An admittedly bold title for a stew, coming from someone who’s never been anywhere near West Africa.
I really have no good explanation for why I felt it fitting to deem this recipe “West African.” Like not even “North African” or “East African.” Nope, definitely West. However, after coming up with the idea, making it, eating it, and judging it good enough to post on the blog, I decided to ask Google for some insight on what people actually eat in West Africa.
Turns out, I’m really not so far off! Stews, served over grains of some sort, are a dietary staple. “Groundnut Stew” is a traditional dish, made from a blend of peanuts and spices. Tomatoes, onions, and chili peppers serve as the base for a wide range of recipes, not unlike the Spanish sofrito or French mirepoix. Pumpkin and cassava, both similar to the sweet potato, are popular. Coriander and ginger are predominantly used spices, and while meat is not a staple of the cuisine, chicken and seafood are the most frequently consumed animal products.
At the elementary school I attended, every year the teachers would devote the three weeks between the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks to studying a special topic as an entire school. Regular classes were held in the mornings, and the afternoons were devoted to various electives from which the students could choose. One year’s theme was “Africa” and I vaguely recall cooking a peanut stew in the school’s dining hall alongside my fellow seven-year-olds. I just remember thinking it was totally bonkers to put peanut butter in soup, but I also remember loving it.
So sad that no second grader in America will ever put peanut butter in soup at school again. (See last line of this post…)
Strange how the craving for a rich stew like this hit me over fifteen years later! In addition to tomatoes and onions, I use the familiar soup ingredients carrots and celery. Palm oil is the most typically used fat in West Africa, but the sweetness coconut oil provides can’t be beat. Chicken and sweet potatoes make for a hearty dish full of protein and fiber. Garlic, ginger, coriander, and allspice are my spices of choice, and the coconut milk lends a touch of creaminess to mellow out all the unique flavors. Finally, a touch of lime and cilantro brighten up the stew. The result is a filling dinner, perfect in a bowl on it’s own, or even better spooned over grains and served with a side of flatbread.
So there you have it. My Californian version of West African cuisine. I just thought “West African Chicken, Sweet Potato, & Peanut Stew” sounded better than “West African Stew a la Twenty-Something Middle-Class, American White Girl.”
West African Chicken, Sweet Potato, & Peanut Stew
Yields 6-8 servings
A rich, thick, and uniquely flavored stew, subtly spiced with a hint of sweetness. High in protein and nutrient dense.
- 2 Tbs. coconut oil, divided
- 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken, breasts and/or thighs, diced large
- Salt & pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup diced onion (1/2 of a large onion)
- 1/2 cup diced carrot (1 large carrot)
- 1/4 cup diced celery (1 stalk)
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 Tbs. fresh ginger, finely minced or grated
- 1 tsp. ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp. allspice
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne (optional)*
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 (14.5oz) can diced tomatoes
- 1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces
- 3-4 Tbs. coconut palm sugar (or brown sugar)
- 6 Tbs. (96g) all-natural peanut butter*
- 3/4 cup coconut milk*
- 1 Tbs. lime juice
- 2 Tbs. fresh cilantro, minced
- Brown rice, chopped peanuts, and additional cilantro for serving, if desired
Heat one tablespoon of coconut oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the pot. Brown the chicken pieces, stirring occasionally until all sides are golden. Transfer to a plate. It’s okay if the chicken is not entirely cooked through, as it will finish cooking in the stew.
Add the remaining coconut oil to the pan. Sauté the onions, carrots, and celery for 4-5 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic, ginger, coriander, allspice, cayenne (if using), and a bit of salt and pepper. How much salt you add will depend on the brands of peanut butter and tomatoes you use, so start light, adding more at the end if needed. Stir for a minute until the mixture is fragrant.
Pour in the broth, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes. Add 3 teaspoons of coconut palm sugar, reserving the last teaspoon for the end if you decide the stew needs more sweetness. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Once it just reaches a boil, turn down the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 10-12 minutes, until the sweet potatoes can be pierced with a fork, but are not yet completely tender.
Stir in the peanut butter. Cover the pot once more and simmer for 5-7 minutes longer. Remove the lid and stir in the coconut milk, lime juice, and cilantro. Season with additional salt, pepper, and another teaspoon of coconut palm sugar, if desired.
Cover the pot and turn off the heat. Allow the stew to sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.
Serve alone, spooned over rice, or with a side of flatbread. Sprinkle chopped peanuts and cilantro over the top. Like most stews, this tastes best after a day in the fridge, so it’s a great make-ahead recipe!
*I rarely like spicy food, so I did not add cayenne. However after eating this stew, I could tell it’s the kind of thing a lot of people might like with added heat. So if that’s you, try it out and let me know how it was!
*Save the Jif, Skippy, and other shelf-stable peanut butter brands for baking. You need the all-natural kind in this recipe, preferably with no added sweeteners. Make sure you stir it well before adding it to the stew. Creamy or crunchy are both great.
*Use the canned coconut milk sold in the Asian section of the grocery store. Full-fat is preferred, but lite would probably be okay. The coconut milk sold in cartons alongside the almond and soy milks isn’t the same, and won’t do your stew any favors.