canadian friend thinks 😀 I have literally just made the batch we will enjoy tomorrow, and will make the cornbread and sauteed chilli and garlic kale just before serving. What are you having for New Years Day? Do you have any traditions? Have a good one tomorrow, and a terrific 2013.
This sounds great -can’t wait to make it!. Happy New Year Kellie
Thank you Linda. A great pot of it is cooling down on the hob to be eaten tomorrow. Have a Happy New Year. Will we see you out running on the 1st, I wonder?
STUNNING photos and a lovely Deep South recipe…..I love it Kellie! I just popped by to wish you a very Happy New Year! Karen xxxx
That looks amazing!
Happy New Year Kellie! This is right up my street and reminds me that I need to discover more African cuisine this year and follow up on your Georgian recomenndation too, so much food, so little time, can’t wait! Here’s to a happy, healthy and delicious 2013! x
Reblogged this on 0ReBlog0.
This looks delicious. Have you tried Hugh Fernley Whitingstalls Butternut and Nut Butter soup, sooo good
No I haven’t but that combo sounds divine. Thanks for the recommendation 🙂 And thanks for commenting