KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 25 — It can be fun or frustrating when your friends know what you like.
The latter might come in the form of said friends (often downgraded to “acquaintances” after one infraction too many) decide that it’s fair game to pick on your personal preference, as though it were some fetish or failing.
“Must you have peanut butter with everything?”
“Man, you must be a huge fan of Elvis — you know, the peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich?”
“How’s your mood today: crunchy or creamy?”
That last one didn’t even make much sense but we don’t prize our friends for their sense of humour, do we?
The key ingredient is, of course, peanut butter.
By now, you can hazard an easy guess which food choice is being ridiculed or celebrated here: the humble, original nut butter.
My love of peanut butter was fostered long before other, more fashionable nut butters such as almond, walnut, cashew, macadamia and Brazil nut. There are even seed butters such as sunflower seed, pistachio, pumpkin seed and tahini (sesame seed butter).
So it’s interesting to note that peanuts aren’t considered a true nut. Instead they are legumes and belong to the same family as lentils and peas.
Yet peanuts are considered a nut allergen as the proteins in peanuts are structurally similar to those of tree nuts such as almonds and walnuts.
I have a cousin who is allergic to peanuts so some level of caution is always at the top of mind despite my adoration of peanut butter.
The body of the stew comes from potatoes (left) and carrots (right).
Dietary limitations can be incomprehensible to those without any but when you take these into account for loved ones, it’s easy: you want the people you care about to enjoy whatever you’re making for them.
What’s fun, then, when your friends know what you crave?
Everything comes around in cryptic and magical ways: it was another friend who does have a dietary limitation — she has celiac disease and eschews foods containing gluten — who sent me a gluten-free recipe years ago.
Why that particular recipe?
You guessed it: it is made with peanut butter as a main ingredient. To make it more exciting, this isn’t a sweet dessert recipe but a savoury one.
White onions for aromatics (left) and red chillies for some heat (right).
My friend had come across a West African recipe for mafe or peanut butter stew. Unfortunately I later lost the recipe when I finally had time to make it.
So what follows isn’t really mafe (no tomatoes are used, for one thing) but a stew inspired by the savoury possibilities of an ingredient that might be fun or fetishised but really is just full of flavour.
A HEARTY PEANUT BUTTER STEW
As always, playing with what you have in your pantry is a rule of thumb. In my case, I didn’t have the requisite can of crushed tomatoes that I did remember from the now-missing recipe from my friend.
Obstacles can be opportunities: I decided I wasn’t in the mood for the acidity of the tomatoes anyway and rather some natural sweetness — provided here by plenty of carrots
The key ingredient is still the peanut butter, which provides much richness and creaminess to this stew.
However, I don’t think it makes that much of a difference whether you use the creamy or crunchy/chunky variety as everything is simmered and reduced anyway. Use what you have or like best.
Some leafy greens that are quickly blanched can add an element of freshness.
You can make this a meatier affair by swapping out the chicken for more robust meats such as beef or lamb. Alternatively, you can also make this stew vegetarian by using hard-boiled eggs or cubes of firm tofu.
Don’t forget some greens to accompany this hearty stew. This adds a fresh dimension so it remains a comfort food rather than something that risks being cloying or overly heavy.
Lastly, it goes without saying: Don’t make this with peanut butter if you are allergic to peanuts or other tree nuts.
It will still be a good stew, just perhaps not something Chip ‘n’ Dale would approve of. (Yes, I’m aware they are chipmunks and not squirrels; chipmunks enjoy nuts too!)
1 tablespoon coconut oil
600g boneless chicken thigh meat, cubed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 large onions, sliced
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 red chillies, minced
250g peanut butter (creamy or crunchy)
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon runny honey (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 large bunch of leafy greens, blanched
1-2 eggs (optional)
Place a large pot over medium heat. Add the coconut oil. Once the surface of the oil shimmers, add the cubed boneless chicken thigh.
Allow the meat to get some colour, about 5 minutes, before adding the butter and onions to the pot. Sweat the onions for another 5 minutes until they become slightly translucent. At this point, the meat will also no longer be pink or raw.
Add the chicken or vegetable stock to the pot. Stir the chicken and onions so that any bits sticking to the bottom of the pot is mixed in with the liquid. Now you may add the carrots, potatoes and minced red chillies.
Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and skimming the scum that rises to the surface of the stew when it comes to a boil.
Add a fried egg to your stew to make it even more comforting.
Cook until the carrots and potatoes have softened. Lower the heat and add the peanut butter and light soy sauce. Stir briskly until these ingredients are well incorporated.
Continue to simmer until the stew has thickened. Turn off the heat and check the seasoning; you might want to add some runny honey if the stewed carrots aren’t sweet enough. Finish off with some salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Serve with some blanched leafy greens on top of steamed rice or noodles. If you like, fry an egg or two and serve atop the stew.
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