Friday, January 7, 2011

African Peanut Soup

I figured I should follow up the roasted chicken post with not just any old chicken soup, but an amazing chicken soup that represents not simply comfort but a spirit of adventure mixed in as well. A soup full of forward thinking combinations, a melting pot of both familiar tastes as well as an uncharted territory of flavors for a new year. I'm not trying to sound like an Amy Tan novel, just trying to say in so many words that I was craving a combination of both old and new.
When I was 9, we took a family vacation to Colonial Williamsburg and naturally some of my fondest memories of this trip revolved around the food. We went in November, the air crisp, the smell of fall and fires and frying bacon all making me realize that autumn in other places is more than just the fleeting moment it is in South Texas. More importantly I discovered how wonderful soup can be, especially coming in from the cold. Complex chowders, bread bowls, soup that didn't have that tinny, too salty Campbell's taste. All amazement's I'd never experienced before. Here's also where I tasted my favorite, Peanut Soup.

Peanuts were used to feed the slaves, providing an efficient source of protein and nutrition. Originally from South America, peanuts came to North America by way of Portuguese traders, along with slaves, who brought with them indigenous African foods like yams, also used in this soup. And when all are combined together it is truly a melting pot of cultures and backgrounds in one delicious dish.

The Colonial Williamsburg recipe seems a bit childish now compared to the recipe I'm giving you below. It was basically cream, chicken stock, and creamy peanut butter simmered together. I've made it for Thanksgivings as an appetizer and while it's tasty, I can see how it appeals to a child's taste buds. Not to sound like some soup elitist but I wanted something a little braver.

And while I may be snowed in this weekend, may be single again with no immediate prospects, and may be hundreds of miles away from the place I truly call home, I know that I can curl up on my couch, take in warming spoonfuls of this soup and dream of all the adventures to come.

African Peanut Soup
Adapted from Simply Recipes

2 lbs chicken legs
2 /12 Tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow or white onion, chopped
1/2 c. carrots chopped
2 tsp ginger
6 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 16-oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 quart chicken stock
1 c. peanut butter
1 c. roasted peanuts
1 Tbs. ground coriander
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 ½ tsp. aji paste*- or cayenne to taste if you can’t find
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro

*Aji is a South American pepper, often used in Peruvian cooking. I thought it would be a fitting substitute for cayenne as it is just as spicy but contains more depth.

1. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot set over medium-high heat. Salt the chicken pieces well, pat them dry and brown them in the oil. Don't crowd the pot, so do this in batches. Set the chicken pieces aside as they brown.

2. Sauté the onions and carrots in the oil for 5 minutes, stirring often and scraping any browned bits off the bottom of the pot. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté another 1-2 minutes, then add the sweet potatoes and stir well to combine.

3. Add the chicken, chicken broth, crushed tomatoes, peanut butter, peanuts, coriander, smoked paprika and aji and stir well to combine. Bring to a simmer and taste for salt, adding more if needed. Cover the pot and simmer for 90 minutes (check after an hour), or until the chicken meat easily falls off the bone and the sweet potatoes are tender.

4. Remove the chicken pieces and set them in a bowl to cool, until cool enough to touch. Remove and discard the skin if you want, or chop it and put it back into the pot. Shred the meat off the bones and put the meat back in the pot.

5. Adjust the seasonings for salt and pepper. Stir in the cilantro and serve.

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