This recipe comes from the 1982 cookbook West African Cooking for Black American Families by Adele B. McQueen and Alan L. McQueen. This cookbook was published at a time when African-American cookbooks were on the rise, presumably as an effort to define the meaning of blackness in the era following the emergence of what has come to be known as “soul food” (Bower 117). Before writing this book, McQueen collaborated with the International Women’s Club of Liberia and ran a test kitchen at Howard University to blend traditional African and American cooking (Tipton-Martin 166). The original recipe in Adele B. McQueen’s cookbook is a simple one consisting of groundpeas (groundnuts), chicken, onion, mushrooms, egg, salt, and pepper, which are combined in a stew and served over rice. Modern influence is clear here, as McQueen suggests substituting peanut butter if groundnuts cannot be found.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s pushed authors of some early African-American cookbooks to eschew historically significant recipes in order to distance middle class readers from negative qualities often associated with blackness (Bower 157). Nevertheless, interest in African-American history persisted in and outside of the cookbook realm. In 1976, Alex Haley wrote “Roots: The Saga of an American Family“. This narrative tells the story of Haley’s ancestor Kuna Kinte, who was born in 1751 in Gambia, and later brought as a slave to the United States. In the book, Haley explores the complex connections between people and food. Later, the book was turned into a television series, highlighting the growing importance of learning and appreciating one’s origins. Cookbooks such as The Black Family Reunion Cookbook (1993) include recipes for classic dishes such as chitterlings and pig’s feet, and the popularity of West African recipes has increased since the 1980s (see Mother Africa’s Table, written in 1998).
Original Recipe from West African Cooking for Black American Families: Groundpea (Peanut) Stew
1 medium chicken, cut up
1 pint freshly roasted groundpeas
1 large onion, sliced
1 can mushrooms, optional
4 hard-boiled eggs
Salt and black pepper to taste
Wash and season chicken. Place in saucepan and add water and onion. Boil as for soup until chicken is half done. Remove stock to another container. Add mushrooms, seasoning, and hard-boiled eggs to chicken. Pour in groundpea stock and boil over medium heat until mixture becomes thick. Serve over boiled rice.
To prepare groundpea stock:
Shell roasted groundpeas and then grind or chop finely. Add them to the chicken stock, mix well, and strain into pot containing chicken and other ingredients. Note: Peanut butter, crunchy or creamy, may be substituted. However, the fresh nuts give a better flavor. If crunchy peanut butter is used, pass through a strainer.
As a vegetarian, I chose to create an adaptation of the traditional recipe that included collard greens and left out the chicken. In the past, I have attempted to make peanut stew with freshly ground peanuts, but because I lacked a strainer, it resulted in a gritty mess. On another occasion, I followed the recipe below, but substituted diced tomatoes for tomato paste and beer for vegetable broth. The flavors in the second version were incongruous, and the thinness was unappetizing. In my third and most recent attempt, I followed the amended recipe exactly, and achieved a thick, spicy, rich result. An immersion blender helped immensely in combining the tomato paste and peanut butter.
Amended Recipe: Vegetarian Peanut Stew with Collard Greens, adapted from blog “Cookie and Kate”
6 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 bunch collard greens (or kale), ribs removed and leaves chopped into 1-inch strips
¾ cup unsalted peanut butter (chunky or smooth)
½ cup tomato paste*
Hot sauce, like sriracha (AKA rooster sauce)
¼ cup roughly chopped peanuts, for garnish
In a medium Dutch oven or stock pot, bring the broth to a boil. Add the onion, ginger, garlic and salt. Cook on medium-low heat for 20 minutes. In a medium-sized, heat-safe mixing bowl, combine the peanut butter and tomato paste, then transfer 1 to 2 cups of the hot stock to the bowl. Whisk the mixture together until smooth, then pour the peanut mixture back into the soup and mix well. Stir in the collard greens and season the soup with hot sauce to taste. Simmer for about 15 more minutes on medium-low heat, stirring often. Serve over cooked brown rice if you’d like, and top with a sprinkle of chopped peanuts.
––By Lauren Gilmer
The Black Family Reunion Cookbook: Recipes & Food Memories. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993. Print.
Bower, Anne. African American Foodways: Explorations of History and Culture. Urbana: U of Illinois, 2007. Print.
Haley, Alex. Roots. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976. Print.
McQueen, Adele B., and Alan L. McQueen. West African Cooking for Black American Families. New York: Vantage, 1982. Print.
Taylor, Kathryne. “Vegetarian West African Peanut Soup.” Cookie and Kate. N.p., 22 Feb. 2013. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
Taylor, Kathryne. West African Peanut Soup. Digital image. Cookie and Kate. N.p., 22 Feb. 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2016. <http://cookieandkate.com/2013/west-african-peanut-soup/>.
Tipton-Martin, Toni. The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Webster, Cassandra Hughes. Mother Africa’s Table: A Collection of West African and African American Recipes and Cultural Traditions. New York: Main Street/Doubleday, 1998. Print.