I have a list of hard-to-acquire cookbooks. Most are historic or out of print. but others are in print overseas and hard to find in the US. From time-to-time I’ll scour Alibris or Amazon, and my favorite is scouring the shelves at Goodwill or the local jumble. On my shortlist was one of the most beautiful treatises on modern African cooking, “The Groundnut Cookbook”, in print in the UK. Written by three Afro-Brits based on their popular London supper club, the cookbook is a tour of the west and east coasts of the Mother Continent. Well, after many thwarted attempts, I finally got my hot little hands on a brand new copy thanks to a UK bookshop that sells via Amazon. It is already splattered with coconut oil.
The very first recipe in the cookbook is for Groundnut Stew. Now, if you know anything about West African cuisine, you know that this is Soul Food 101. And just like any other soul food dish, every chef has their own version. I’ve had at least ten versions over the course of my life, and still have scrawled recipes on notecards from friends who shared their recipes. The nice thing about this stew is that you can take the basic recipe - which is chicken, peanut butter, chicken stock, chilis, and palm oil, and put whatever spin on it you fancy.
The basic Groundnut Cookbook recipe is one of the best I’ve ever tried. But I took the recipe and personalized it - adding American soul food spices as well as lime (a nod to the South Asian soul food of combining heat, peanuts, and citrus). This hearty stew is beautifully fragrant and has incredible depth of flavor, which is even better the next day. I prefer homemade or store ground peanut butter in this stew - if you don’t have access to fresh ground peanut butter you can use off-the-shelf, but reduce the amount in the recipe by half.
Serve this stew with fluffy rice or even better, with Jollof rice. My kids like it with sliced mango on the side, which sounds weird, but it is actually awesome. This recipe will serve 4-6 hungry folks.
8-10 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
Juice of two limes
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper (black or white)
2 teaspoons ground coriander
5 tablespoons canola oil
2 lime leaves
1 cayenne or habanero pepper, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
2 medium yellow onions, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup fresh ground peanut butter
Chopped cilantro and green onions for garnish
Dry the chicken pieces with paper towels and place in a large bowl. Pour over the lime juice, salt, pepper, and ground coriander, and toss to coat.
Heat three tablespoons of the oil in a large, heavy bottom pot over medium-high heat. Shake any excess moisture off the chicken, then fry the chicken in batches (in a single layer) until browned on all sides. Place browned chicken on a large plate and cover with foil.
Add the remaining oil to the pot. Lower the temperature to medium and add the onions. Caramelize the onions, stirring with a wooden spoon, until soft and slightly browned, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and stir a few times, then add the cayenne or habanero pepper and lime leaves. Stir to coat with oil and the vegetables, about one minute.
Add the tomato paste to the pot and stir once or twice, then add the chicken stock. Raise the temperature to medium-high, and scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen any stuck on bits. Stir in the peanut butter.
Add the chicken back to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook gently for 15-18 minutes, stirring occasionally. If it starts to dry out, add water as needed.
Remove the cayenne or habanero pepper and lime leaf, and garnish with the cilantro and green onions. Serve hot.