149 - West African Peanut Stew (Maafe)

149 - West African Peanut Stew (Maafe)

Hi. I’m Jon. And this is my website.

Normally, this starts a lot more boisterously. A lot of alliteration, rapid-fire quips and references, jokes. A three-ring linguistic circus. But that’s not what we’re doing today. Today, we’re talking about a soup, and a boy. I’m sorry, if this isn’t what you wanted. But I think it might be illuminating.

 

And Introducing …Myself

I want to apologize, first.  I don’t know how informational this will be. A couple month ago, when my dad passed, I made a Key Lime Pie post, as a sort of tribute to him. A way to record his memory. It was an important post to me, so I threw out all the details and history of the dish for another week or two. What I hope to talk about today is…almost on the same level of emotional importance. So I might have to do that again.  Also, today might not be very funny. Sorry.

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Except for Caption Jon. He’ll continue being his special brand of ‘not really funny, but at least funny-shaped’ humor.
Like a depressed clown!

I’m Jon, by the way. And I know I said that already, but I doubt you heard it correctly. Not Jon O’Guin. Not Jonathan. Jon. What the hell does that mean? Good question.

It means, in as much as I can, I have stripped off the various mental masks I wear. And I wanted to talk about those masks, and taking them off, before I talked about this soup, because they’re connected, in a small and silly way.

I tried to tackle this before, in the fried zucchini blossom post, where I referenced my mental “masks” as a way to protect myself from stressors. And that’s close to right, but it fails on two points: firstly, it depicts the ‘masks’ as reactive and defensive measures, which isn’t entirely right. And the second is that, well, if that definition were true, then I treat EVERYTHING as a stressor.

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It’s a lovely sunset. I just wish it didn’t make me feel personally attacked.”

The truth is the ‘masks’ are better thought of as…’mental frameworks’? ‘Roles’?  They help me deal with situations in which ‘the real me’ wouldn’t be ‘useful’. And if that sounds self-deprecating, I think the easiest way to explain is by the counter-example:

 Just plain Jon, the framework and persona I think of as “myself” is not an easy man to meet. I really only show up around 3-4 in the morning, after the majority of the party has gone home or passed out, and yes, it almost always has to be a party. I walk slowly, and quietly, as I tidy the house a little, and speak in a low tone, voice rumbling from the bottom of my throat in a sort of almost murmur.  I chuckle about the misadventures of the evening, of the poor choices made. I look on those who didn’t make it this far with a paternalistic mixture of pride, joy, and amusement. I like to sit at a bare table with a bottle, after the mess is mostly contained, and talk with whoever’s left, until all parties are completely ready to call it a night. I’m still funny, but a lot of my…not ‘intelligence’, but his ‘pretense of intellect’, falls off. I speak warmly, but frankly, in ways I wouldn’t during the day, normally by pointing out the number of social issues or events that are frustrating me, or almost drove me to skip the party in question, and I always seem a little sad about it all.

That guy is nice to be, and is, to my understanding, a nice guy to be around. Friendly open, and  helpful. But he’s ALWAYS that mixture of tired, sad, and quiet. The world is a complicated and constantly-moving place that demands so much, social relationships can be confusing messes of conflicting emotions and goals, and the way he protects himself from those things is he puts on the masks. And you’ll note the switched pronouns. “Jon” is hiding now, a mental mask thrown up, because his self-description sounds like a wise old cowhand from a fucking Louis L’Amour book. (Oh, look, a sudden literary reference. Welcome back, ‘pretense of intellect’) And also because he knows that TALKING about the shit you’re unwilling to talk about is a catch-22 where no one ends up happy. So he brought in me, Author Jon.

And that’s because of an assortment of things, what can be most easily explained by an evident truth hidden in that description of the ‘real me’: That fucker would be utterly USELESS in a game of Basketball.

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We’re talking “only a little worse than Bill Murray” useless.

“Moving quietly and slowly’, ‘speaking softly’ and ‘tidying up’ are all great traits in a roommate, but not in a team-mate for a game that needs speed, power, and quick reflexes. Which, to be fair, I was only ever REALLY bringing one of those to the game, but the point is there: “Athlete Jon” is not there to ‘protect’ me from the terrible stress of playing sports with my friends: he’s a way of thinking, moving, and acting that makes it easier to participate and have fun. However, in my mind, I’m always mildly amused at HOW differently I can bring myself to act in certain situations, so I call these frameworks ‘masks’ or “other me’s”, so I can make jokes at my own expense.

