Ghana: Peanut Stew
I am very passionate about the cultures of the world. I am a religious follower of the Eurovision Song Contest (as those that follow me on Twitter can attest to). I majored in international studies in college. I try to make sure artists and authors from around the world are in my music and home libraries. But I’m always cognizant that I don’t know everything, and that there are infinite ways to expand my knowledge of the world. One area that is lacking in my music, food, and general cultural knowledge is Africa. I looked at a map of the world and realized not only was my #GentGoesGlobal series Euro-centric, but I had no idea where to start expanding into Africa. Then I discovered peanut stew.
Like many dishes in West Africa, peanut stew is contested in where it comes from. After doing a lot of research, I ended up deciding to place it with Ghana, as most variants found online come from Ghanian bloggers. What drew me to this recipe is that it’s perfect for vegetarians and vegans. When you look at the cuisines of the world – from American to Eastern European to Brazilian – it can be easy to see how meat-heavy they are. I thought the same of African food. I assumed chicken and goat would be found in almost everything. And while there are plenty of recipes in the cuisine for meat-lovers, West African food is fantastic for vegetarians. Featuring nutrient-rich greens, hearty vegetables like sweet potato, and filling carbs like fufu, you can easily fill up on a West African meal without touching an animal.
Something that surprised me in my research is that peanuts – a staple food in both West Africa and the Southern US – don’t originate in either of those places. Instead, they were brought to West Africa by European slave traders from South America, then in turn brought via the slave trade to North America. Interesting how one of the most heinous institutions in human history is responsible for so much agricultural spread. Peanuts (or groundnuts, as they are often called) were first introduced to the Gold Coast in the late 17th century. They quickly became a reliable source of protein and fat, and are used in soups, stews, and sauces.
For today’s peanut stew, we are using peanut butter to thicken and flavor our dish. This is a substitution for a ground peanut paste that would be used traditionally. As such, it’s best to use natural, unsweetened peanut butter, so you can get as authentic of a flavor as possible. You can add whichever vegetables you want, such as sweet potatoes, eggplant, and okra. As okra is out of season right now, I stuck to sweet potatoes, and skipped the eggplant because my husband isn’t a fan. I am excited, however, to make this recipe next summer when the okra starts coming up again, because I really think it would add a silkiness to the stew like it does my Okra Curry. As for the greens that you use, most recipes I found online suggested collards or kale. I used turnip greens because that’s what I had on hand, but any of them that you prefer would be fine (you can also omit them, but I love the punch of color and nutrients that they add).
As for spice, there are a wide variety of spice levels you can use with this dish. I used a single seeded jalapeño, which didn’t provide much heat at all, but you can use a hotter pepper or finish your dish with hot sauce at the end. Since I like my food hotter than my husband, I seasoned my portion with a simple jalapeño sauce I had that added a great acidity that cut through the fat of the peanut butter. I recommend it this way of serving it!
I’m having a bit of trouble finding reliable research for the history of my #GentGoesGlobal recipes (aka articles not behind academic paywalls and information not just from other blogs). So for this dish I turned to my local library and checked out The Ghana Cookbook by Fran Osseo-Asare and Barbara Baëta. Fran is a food writer and historian who grew up in America and married a Ghanaian man, spending the years since then living and studying in both countries. Barbara is one of the most renowned chefs in West Africa and a master of her craft. As the owner of the foremost Ghanaian catering company (Flair Catering Services), she has served meals to heads of state and dignitaries from all over the world, and teaches the next generation of Ghanaian chefs at her cooking school.
Together, these two women have written a beautiful book that introduced me to a lot of recipes from Ghana. Helpfully, Barbara has included a list of staple foods that you need to cook Ghanaian food, and Fran has provided substitutions easily available for those living in North America. She has also noted when ingredients cannot be replicated. For example, those without access to yam flour to make fufu can use potato starch, but dried hibiscus flowers used in teas can’t be replaced. I recommend this book to anyone looking to explore more Ghanaian food, as it is an excellent companion.
I hope that you enjoy this comforting peanut stew recipe. It was a joy to make and a joy to eat, and now the joy comes in sharing it with you. Serve it over rice, fufu, or flatbread, and give thanks for those that you made it for. I’m grateful to Barbara Baëta and all of the bloggers I researched for sharing their culture with me, and I look forward to learning more about African cuisines. Do you have a country in Africa you’d like me to explore? How about elsewhere in the world? I’ve got a list of suggestions I can’t wait to share with you, but it will have to wait. For now, we feast.
Here’s to good drinking, great eating, and even better living!
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 yellow onion (diced)
- 3 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1/2 Tbsp ground ginger (or 1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger)
- 1 jalapeño (diced; use another pepper if you prefer it hotter)
- 3-4 cups vegetable stock
- 1/2-1 cup natural style peanut butter (the more peanut butter you use, the thicker your stew)
- 2 sweet potatoes (cut into cubes)
- 2 cups greens of choice (I used turnip greens, but kale or collards work too)
- 1 large tomato (diced)
- 1/2 cup crushed peanuts
- hot sauce
- rice, fufu, or flatbread
- Heat the oil over medium-high in a large dutch oven. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic, ginger, and pepper and sauté for about a minute. Add the sweet potato, then the vegetable stock, and bring to a simmer.
- Put the peanut butter in a saucepan. When the soup starts bubbling, remove 2 cups of the broth and add to the peanut butter. Set over a medium heat and stir constantly, until thoroughly mixed (the oil of the peanut butter should separate and come to the top of the mixture). Add the mixture back to the dutch oven and stir to combine.
- Cover the pot and let the stew simmer on medium for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and stir in the greens and tomato. Let simmer for 10 minutes more, until the flavors are blended and the stew has thickened. Serve over your carb of choice, and garnish with crushed peanuts and hot sauce. Enjoy!