African Peanut Stew

I'm always happy to support the authors of a good cookbook--and Almost Meatless by Joy Manning and Tara Desmond is one of the best new ones around. So when Joy and Tara asked me to participate in a "virtual potluck" and cook a recipe from their new cookbook with a group of other food bloggers, I was more than happy to say yes.

In fact, I already knew what recipe I wanted to cook--and readers who remember my rabidly positive review of this cookbook can probably guess which one: African Peanut Stew (on page 35, an already well-stained and splattered page!).

In short, this is the kind of recipe that I love. With lots of fresh, healthy ingredients, a fairly simple cooking procedure and a low cost per serving, this stew literally jumps off the page. But the most unexpected selling point of this recipe (and a feature I didn't fully appreciate until I'd actually made the dish) was how flexible and substitution-friendly it is.

As you'll see shortly, this dish calls for okra, a vegetable our grocery store rarely carries. Instead, I substituted fresh green beans. And it worked perfectly.

I had a ton of chicken in the freezer that I got on sale the other week, so I took the liberty of substituting it for the turkey meat specified by the recipe. It also worked perfectly.

And when I saw red bell peppers in our grocery store at $5.99 a pound, an absolute joke of a price in the middle of our summer growing season, I muttered to myself, "screw it, I'm going with green peppers at a fraction of the cost. Nobody's gonna miss a little extra color." That worked too.

It turns out that this dish is so flexible that it allows you to consider all kinds of adaptations and substitutions. You can make this dish with meat or without (try substituting very firm tofu, chickpeas or pink beans in place of turkey or chicken). You can make it spicier by adding extra cayenne pepper (which we did). You can even consider other leafy greens in place of Swiss chard (collards or kale would be excellent, and equally healthy, substitutes).

This kind of flexibility is rare in a recipe, and it provides enormous benefits to the cook. You can choose to follow the recipe as written (after all, the first time you make any new recipe, it's always a good idea to do it by the book), but you can also choose to tailor the dish to the best and most reasonably-priced veggies available to you.

If you can build a collection of recipes that are as flexible and adaptable as this one, you'll find cooking at home much more fun--and much less expensive.

African Peanut Stew
With permission from Ten Speed Press, from Almost Meatless by Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond

2 Tablespoons oil, divided
1 (12-oz) boneless, skinless turkey thigh, cut into strips
1/4 cup water
4 ounces okra, sliced thinly
1 onion, sliced into strips (see below)
4 cups stock
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 cup canned or fresh diced tomatoes
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
4 cups thinly-sliced swiss chard or red chard
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup roasted salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
6 scallions, thinly sliced

1) Heat 1 Tablespoon oil in a large pot or dutch oven on medium high heat. Add the meat and cook for five minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer meat and juices onto a plate.

2) Add the 1/4 cup water and deglaze the pot (see below), scraping up the bits from the bottom. Pour the liquid and bits over the reserved turkey and set aside.

3) Add the other Tablespoon oil to the pot, add the okra (or green beans, in my case) and saute on medium heat for about five minutes. Add the onion and saute for another 5 minutes. Pour in 1/2 cup of the stock and deglaze the bottom of the pot.

4) Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, just until fragrant. Stir in the cayenne, garam masala, tomatoes, peanut butter, reserved meat and juices, remaining stock, and Swiss chard. Simmer over medium-low heat for 45 minutes. Serve over rice and garnish with red (or green, in my case) bell pepper, chopped peanuts and scallions.

Serves 6+.
A few recipe notes:
1) For those of you who want a quick clinic on how to reduce an onion to a pile of thin strips in just seconds: cut the onion in half from top to bottom, lay each onion half flat side down, and starting along the side of the onion, systematically make cuts through its length, working all the way around the onion. See below:

2) A quick definition of the phrase deglaze the pot: deglazing simply means to add a little liquid to a pot (it can be stock, water or even wine), and then scraping up any bits of browned and caramelized food stuck to the bottom of the pot. The bits of browned food dissolve into the liquid, creating a rich and tasty sauce base, as you can see in the photo below:

3) Because Swiss chard typically comes in enormous bunches at the grocery store, you will have quite a bit left over after making this dish. It's quite delicious chopped up (stems and all) and steamed in a saucepan, and it's one of the most eye-healthy veggies out there.