For instance, I have only asked 2 women for their phone numbers with direct romantic intent in my life. BOTH times, it was because someone offered/bet Drunk Jon a drink he wasn’t brave enough. And he/I GOT both numbers, because if I’m going to risk my reputation for a beer, I’m going to do so THOROUGHLY.

 I told you all of that for three reasons: Firstly, because as I said earlier, it’s fundamental to understanding why I care about today’s dish, and the emotions connected with it. Secondly, because the stew itself is kind of sparse on details, so I needed to write about something, and I’ve often considered where I’d finally have this discussion on the site. And thirdly…as a gift. These are the holidays, a time where hopefully we can turn off some of our cynicism, our personal protections, and open ourselves up to share with each other.  This is me doing that. To paraphrase Patrick Rothfuss, I have given you a part of my language, unfolded to you some of the secret meanings of my words, so that when I speak, there is understanding on both sides.

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Which reminds me. WHERE’S THE NEXT BOOK, PAT?"!

There is another reason, because I am ever a liar when it comes to sorrows: because the next part is somewhat sad, and I wanted something nice to balance it.

Warming to the Heart

Todays recipe is one that I call “Maafe”, or “Ma’afe”. It has other names, but that’s the one I learned. It’s a dish that originated in West Africa, making one of the three core foods of West Africa, alongside Jollof Rice. It’s made from a sauce or paste out of groundnuts (what we call Peanuts), vegetables, and…liquid, really. You can add meat if you want, but it can also be made without it. It’s like “chowder” in that regard. Sure, most chowders have clams, but some are based on chicken, or bacon, or just corn and potatoes, or other seafood like salmon and shrimp. And just like a Chowder, and Jollof rice, how it’s served depends a lot on who’s serving it, with different regions and families using different ingredients.

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I’m sure that by using these specific spices I have either unwittingly joined a side in a war I don’t understand, or created an abomination that will be hunted from the earth.

I first encountered it in Central Market, a supermarket I’ve actually referenced multiple times on the site before, but never invoked by name. The ONLY time it’s been used on the site before today was by Nathan in his Shellfish post.  Nate’s description of the store, “Like a Whole Foods, but cooler”, is most of what you need to know. Central Market has a huge produce section, a seafood section that refuses to carry fresh meats that can’t be farmed sustainably, and is where I bought the Marrow Bones, JJ got his Octopus, where Nate and I ate Spam Musubi and where I got the Sunchokes and Plantains.

And if you clicked the Sunchoke and Plantain link there, you may understand why this section is going to be sad. See, Central Market is about a 30 minute drive without traffic from my house, which is, to my family, an obscene length of time to be driving to get groceries. When I was younger, Central Market is a a store we would go to maybe once a YEAR for something specific we couldn’t get at the 10-20 closer super-markets. But the thing is….it’s only two blocks from my father’s oncologist’s office.  

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Cancer is rarely so convenient.

Central Market became a part of my semi-daily routine while my father fought his cancer last summer. And part of that routine was buying two containers of soup. One for lunch when I get home, and  one for lunch/dinner later. And the vast majority of the time, I got a container of Maafe, and a container of Thai Coconut Curry Soup.

And this arcs back to that previous emotionally honest section: we’d get home from Dad’s chemo, he’d go take a nap or watch TV in bed, and I’d go down to my room and eat this soup. And I mean that Jon would do it. Tired, sad, quiet Jon. I’d pop on some Youtube show, and I’d eat a bowl of warm stew.

Dad went on hospice care this March. He passed in May. Since then, I think I’ve only gone to Central Market once in the last 6 months. So it’s been a while since I had a cup of it. And as the first set of holidays without my dad draw nearer, I find myself again tired, quiet, and sad. And so I figured I’d try and make at home what resonated with me there.

Peanut Soup for the Soul

Luckily, the recipe for this version of Maafe, which is different than the one I eat from Central Market, is a relatively easy form of what I call a “dump recipe”, which, if you’ll recall, means that the only real steps to the recipe are “Dump this batch of ingredients into the pot. Wait. Dump the next batch in. Wait. Repeat until done.”

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“Are we done yet?”
”Does that look like soup?”
”No.”
”Then no”

As I mentioned earlier, the recipe for Maafe is a very varied topic. So I feel fine telling you that I didn’t exactly follow the recipe that I was using , nor should you feel bound to exactly follow mine. The original was served with quinoa, and used cilantro instead of parsley. Nate doesn’t eat cilantro, so I swapped that one out, and I was already making a starch for the side, so we didn’t need quinoa. But you can add meat, change out the squash (I know for a fact that the Central Market version uses Sweet Potato in that role, I just used a butternut squash recipe because it felt a touch more seasonal), do whatever to make it your own. Heck, if you don’t add meat and use vegetable broth, this is a vegan stew, but it’s just 1-2 ingredients away from being whatever protein you want.

