Saturday, July 05, 2008


One of the most well-used cookbooks on my shelf is Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant: Ethnic and Regional Recipes from the Cooks at the Legendary Restaurant. And one of my favorite recipes is "Groundnut Stew," which originates from West Africa. The introductory notes to the recipe indicate that there are many variations. The one the editors chose is most like the Groundnut Stew that would be made in Senegal or Mali. The ingredient list includes onions, cayenne (or ground dried chili), garlic, cabbage, and sweet potatoes, which are sauteed in peanut oil and then simmered with tomato juice, apple or apricot juice, fresh ginger, cilantro, chopped tomatoes, and okra--lots of okra. Finally, at the very end, peanut butter--that's the ground nut--is stirred in.

Last year I bought quite a bit of okra at the Farmer's Market, most of which went into a couple of bags that migrated to the belly of the freezer and were promptly forgotten. R found the okra on one of his journeys through the freezer on an expedition of discovery and insisted that I "use this up, it has been in there for at least a year." So, I made the full batch of Groundnut Stew, mostly following the recipe as written, but leaving out the apple juice and the garlic. I also don't saute everything in peanut oil first, but just add the vegetables together with the liquids and simmer until done. Saves a couple hundred calories that way.

Now, my mother is one of those gifted people who buys unusual and unexpected presents, and once upon a time she gave me MFK Fisher's marvelous little book How to Cook a Wolf. With great wit, Fisher presents a recipe for what she calls "Sludge," an "unpleasant murky-brown-colored" mixture of ground vegetables, ground grain-cereal, and meat (if you have it) that is cooked together for several hours and could have nutritiously sustained a starving person for several days for about 50 cents back in the late 40s, when the book was first written.

Sludge is an accurate term to describe the Groundnut Stew mixture of chunks of vegetables mixed with peanut butter, which also is a "murky-brown color," but the word to describe it that first popped out of R's mouth was not "sludge." At any rate, it took about a week to work my way through this batch of sludge, and I even had to freeze the last couple of servings so it wouldn't spoil in the refrigerator before I could get to it.

The day after I finished the last of the Groundnut Stew, I also turned to Moosewood for another okra recipe, "New Brunswick Vegetarian Stew," a flavorful combination of okra, squash, potatoes, tomatoes, corn, onions, and lima beans. The recipe called for 10 ounces of frozen okra, so I weighed out that much and then began thinly slicing it into a bowl of very hot water so that it would thaw. After the water gushed through the bottom of the strainer, I noted the slime from the thawed okra began oozing out in thick globs. I went ahead and let it ooze for a few minutes before I added the okra to the pot, which made the stew much more palatable. As it happened, a friend from aerobics class was going to drop by for a visit the next day, so I invited her over for "slime and mush" stew, but she politely declined. Wonder why?

No comments: