CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — West African Peanut Soup

Homemade soups are awfully hard to beat. And when eating out, there’s something soothing about knowing that a restaurant’s soup is made from scratch.

Maybe the reason is that you are a soup maker yourself or your mom or dad was accomplished at that, too. Both are true in my case. I usually make a pot of soup at least three or four times a month. And my mom and dad each had their soup specialties.

Mom used to make homemade tomato soup quite often, and Dad had three that he was known for — boiled dinner, ham/bean and vegetable beef.

My soup-making is generally confined to to a half-dozen or so varieties, but I’m  always looking for something new to try.

Recently, when out for lunch with Therese at Amazing Grains Food Co-op in downtown Grand Forks, I had a bowl of some deliciously spicy West African Peanut Soup.

When I asked co-op manager Betsy Perkins about the specifics, she said the cooks guard their recipes very carefully. But she added if I looked at the recipe for the soup in Moosewood Restaurant cookbook that it would be pretty close to AG’s.

Upon returning home, I went online and looked for the Moosewood recipe. I found it along with several others. All were fairly similar but with a few differences.

After contemplating my course of action, I came up with the following recipe, and there is nothing secret about it.

West African Peanut Soup
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 small celery rib, chopped
3 carrots, sliced
1 14½-ounce can diced tomatoes
½ teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon peeled, grated fresh ginger root
1½ teaspoons Tabasco or other hot sauce, plus more to taste
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces (see note)
1½ cups water
½ cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves, plus a few leaves for garnish
1 scallion, white and green parts, cut crosswise into thin slices, for garnish
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons minced garlic
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Pour the oil into a medium soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and salt; cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the ginger and Tabasco. Add the sweet potatoes, carrots and water. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium or medium-low so the liquid is barely bubbling around the edges. Cover and cook until the vegetables are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
Add the peanut butter. Stir until blended. Stir in the chopped cilantro and warm through. Taste and add salt and/or hot sauce as needed.  Serve hot.
Note: I substituted 1 buttercup squash, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces.

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