So, again, it’s a relatively simple process. You toss your harder vegetables (your onions, peppers, and squash) into the pot to sauté. Cutting the squash was a bit of a pain: I used pre-cut Costco squash, which has a bit of a ‘slime’ to it, from where the cut pieces have jostled against one another in transit, which made it hard to cut the two cups needed.

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The onion, on the other hand, was all too easy to destroy.

Once they’re all a little golden and softened, you hit it with the aromatics, the spices, ginger, garlic and jalapeño. I added a teaspoon of curry powder here, because I liked it so much in the mug Maafe. Then you hit it with coconut milk, tomatoes, and DEFINITELY THE VEGETABLE BROTH, because you specifically used vegetable oil to sauté the squash and onions to keep the recipe vegan, and CERTAINLY didn’t forget and use Chicken Broth.

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You’re built on a broth of lies.

At this point, we get EXTRA easy: once the liquid’s in, we barely even need to STIR when adding our next dump batch of ingredients. Garbanzo beans and peanut butter (yeah, weirdly there’s not MUCH peanut butter in Peanut Stew) go in, and then the greens go in to wilt a little. Once the chicke-VEGETABLE broth goes in, you’ve got about half an hour until the soup itself is done.

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“Are we done now?”
”Does it look like soup?”
”Yes.”
”Then yes”

It’s not exactly the soup I like. It’s a touch thinner, a little lighter, and the squash is a notably different taste than the sweet potato. But it’s close, it’s warm, and it’s honestly pretty good. A little tweaking of the spices, maybe a little more peanut butter, and I think it’ll be a real show-stopper.

As ever, we couldn’t do what we do without the support of our wonderful Patrons at Patreon.com. They’re what makes the site as good as it is, and by the end of next year will likely have made it demonstrably better. Consider giving as little a $1 a month to help us make posts like this, and other, happier and funnier ones, throughout the year. Or you can support the site by liking our Facebook page, sharing our posts, and otherwise interacting with us through social media. Either way, from Jon, Author Jon, and all the other masks, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and I don’t know why I’m being so effusive, I have another one of these before the actual holiday.  Unless I take Christmas eve off…

THURSDAY: IT’S THE HOLIDAY HEARD AROUND THE WORLD. HOW DIFFERENT CULTURES HANDLE CHRISTMAS, WITH A FOCUS ON THE CULINARY SIDE OF THINGS, OF COURSE.

MONDAY: IF I DON’T HAVE A HOLIDAY INTERMISSION, THEN I’LL BRING YOU A CHEESEY, EGGY PASTRY THAT’S A GREAT CHRISTMAS DAY BREAKFAST, LUNCH, OR DINNER, IN SAVORY DUTCH PANCAKE.

 

RECIPE

West African Peanut Stew

Serves: 6

 

Ingredients

2 cups Butternut Squash, peeled and diced into small cubes

1 large Red Bell Pepper, diced

1 small Yellow Onion, finely diced

1 Can (14oz) Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes

1 Jalapeno, seeded and diced

2-3 cloves of Garlic, minced

2-3 teaspoons Fresh Ginger, minced

½ teaspoon Coriander (crushed)

½ teaspoon Cinnamon

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 can Garbanzo Beans, Drained and Rinsed

1 can (14oz) Coconut Milk

1 c of water, chicken broth, or vegetable broth, as you prefer

½ cup Smooth Peanut Butter

1 bunch Spinach, washed and shredded

1 handful Fresh Parsley, chopped

¼ cup Peanuts, roughly chopped

 

Preparation.

1.       In a heavy soup pot, sauté the onion, red bell pepper and squash over medium heat until slightly golden, about 5-10 minutes. Add the  ginger, garlic, jalapeno, turmeric, coriander and cinnamon, sauté for about 1 minute.

2.       Add the coconut milk, canned tomatoes and water/ broth. Bring just to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer (covered) just until the squash is tender, roughly 20 minutes.

3.       Then add the garbanzo beans and peanut butter and simmer for a couple minutes. Then add the fresh parsley and spinach and simmer a couple minutes longer until spinach reaches your desired texture.

4.       Portion into bowls and top with crushed peanuts.