Photos by the writer
Photos by the writer

Not too long ago, I fractured my foot on a sewer pipe covered with autumn leaves, which I didn’t see. While I was convalescing, many of my local friends brought food for my partner, Sean and me. Although all the dishes prepared for us were great, one stood out for me. My friend Eileen O’Hare made the most delicious West African peanut soup. I had never had that before, and how I loved it! I swore that when I got better, I would definitely make this soup.

Fast forward to a few weeks later, I was in my kitchen preparing the soup — which is made with ground peanut paste and an assortment of vegetables and beef, chicken or mutton can be added, if you prefer. When I made it, I used zucchini, peppers, onions, kale and garlic. It was a very healthy soup and tasted similar to a Thai dish that I ate very long ago, and which was prepared with prawns and brown rice.

This soup is a staple diet in West Africa and goes by several names — wolof, mafé and maffé. It originated from the Mandinka and Bambara people of Mali, West Africa, and spread to many other countries eventually. In the Mandinka language, it is called domodah.

The ingredients of the soup came from different parts of the world. The peanuts, tomatoes and peppers were probably brought over by the European explorers and the spices from trading with the Arab world. More importantly, this soup may act as a deterrent to diseases such as strokes, heart disease and high blood pressure. The vitamin A in it can help stimulate white blood cell growth, some claim.

Each morsel of this delicious soup will make you go nuts over it!

West Africa is composed of 16 countries. To its south is the Gulf of Guinea, to the north the Sahara, and to the west is the Atlantic Ocean. It has a population of 381 million people. Christianity, Islam and a host of traditional African religions are practised in the region, and the people there speak, at least, 500 (indigenous) languages. Family is central to West African life and houses are arranged in a communal manner in a compound, particularly in rural areas, where people can interact and share food with each other. Dances, music, masks, architecture and literature are significant cultural themes of this part of the world.

In the US, this peanut soup, among other foods, is eaten at Kwanzaa, which is the celebration of the culture of African Americans, who make up roughly 12 percent of the US population. Kwanzaa is a Swahili word, meaning the first fruits of the harvest — and this festival was introduced to Americans in 1966, and is celebrated since then. It is observed from December 26 through January 1. Food is also a big part of this celebration, and that is why this peanut soup is so popular.

Now, I’m sure you can’t wait to make your own pot of this West African peanut soup! Here goes:

West African Creamy Peanut Soup

Ingredients

Thumb-sized piece of ginger, chopped fine
7 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large onion, diced
1 bunch of any of kale, spinach or Swiss chard, chopped roughly
1 big tomato, diced
1 cup crushed tomato
1 zucchini, chopped (optional)
4 carrot sticks, grated fine (optional)
2 medium size bell peppers, chopped (optional)
1 bunch of chopped coriander for garnish
2 cups of peanuts, ground to a cream, or 8 ounces of organic peanut butter from a jar
1 cup boiled rice (optional)
1 teaspoon of hot sauce; use more if you like it spicy
3 to 4 cups of either chicken or vegetable broth
1 kg of any kind of boiled meat, and pieces cut the way you prefer (optional)
2 medium size sweet potatoes, peeled ahead
1 serving spoon olive oil
1.5 cups of red kidney beans, boiled ahead
1 cup of chickpeas, boiled ahead
1 teaspoon salt, add more if you prefer
1/2 teaspoon powdered black pepper
1 teaspoon powdered cumin
1 teaspoon powdered garlic
1 teaspoon sugar; add more if you like (optional)
1 cup roughly chopped peanuts for garnish

Method

In a big pot, heat olive oil and toss in chopped onions. When they brown, throw in garlic and ginger, and stir. Now add the diced and crushed tomatoes, followed by peanut butter, beans, sweet potatoes and chickpeas and boiled meat pieces. Then add powdered garlic, black pepper, cumin, hot sauce, salt and sugar, stirring all the while. Add broth and let it boil for a minute. Then lower the burner’s temperature. Now add the remaining vegetables (and rice) and cook for five minutes. Serve and garnish with roughly cut peanuts and coriander. Enjoy!

Published in Dawn, EOS, April 4th, 2021

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