Many of us are familiar with at least some African cuisines. Moroccan, Algerian, and Tunisian from the north of Africa, and Ethiopian and Eritrean from the east have been popular in our country for years. But these days, the cuisines of Senegal and Ghana, in western Africa, are getting attention, too. Groundnuts, a.k.a. peanuts, are used widely in soups, stews, sweets, snacks, and spice mixes. Here, peanut butter flavors a smooth, refined first-course soup. Next, a piquant salad of black-eyed peas and fresh vegetables accompanies yassa, a dish of chicken or fish marinated in citrus and mustard and cooked with loads of browned onions.
WEST AFRICAN-STYLE PEANUT SOUP
Makes about 2½ quarts
The peanut butter imparts significant richness, so a little of this silky soup goes a long way. Peanut butter without sweeteners is best here.
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
Salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon pressed or grated garlic (about 5 medium cloves)
1 tablespoon minced or grated fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 small can (14.5 ounces) crushed, diced, or whole peeled tomatoes
¾ pound sweet potatoes, peeled and quartered; each quarter cut into thin slices (about 2½ cups)
¾ cup natural peanut butter
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
About ¼ cup roasted, salted peanuts, very finely crushed or chopped (see tip), for garnish
2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallion whites and greens (about 1 medium), for garnish
In a Dutch oven or large soup kettle over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, bell pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 4 minutes. Adjust the heat to medium-low, cover, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have released their juices, about 8 minutes. Adjust the heat to medium-high, add the garlic, ginger, and cayenne and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Add the broth, tomatoes, and sweet potato and bring to a strong simmer. Adjust the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the sweet potato pieces are very tender, about 25 minutes. Add the peanut butter.
In a blender or with an immersion blender, puree the mixture (working carefully and in batches if using a blender) until smooth and uniform. If you puree in a blender, you can achieve a smoother texture by straining the mixture before returning it to the pot. Add the brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and black pepper to taste and heat over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until soup is heated through. Adjust the seasoning with salt and black pepper if necessary. Serve at once, garnishing with sprinkles of crushed peanuts and scallions.
Very often the chicken is grilled, but in a nod to our locale and season, I cook it on the stovetop. In place of the olives that are usually added before serving, I use scallions for color and freshness. Serve with white rice.
1 tablespoon finely grated zest and 1/3 cup juice from 2 to 3 large limes
Salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons pressed or grated garlic (about 8 medium cloves)
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons minced, seeded Scotch bonnet or habanero chili pepper
(about 1 medium pepper), or more, to taste
3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 2½ to 3 pounds total), trimmed, rinsed, and dried
3 pounds yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced pole to pole (about 2½ quarts, lightly packed)
½ cup thinly sliced scallion whites and greens (about 3 large)
In a large nonreactive bowl, whisk the lime zest and juice and 1½ teaspoons salt. Add the garlic, mustard, chili pepper, 2 tablespoons oil, and 1½ teaspoons black pepper and whisk until uniform. Add the chicken, turn the pieces to coat thoroughly, cover, and refrigerate for at least 6 and up to 24 hours. Remove the chicken from the marinade and wipe off the pieces; reserve the marinade.
In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat remaining oil until shimmering. Add the chicken pieces, skin side down (do not crowd — work in batches if necessary), and cook, undisturbed, until skin is crisp and golden brown, about 3½ minutes. Turn the chicken and continue to cook, undisturbed, until second side is golden brown, about 3½ minutes longer, adjusting the heat if the fond becomes too dark. Transfer the chicken to a large plate and, if working in batches, repeat with remaining pieces. When the chicken is cool enough, remove and discard the skin if desired.
Off heat, spoon or pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pot and return it to medium-high heat. Add the onions, reserved marinade, and 1½ teaspoons salt and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to dissolve the fond, until the mixture reaches a strong simmer and the onions begin to release moisture and soften, about 8 to 10 minutes. Adjust the heat to medium and continue cooking, scraping the pot to dissolve the fond that will form periodically, every 8 to 10 minutes, until the onions are reduced, well browned, and sticky, about 30 minutes longer.
Add ½ cup water, adjust the heat to medium-high, and bring to a strong simmer, scraping the pot with a wooden spoon to dissolve the fond. Add the chicken with its accumulated juices, nestle the pieces into the onions, and return to a simmer. Adjust the heat to low, cover, and simmer gently until the chicken is cooked through and tender, about 35 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a platter, cover loosely with foil, and rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, taste the onions and adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper, if necessary. Add most of the scallions and stir to mix. Spoon onion mixture over and around the chicken, sprinkle with remaining scallions, and serve at once.
TIP: PULVERIZING PEANUTS
SENEGALESE-STYLE BLACK-EYED PEA SALAD (SALATU NIEBE)
Makes about 8 cups
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons minced, seeded Scotch bonnet or habanero chili pepper (about 1 medium pepper), or more or less, to taste
Salt and ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 (15.5-ounce) cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into ½-inch dice
1 medium red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into ½-inch dice
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved (or quartered if large)
1 cup thinly sliced scallion whites and greens (about 6 large)
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
In a large bowl, whisk the lime juice, chili pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, and black pepper to taste. Vigorously whisk in the olive oil. Add the black-eyed peas, cucumber, bell pepper, tomatoes, scallions, and parsley and fold to mix and coat with dressing. Adjust the seasoning with salt and black pepper if necessary, and serve.Adam Ried appears regularly on “America’s Test Kitchen.’’ Send comments to email@example.com.