Cooking in the Time of COVID – Groundnut Stew

Instagram Post 5/27/2020

 
👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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My fondness for West African food remains unabated even though I’m relegated to my own humble kitchen, so accessing a couple of chicken thighs I had frozen, I summoned whatever I could press into service from the pantry and conjured up some inauthentic groundnut soup.

Also known as peanut stew, maafe, sauce d’arachide, and other handles depending upon its country of origin, this version started with a base of onions, canned tomatoes, and chilies, garlic and fresh ginger, then some chicken stock and spices including sumbala (ground néré seeds), with the addition of creamy natural peanut butter and ground peanuts, sweet potatoes and leafy greens. Dried stockfish often finds its way into this dish but since I didn’t have any on hand, I used some dried crayfish powder purchased from a local African market some time ago which worked out pretty well.

The dish is sometimes served with rice as in Senegal, or with couscous further to the north, or with fufu as in Ghana or in my kitchen; the one you see here is pounded cocoyam (aka malanga). Tasty, but now I’m craving the real deal!
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Hawa Restaurant

Instagram Post 3/13/2020

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We headed out to Hawa Restaurant, 410 Lenox Avenue in Harlem, for their West African cuisine. This is Senegal’s national dish, Thiebu Djen – spellings vary widely but pronunciation is close to Cheh-boo Jen – and to call it “rice and fish” is an understatement even though that’s the literal translation. It’s made from “broken rice” (easily found at African markets) and if you look closely you’ll see its short grains, but it begins its life as the standard long grain variety that breaks in the field or during processing or milling; the shards are sorted by size and are highly desirable since they cook faster and absorb flavors more readily than whole grains. The rice, combined with chopped onion and garlic, is cooked with tomato paste that imbues it with its deep red color and rich flavor; this version had a pleasant little kick to it, possibly from propping up that Scotch Bonnet pepper. Vegetables accompanying the tilapia were cabbage, carrot, cassava, and eggplant, spent from having given their all to flavor the dish.


The tomato sauce in which the fish had been stewed was served on the side.


Sticking with West African specialties (they also have Caribbean cuisine), we ordered Maffe (you might see mafé), lamb stew (the menu also offers a smoked turkey alternative) in a tomato/peanut butter sauce. Their recipe isn’t overwhelmingly peanutty but it was tasty. No surprise that the lamb was so tender it was falling off the bone.
 
 

Ginjan Cafe

Instagram Post 3/7/2020

A perfect pick-me-up from Ginjan Café, 85 East 125th St in East Harlem.

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On the left, tart Bissap (aka sorrel and jamaica), a West African (notably Senegalese) blend of hibiscus, mint, lemon, and cloves, served hot; at the top, Ginjan, an “organic elixir” of ginger, lemon, pineapple, vanilla, and anise – steamed, although classic and latte options are available; and a blueberry scone because…

…you couldn’t have resisted either.
 
 

EazyLife Restaurant & Lounge

Instagram Post 11/18/2019

If you like West African cuisine but can’t decide between Nigerian and Ghanaian food, you might consider EazyLife Restaurant & Lounge, 1300 East 222nd St. in Eastchester, Bronx, where two chefs are in residence, one from each nation. (Incidentally, the dual arrangement insinuates a round of dueling jollofs since the two rice recipes are markedly distinctive.)

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Our appetizer was Nigerian Isi Ewu, goat head sautéed in “native sauce” as the menu described it. Of course, the texture and flavor of goat head are unlike goat meat from further down the carcass; more like goat skin, these nubs are chewy and benefit from the spicy sauce and spears of red onion that accompany them.


Keeping with the Nigerian theme, this entrée is Bitter Leaf Black Soup. Bitter, yes, but in a good way, with a satisfying spicy kick. Croaker was the fish of choice in the starring role.


Afang Soup was less a soup or sauce and more along the dry stew <-> chopped leafy vegetable continuum. Made from afang (aka okazi) leaves, sometimes with the addition of spinach, cooked down with palm oil and dried fish, it had a medium spice level. More croaker alongside. Our starchy fufus (aka swallows) that day, not pictured, were amala and the more neutral pounded yam.
 
 

The Point

Instagram Post 9/29/2019

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I have been remiss of late in posting about West African cuisine, so here’s one that’s been waiting patiently for a few months. My dining buddy turned me on to this humble venue, The Point, in the Bronx; we only had time for a quick bite, food crawls being what they are, but the bite was a good one.

Ampesi, a Ghanaian specialty, typically consists of some form of boiled starchy vegetable like yam, plantain, cassava, or cocoyam alongside a rich stew/sauce. My best guess as to the starch we received was boiled yam although the photo on the wall showed others (should we have inquired?); the sauce, I suspect, was based on kontomire, cocoyam leaves, the traditional partner, but IIRC, she said spinach. We requested goat and mackerel as sauce enrichments – tasty stuff.

The Point is located at 2037 Webster Ave in the Bronx.
 
 

Brooklyn Suya

Instagram Post 6/6/2019

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[1] Suya is a popular street food in Nigeria (and elsewhere in West Africa) and there’s little doubt as to why. Sliced beef and other meats are marinated, skewered, grilled, liberally peppered with a spicy, peanutty, powdery seasoning blend and generally accompanied by slices of raw onion. Brooklyn Suya maintains the tradition at 717 Franklin Ave in Crown Heights with its Suya Bowls: choose steak, chicken, or shrimp and two of kale, plantain, egg, or avocado, all over rice. Or, you can order suya solo, sans all those healthy accoutrements; that’s what you see here.

