Monday, October 27, 2008

Vegetable Mafé

We’ve been enjoying a visit with our Cambridge, MA pal Margot Kimball over the weekend, & as part of the festivities, I made a dish from the Africa News Cookbook that we all like—Vegetable Mafé. This is a great autumn stew, wonderfully heartening on a brisk day (tho admittedly, Sunday was gloriously warm), & makes use of the root crops you associate with the season. In fact, once upon a time, Eberle & I used this recipe for a Thanksgiving dinner.

Traditionally, Mafé or Maafe is served with meat; its distinguishing characteristic is the mixture of a tomato sauce with a groundnut sauce—for our purposes, peanut sauce. It’s found throughout much of West Africa, though it’s particularly associated with Senegal. According a 2007 Washington Post article about the development of southern co
oking, a variant of Mafé brought to Virginia by West African slaves eventually developed into Virginia peanut stew.

Here are the ingredients:
2 large onions, chopped fine
4 Tbsp of oil—I typically use olive oil these days; the official recipe calls for peanut oil, which I’ve used in the past.
2 cups (or a bit more) of yams—i.e., the sweet potatoes with orange flesh; from what I understand, these aren’t true “yams,” which are found in Africa (sort of like the musk melon that’s sold as cantaloupe here Stateside). Whatever they are, they sure taste great. You can substitute sweet potatoes (i.e., the sweet potatoes with yellow flesh), winter squash or pumpkin. 2 cups is roughly the equivalent of a medium-sized yam
—not one of those huge ones.
2 turnips—the recipe calls for four, but tho I like turnips, this seems like a lotta turnip to me in relation to other stuff. Again, of course, turnips vary a lot in size—I tend to go with medium sized ones (“moderation in all things?”)
4 medium potatoes, chopped—I’ve used both red potatoes (but not the real small ones, or if so, then increase the number to get the equivalent of 2 cups & a bit of change) & Yukon Golds.
2 large carrots, chopped
A note on all these root crops—they don’t cook real fast, & if you don’t want some of the vegetables that follow them into the pot to be reduced to an essence, I’d chop them into smallish bit-sized chunks—not chopped fine, but not real big chunks, either. This is especially true of the yams (or substitute) & the carrots.

½ a small cabbage, chopped coarsely
2 large tomatoes, chopped or quartered
1 bunch of leafy greens—you can use spinach, Swiss chard, or any number of delicious greens—or heaven forbid—a small package of frozen spinach)
1 tsp of cayenne—you can substitute 2 chiles if you prefer
2 cups of tomato sauce
¾ cup of peanut butter—I’d go for the creamy, but there’s no absolute rule against chunky if you swing that way.

First you sauté the onions in a heavy stew pot with th
e oil—our old workhorse 5.5-quart Creuset is just about right—remember, before this cooks down, there’s quite a bit of volume here, so it needs to be a large pot. The vegetables are added one at a time, & per the original directions, I sauté each of them for at least a minute—maybe closer to two—before adding the next. One thing to note: because the vegetables go into the pot in fairly quick succession, it’s advisable to have most if not all of the chopping done before you start—I’m usually a chop as you go kinda guy, but that really doesn’t work well with this recipe. You should plan on close to 30 minutes of chopping if you’re just an average Joe (“Joe the short order cook”?!?) with a knife, like me—maybe a bit less if you actually know how to handle cutlery (“Joe the chef?!?”) I’ve noted that it takes close to 45 minutes between the time you start to heat the oil to the time when you add the tomato sauce. Of course, you’re stirring occasionally throughout this time. I typically add the cayenne to the tomato sauce so it can mix in more freely—at that point in the cooking, the vegetables haven’t tended to yield as much water as they do later on. Anyhoo, when you add the tomato sauce, also add about a cup of water, stir, then let the stew simmer until the vegetables are tender—I cover the pot. This will take around 30 minutes, but of course check the vegetables from time to time. It’s best to check the yams, because they cook most slowly.

Then comes the fun part. You spoon up ¾ of a cup of peanut butter & ladle about a ½ cup of the broth from the pot. At this point, there will be quite a bit of liquid available. You mix the broth & the peanut butter, et voilà—you have a lovely peanut sauce. Add this to the pot, & let it simmer for another 10 or 15 minutes—longer is ok, but at a certain point I’d get the heat down as low as you can if you’re going to leave it on the stove—otherwise, you’ll have essence of greens.

I serve this over white rice, which as I understand is
traditional, though apparently different places serve different starches with Mafé—while rice is pretty “classic,” in some places it’s served over couscous & in some places over fufu (see this old post for my thoughts on fufu). I also think it would be quite good served over brown rice.

A great vegetarian stew for an autumn afternoon or eve
ning! Noble turnips

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