Gluten Free African Stew Recipe
Most people spend the two years following college graduation partying with their friends, deciding what they want to do with their professional life, looking for love, and generally being young and carefree. Not so with my little sister Karen. She spent those years in the Peace Corp in a small village in Central Africa teaching the youngsters so they could dream and reach for something more in their lives.
She lived without plumbing, electricity, internet, telephones and antibiotics. She taught the children, learned the culture and food as she gave of herself – while also gaining much out the experience.
My own trip to Africa ten years ago changed my life. The sweeping majesty of the landscapes, the primal call of the rich red earth and the African people amazed and awed me, especially the women – beautiful women, with perfect posture, grace and elegance.
When in Bamako, Mali, one of the poorest countries on Earth, I watched three women in particular. Day after day they did hard, physical work, grinding millet into a fine grain by hand just using a huge mortar and pestle, in the blazing hot sun for 14 hours a day, seven days a week – yes, seven days a week! The only breaks they took were to prepare a meager meal of grain and water by building a fire with sticks and cooking the porridge in a crude pot. And they did all this with babies strapped to their backs! They worked and tended their children in circumstances few of us can imagine and yet they laughed and sang and held themselves with such honor and pride.
As I watched these women I reflected on the things I tend to complain about in my own life; the washing machine is on the fritz, poor cell phone service, and sore feet from dancing in high heels. I vowed then and there never to complain again! While I have broken that vow from time-to-time, I often bring these women to mind when times seem unbearable to me – and I realize that nothing in my life is truly unbearable.
I did not photograph these women as it clearly would have been an invasion which they did not welcome (obviously I am not cut out to be a paparazzi) but I did snap these shots:
When I had a hankering for African stew I called my sister to get some pointers. She explained that the onions, garlic and tomatoes needed to be chopped really finely (I used my food processor) and softened in hot oil, a type of chili powder not available in the United States was added (I used 2 red chilies, again, blitzed in the food processor) and they add a combination of sweet and bitter leaves (I used spinach and arugula). To bring it all together, peanut butter is worked into the mix, however the peanut butter in Africa is different than here; it has a much more roasted flavor.
As I mentioned before in this blog, my nephew Kelton has a nasty peanut allergy, so we discussed the use of Sunbutter instead and she decided this was the perfect thing. Sunbutter is made with roasted sunflowers and has a deeper, richer flavor than peanut butter and is perfectly safe for people with nut allergies. As it turns out, the use of Sunbutter was genius; it added such depth of flavor that even if we could have used regular peanut butter we wouldn’t have.
The woman of Africa would make this stew over an open fire in an outdoor communal “kitchen” using crude cutting and cooking implements. I used modern conveniences and celebrated once again the abundance of my life.
So from Karen, Kelton and I, and in honor of the wonderful women of Africa, I proudly submit to you this gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and nut free stew that is full of flavor, complex, delicious and has all the richness of the Dark Continent. Have a bowl and reflect on the richness of your own life! (As a note, my sister does not think the addition of black beans is “authentic” but she is my younger sister and thus not the boss of me!)
- 2 tablespoons olive or grapeseed oil
- 1 medium onion – very finely minced
- 2 cloves garlic – finely minced
- 1–2 red chili peppers – (depending on the heat-factor you like), seeds and veins removed and finely minced
- 1 (14.5 ounce can) crushed tomatoes – (or blitz a can of diced tomatoes along with their juice for a few seconds in the food processor or blender)
- ½ cup Sunbutter
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
- 1 pound sweet potatoes – peeled and cut into 1 inch dice
- 1 can black beans – drained and rinsed
- 1 ½ cups frozen corn
- 1 cup spinach
- 1 cup arugula
Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and chili and cook for about 5 minutes to soften. Add the tomatoes, stir to combine then add the Sunbutter, stirring it in until smooth. Add the water and salt, stir, then add the sweet potatoes. Cover the pan and simmer until the sweet potatoes are tender but not falling apart, about 15 minutes.
Add the black beans, corn, spinach and arugula and cook until the beans and corn are heated through and the spinach and arugula is wilted. Serve with or without rice.
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