For the fifth meal of the Cuizoo Arsenal, I was planning to do a hearty soup. Because this time of year especially, it is a fantastic one pot meal for cold days. I thought I’d do something with beans and maybe some sausage, because that is an almost weekly occurrence for us. But after doing the Black Beans and Rice, I realized you could simply tweak that a bit, add more broth, saute some sausage and you’d be going down a path for a decent bean soup. I figured maybe I’d branch out and do something a little different and I had a ton of sweet potatoes to use up. So, I started searching for recipes and the African Peanut Chicken Stew at Simply Recipes caught my attention. Obviously, I would have to modify it for my daughter’s nut allergies, but it seemed like a flexible recipe that could easily be made into a weeknight meal.
In my version, I used skinless, boneless chicken thighs and skipped the stock making step with the chicken parts. You could still do this if it is a weekend or you have some extra time. Because I don’t have stock in the freezer right now and I have decided not to buy the boxed stuff anymore (most are really bad products), I just made a simple vegetable stock with carrots, onions, celery, turnips, and garlic. Your own veggie stock is going to taste much better than any store bought stock (chicken or otherwise) — and it is basically free (water and leftover veggies hanging out in your fridge) and has no additives or chemicals. Quite honestly, even if you don’t have time for that, I think plain water would be as effective as any store bought stock. The thing that stocks impart (in most cases) is really just salt. So, in a pinch, just use water and up your seasonings.
I didn’t make it too spicy because of the kids, but that’s easily remedied with a bottle of hot sauce on the table. My kids were divided — the boy loved it, the girl barely tolerated it (she is picky with soups), but managed to get through her plate because there was dessert on the horizon. In most cases, I think kids would like it, especially if you focus on the fact that it is “Sunbutter or Peanut Butter Soup.”
And it’s obviously very reasonable to make. The major ingredient is one package of chicken thighs and the rest you may have in your pantry and fridge already. Feel free to substitute other nut butters and other seeds or nuts.
As far as flexibility goes, even though it seems very unique, you must think of it as a basic stew. This one happens to be thickened and flavored with sunbutter/peanut butter and nuts/seeds, but you could just as easily remove the nut butter and thicken with a flour or cornstarch slurry, a roux, beans, heavy cream or simply cooked down white or sweet potatoes. Other versions of stews that you could make might include a Chicken Corn Stew or Chowder, made instead with white potatoes and corn and thickened with cream or a slurry (and seasoned with Thyme and Sherry); a Thai Chicken Stew, keeping the nut butter, but adding a bit of Thai Red Curry Paste and coconut milk; a Smoky Vegetarian Stew with lots of root vegetables (some mashed to thicken it), Smoked Paprika, with maybe some Corn Bread Dumplings on top; or a Mexican Chicken version with added diced tomatoes, thickened with Masa Harina, and topped with shredded cheese.
I *hope* what you are beginning to see is that you have to look at any recipe as more of a method, where ingredients can be interchanged and experimented with based on what you have or what you like. While I think you will really like this recipe, I am more interested in you knowing how to look at your refrigerator or pantry and and invent your own versions. When you get to that point, cooking becomes much more interesting and takeout seems far less attractive.
Quick African Chicken Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Pumpkin Seeds
Inspired by Elise at Simply Recipes
1 cup pumpkin seeds (hulled)
3 large sweet potatoes (about 1.5-2 pounds)
2 inch piece of fresh ginger root
5 cloves garlic
2 red peppers
1 large onion
1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
5 cups of stock (veggie, chicken, or just plain water in a pinch)
1 cup of Sunbutter (or other nut butter of your choice)
1 t coriander
1/8 t cayenne pepper
2 t salt
1 t freshly ground pepper
White or Brown Rice (if desired)
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Peel and chop sweet potatoes into 1 inch cubes. Peel ginger root piece and finely chop. Peel and finely chop garlic cloves. Peel onion, cut in half, and slice. Stem and core the red peppers and chop into 1/2 inch pieces.
3. Spread pumpkin seeds in a thin layer on a baking sheet and place in preheated oven and toast for 8-10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, heat a bit of olive oil in a large stock pot or dutch oven. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper and brown on both sides over medium heat. Remove chicken to a plate.
5. In the same pot, add a bit more olive oil and add chopped ginger, garlic, and sliced onions. Saute for 3-5 minutes over medium heat until fragrant and slightly softened.
6. Add the sweet potato chunks, five cups of stock, and the browned chicken thighs. Mix in the 1 cup of sunbutter (or other nut butter), coriander, cayenne pepper, 2 t salt, and 1 t pepper. Bring to a boil. While you are waiting, place toasted pumpkin seeds in a plastic bag and smash them finely (you can use a food processor if you like). Add 3/4 of a cup of the ground pumpkin seeds to the stew (reserving other 1/4 cup). When it has come to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes. (If you are cooking rice, you will want to start it during this cooking time.)
7. After about 30 minutes, add the chopped red peppers and cook for 15 minutes longer. Remove chicken thighs and let cool slightly. Mash the sweet potatoes in the soup so they are not large chunks. Shred or chop chicken thigh meat and return to the pot. Add about 1/4 chopped cilantro and simmer for 5-10 minutes longer. Serve as-is or over rice (if desired) with additional chopped fresh cilantro and reserved pumpkin seeds.