[2] Extreme close-up of chicken, steak, and shrimp – just to get the juices flowing. It’s a tiny space, with a few window perches and a counter, so you might consider take-out, but that didn’t deter us. Incidentally, they sell their custom blends of seasoning/marinade if you want to try your hand at making suya – but if you enjoy cooking, I suspect you’ll find dozens of other uses in the kitchen for their piquant spice blends.
 
 

Hills Kitchen

Instagram Post 5/13/2019

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Given what I do, people often ask me what my favorite restaurant is; the answer is “any place where the food was so good that I need to go back and try everything else on the menu.” That was the case with Hills Kitchen in Bushwick. My dining buddy contacted me a few days ago and we met at their location, 252 Knickerbocker Ave in Brooklyn. We shared only two dishes that day but I can recommend both enthusiastically.

Keep in mind that in West African cuisine, the words soup, stew, and sauce are often used interchangeably. This one is Banga, also known as Ofe Akwu, based on the palm nut/palm fruit, a tasty ingredient that figures into a number of Nigerian sauces. We ordered ours with fish, specifically croaker, which was excellent. West African stews are incomplete without some kind of starch, sometimes called a “swallow”; that’s what turns these sauces, soups and stews into a meal. You pinch off a bit, dip it into the delectable soup, and enjoy – really hands-on cuisine! Our choice for this dish was identified only as “wheat” and it was a perfect complement.

Next up was White Soup, also known as Nsala, which was tender, flavorful goat meat in an accessible, lightly seasoned, thin sauce. My understanding is that this is one of the few Nigerian soups made without palm oil so it was distinct from our Banga; we chose pounded yam for our swallow, itself a gentle, comforting accompaniment, hence another good match.

Hills Kitchen has been open for a little over two months. I intend to go back soon – hope to see you there!
 
 

Honey Bee’s Kitchen

Instagram Post 5/10/2019

Since I enjoy the cuisine, I make it a point to visit as many Nigerian restaurants as I can locate, and it’s not all that difficult here in NYC. Many have similar menus with similar preparations of the “greatest hits” but I was surprised and delighted by the unique spin on our choices at Honey Bee’s Kitchen, 9322 Avenue L in Canarsie, Brooklyn. My dining buddy and I grabbed only a handful of items but that just guarantees a return trip! Three from the appetizers section where most of the dishes were tagged “in spicy pepper sauce”; each was unique and delicious.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)Suya. Grilled beef often served on a stick but always served with spicy peanut powder and raw onion, a favorite Nigerian street food.

Peppered Snail. I’ve had these elsewhere but the snails were tough. Not the case here: they were sautéed to perfection and the sauce was so good that we reserved what was left to adorn some rice.

Gizdodo. Chicken gizzards (the “giz”) and fried plantains (called “dodo” in Nigeria) cooked together and infused with herbs in a tomato based sauce. Hard to stop eating this.

From the entrées section: Rice with Ayamatse sauce with assorted meat, stockfish (dried unsalted fish) and a hardboiled egg. Ayamatse (you might see ayamase) sauce is made from hot peppers, bell peppers, and palm oil and although ours wasn’t all that hot, it was tasty nonetheless. The menu refers to “HBK sauce”; after some reflection, I realized it stands for Honey Bee’s Kitchen!

Gbegiri (bean soup) and Ewedu (jute leaves blended with egusi, melon seeds) counterpoised in a jaunty triangle, served with amala (pounded dried yam) and croaker (the fish, of course!).
 
 

Burkindi Restaurant

Instagram Post 4/3/2019

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My astute dining buddy once again managed to unearth a restaurant that features a cuisine not well represented around these parts, that of Burkina Faso. As is typical of many West African restaurants, Burkindi’s menu is rather optimistic in that they don’t always have every item promised, but in my experience, the electives are generally hearty and tasty.

[1] In our quest for a Burkinabé specialty, we landed on Tô, a starch-based porridge a little like a thin fufu that’s swirled into a stew prepared from okra or a leafy vegetable. In this case we were offered Babenda, bitter greens with the addition of dried fish and soumbala, a paste made from fermented néré seeds (locust beans) – think West Africa’s answer to miso. I have some in powdered form: it’s pungent but not overwhelming.

[2] The other dish was more familiar from Ghanaian cuisine: Sauce Arachide (peanut butter soup) with remarkably tender chunks of lamb, rice on the side.

Burkindi Restaurant is located at 492 Clinton Ave, Newark, New Jersey.
 
 

Bravo African Restaurant

Instagram Post 3/1/2019

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Some months ago, a group of us led by the redoubtable Dave Cook of eatingintranslation.com fame joined in a West African food crawl through the Bronx stopping at Bravo African Restaurant, 1473 Westchester Ave in Soundview, for these two Senegalese dishes.

[1] The first, Ceebu Yapp (you might see thiebou yapp), literally rice with meat, in this case grilled lamb, is a classic dish served here with an oniony gravy over a bed of broken rice, all the better to drink up the juices. Was it a coincidence that the three most colorful items on the platter, green bell pepper, yellow corn, and red scotch bonnet just happen to match the colors of the 🇸🇳 Senegalese flag?

[2] So many names for this hearty West African staple: Mafé (or maafe or maffe) is peanut (or peanut butter or groundnut) stew (or soup depending upon its viscosity) otherwise known as sauce d’arachide, tigadèguèna or domoda (depending upon your whereabouts). Its tomato base was underpinned with beef, carrots and potatoes and, to my palate, bore a striking resemblance to another West African favorite, palm nut soup, but peanutty for sure. The spice level can vary from one recipe to the next, but by any name it’s always a crowd pleaser!