4) A few words on cost: With the substitutions that I made above, my cost to make this dish came to $9.07, or a laughably cheap per-serving cost of $1.51. Your mileage may vary, but if you were to follow this recipe to the letter, the total cost will be perhaps an extra $3-$5 overall--still quite a reasonable bargain.

5) Finally, let me once again recommend this excellent cookbook to you. If you are looking for healthy, creative and inexpensive meals to cook in your home, consider adding Almost Meatless to your kitchen bookshelf.

Related Posts:
How to Tell if a Recipe is Worth Cooking With Five Easy Questions
How to Modify a Recipe: The Six Rules
Antioxidant Alert! Portuguese Kale and Potato Soup
Three Easy, Delicious and Inexpensive Homemade Salad Dressing Recipes

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The Diva on a Diet said...

Fantastic post, Dan! I love that you've highlighted the versatility of this recipe and your shots are gorgeous!

I have much to thank you for with respect to "Almost Meatless" ... I bought the book after reading your review and have been happily cooking from it ever since. I love it! I'm also indebted to you for recommending me to Joy for inclusion in the virtual potluck. Thank you so much! I've had a blast with this event and I owe it all to you! :)

The Messy Baker said...

Another dish on my "to make" list. This potluck has been a lot of fun and I can't wait for my copy of Almost Meatless to arrive so I can pour over my options at leisure.

SteamyKitchen said...

Oh I want to pull a chair up and have dinner with you!!!

Cheryl said...

All I have to say is, thank god you left out the okra. Me + okra = not good.

Daniel said...

Diva: thanks for your compliments and positive vibes... this was a fun one to write. And I'm so glad that you got involved with the virtual potluck.

Charmian: I hope you'll be able to write up some more recipes from Almost Meatless when you get it. I'll be watching your blog!

Hi Jaden: you're invited. As long as you bring over some dark chocolate. ;)

Cheryl: Funny, I have mixed feelings on okra too... I'll eat it, but let's just say it wouldn't be my death row meal.


Joanne said...

I took this cookbook out of the library after your recommendation and copied down almost all of the recipes from it! I still haven't made them yet but maybe it's the thought that counts? Thanks for reminding me.

Leigh said...

Hi Dan! I have to say, I enjoy your blog as well and will be reading along from here on out. Thanks for your positive encouragement to keep it going. Always appreciated!

I absolutely love Almost Meatless. I bought it as soon as it came out. My favorite recipe is the Springtime Carbonara. Mmm...

Take care.

Daniel said...

Hi Leigh, thanks for reading and thanks for the positive vibes!

And agreed, Almost Meatless is an exceptional cookbook. A keeper.


CraBBy GaBBy said...

The only reason why I am searchng this because I bought ALMOST MEATLESS.
which looks so great..yummy and like a most wonderful cookbook that will be a part of my cooking cullinary go to..
I have never heard of this MOST wonderful gathering of ingredients until now..that is AFRICAN PEANUT STEW and I love all kinds of ethnic food. however, in my search to create this wonderful recipe i found over and over again that SWEET POTATO was a main staple IN this tradion, which is not noted in the recipe by ALMOST, out to buy sweet potato now ;)

Melissa said...

this was delicious, and i used and enjoyed your substitutions. i checked out almost meatless from the library and i made the b4 burger which was good, if a little crumbly. my only issue with the book was it didn't have cooking times.

Daniel said...

Thanks for the feedback Melissa, it's always immensely useful to get input from readers not just on recipes but also the substitutions and adjustments I make.

And yes, agreed, when I reviewed this cookbook, the omission of cooking times was my only (very minor) criticism of an otherwise exceptional book.