an adventure into my cookbook collection: soul-searching, doing things differently & the truths I learn along the way...

deseeding pomegranates is feminine & erotic, unless you hit them with a wooden spoon...


Wednesday, 27 July 2011

West African style sweet potato and peanut stew

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of co-hosting a Friday night for Wandering Jews.  Wandering Jews is a groups organized by the amazing Jo and Jude, with the simple premise of getting together once a month with old friends and new and sharing in delicious vegetarian potluck in a different venue each month.  As my housemate Hannah and I are pretty new to the scene, we decided to give the evening a theme of Shehechiyanu, or newness.  The translation of the prayer blesses our g-d for having ‘granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.’  I like to think of it as a way not to take life for granted, to see the excitement in every day and to, as often as you can, really push yourself to trying something new.

I wanted to bring this emphasis on newness into my cooking with the event.  I needed something vegan and warming, which could feed a lot of people.  My fall-back dish for this kind of thing would be some kind of red and yellow dahl, but I wanted to break out of my comfort zone.  I started looking into West African recipes as I knew from various cookery programmes (mainly the hairy bikers I think) and friends’ travel experiences that it was a style of cooking which would incorporate all the things I wanted: vegan, protein, complexity of flavour, and warmth.  The following is the recipe for the dish I made, which is an amalgamation of many different peanut stews that I found online.

Feeds a lot of people

2 - 3 very large white flesh sweet potato –with purple skin, peeled and cut into large-ish chunks
3 - 4 yellow flesh sweet potato, peeled and cut into slightly smaller chunks
a couple of carrots, if you happen to have them, peeled and sliced
1-2 aubergines, diced
2 red peppers, diced into quite large chunks
1 onion, cut into large chunks
1 onion, diced very fine
2 cans of chopped tomatoes
1 can/tetra-pack of sieved tomatoes
approximately 4 tablespoons of peanut butter (depending on how much you have), smooth or chunky depending on personal preference
1 inch lump of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 fresh chilis (I used 1 red and 1 green) deseeded if you want, finely diced.
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 heaped teaspoons cumin
1 heaped teaspoon coriander
a packet of roasted, salted peanuts, roughly chopped
the juice of 1-2 limes
big bunch of fresh parsley, washed and chopped.

You can also add in a can of chick peas for some additional bulk.

In a microwaveable bowl or small saucepan, combine the small diced onion, ginger, garic, chili and peanut butter with 1 can of tomatoes and a little water.  Cook, stirring from time to time until the peanut butter has amalgamated with the other ingredients and created a sauce. 

Add the sauce and all remaining ingredients except for the peanuts, lime and parsley to a large pot.  Top up with water – just a little, add more if it looks a little dry halfway through cooking – and cook for about 40 minutes-1 hour, until everything is cooked but not falling apart.  Just before serving, add the lime juice, parsley and peanuts, adjust the seasoning and warm through.

Peanut Butter Fudge

This is a Sophie Dahl recipe, its absolutely fantastic, and easily adaptable to vegan. This recipe was on her bbc tv series, called something wonderful like ‘Miss Dahl’s voluptuous delights’ and I actually really enjoyed it, such a nice change from Nigella, and Jamie, who’s later shows have them becoming almost parodies of themselves.  Sophie’s cookbook is pretty great too.  Although the recipes aren’t exactly earth-shattering, it is a really lovely read.  This fudge recipe isn’t in the book, but it is available online.

I have made this a few times and it is pretty foolproof.  Just make sure that you are really patient with boiling the sugar and milk, and give it the time it needs.  While it does seem like a lot of sugar, it does make a lot of fudge.  In the past I have made it with a layer of chocolate on the top (melt the chocolate with a bit of butter or cream to stop it from hardening too solid and snapping when you cut the fudge), which is great, but it is equally delicious without it.

                  125g/4½oz butter/ vegan margarine 
                  500g/1lb 2oz dark brown sugar
                  120ml/4fl oz milk / soy milk
                  250g/9oz crunchy peanut butter
                  1 vanilla pod, seeds only (I didn’t bother with this)
                  300g/10½oz icing sugar

.                 Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat.
.                 Stir in the brown sugar and milk, and bring to the boil for 2-3 minutes, without stirring.
.                 Remove from the heat, and stir in the peanut butter and vanilla seeds if using.
.                 Place the icing sugar in a large bowl, and pour the hot butter and sugar mixture on top. Using a wooden spoon, beat the mixture until smooth (careful not to burn yourself).
.                 Pour into a 20cm/8in square baking tray, and set aside to cool slightly, then place in the fridge to chill completely.
Cut the fudge into squares and store in an airtight container.

recipe and image from

Butternut Squash Soup with mango powder

As some of you know I have a somewhat odd obsession with very big, very sharp kitchen knives.  A few weeks ago I managed to freak out quite a few of my friends by getting slightly more enthusiastic than normal over a knife sharpener.  Of course, there is no prescribed level of normalness when it comes to knife-sharpening enthusiasm, I think the strangeness was mainly due to the fact that I don’t tend to get enthusiastic about stuff.  Of course I know that really appreciating sharp knives isn’t odd, actually perfectly sensible. Try and chop a butternut squash with a small vegetable knife that isn’t sharp anymore and you will know what I mean.  Having the correct knife that is sharp enough is actually safer as you need much less force behind it.  Once you get over the fact that they might look a bit scary, you will never go back.  About 4 or 5 years ago I was making sushi with a friend at their house and asked for a very sharp knife, and was given some global brand ones to use, and my life was never the same again. 

I’m never very good at buying ginger, despite really knowing better. I always accidentally let it go moldy and have to throw it away (which is really stupid of me – fresh ginger freezes really well).  When you buy ginger go for the fattest chunk you can find.  In general in the ginger box in the supermarket/shop, there are massive hand-sized roots, and tiny little broken blobs.  It isn’t widely known, but it is perfectly acceptable to break a chunk off a big root to get the piece you want the most (although I still tend to do this quite subtley, in case I get into trouble).  The little broken bits are thinner and you have no idea how long they have been separated from the main root, slowly drying out.  This soup really does need ginger, I didn’t have any and so borrowed some of my housemate’s slightly odd-looking ginger she found in the amazing Indian supermarket in Kingsbury.  The ginger was so odd in fact, that it was turmeric.  If you want to know what fresh turmeric looks like, see here.  My hands were yellow for the rest of the day.

These quantities are pretty vague, and this soup will make one big pot full.  The veggies can be increased pretty much exponentially depending on how many people you need to feed.

1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks
1 Leek, thoroughly washed and sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
1 large onion, diced
about 1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and diced or grated
1 or 2 garlic cloves, crushed
flavourless oil
1 can of coconut milk
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
1 heaped teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon curry powder
Amchoor powder – this is dried sour mango, ground to a powder.  It is used in parts of India as a souring flavour, like lemon juice, especially in places that don’t necessarily have fridges.  I bought it in an Indian supermarket in Kenton and its really fantastic, tasting a bit like sherbet! I think it is pretty easily available, if you know where to look!  

Fry the onions on a medium heat for about 10 minutes, and then add the garlic and ginger.  After 2 or 3 minutes add the spice powders and fry for a few more minutes.  Then add the veggies and stir to coat in the spicey onion mixture.  Add the coconut milk and another can-full of hot water.  You want the liquid to come up almost as high as the veggies, but not covering them entirely.  Leave to simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until everything is cooked through.  Leave to cool slightly and then blitz with a hand blender.  Season the soup and reheat as required.  Serve with the mango powder sprinkled on the top, maybe with a little dollop of yogurt and some dried chili flakes too if you want.