warmly spiced peanut stew

As temperatures get cooler, fresh and raw (or barely cooked) ingredients and dishes quickly start to lose their appeal. And yet, the difference between late summer and early fall isn’t as categorical as one day it is and the next day it ain’t. The tomatoes don’t know which day autumn begins, and neither do the apples. That’s why it’s so common to have a perhaps-confusing overlap of produce during transitional periods of the year — it’s quite normal around these times to find the first pumpkins and brassicas gracing the market stalls just as the last plums, beans and corn take their final bow. Transitional times call for transitional meals, and this dish makes no exception. Tomatoes, eggplant, sweet potatoes and peanuts all feel quite at home in this warmly spiced stew that is perfect for leading you out of the frantic summer heat and right into the unhurried cool of autumn.

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making a warmly spiced peanut stew

The key here is to slow things down. Don’t use a ready-made curry spice blend, make a curry paste yourself. Don’t flash-fry the eggplant or quickly boil/steam the sweet potato — patiently roast it instead. Try not to rush the cooking process, and instead give it time to do its thing. You’ll be more than greatly rewarded for embracing a gentle approach.

 

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ingredients

for the curry paste

  • 1 large white onion
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic
  • a nub of fresh ginger about 2cm long
  • ½ Tbsp of grated fresh turmeric or ½ tsp powdered turmeric
  • 2 tsp chili flakes
  • 1 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp whole fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tsp whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • small splash water
  • sea salt

for the roast eggplant and sweet potatoes

  • 1 medium-large eggplant
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1 tsp curry powder use your favourite!
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil

for the peanut stew

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • the curry paste above
  • 1 can of tomatoes, whole or diced or 400g fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 400ml vegetable stock
  • 1 heaped Tbsp of double concentrated tomato purée or 2 Tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 Tbsp natural peanut butter smooth or chunky, it’s up to you 
  • ¾ of the roasted eggplant and roasted sweet potatoes above
  • ½ a lime
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

for the toppings

  • a handful or two of salted roasted peanuts (shelled)
  • a handful of fresh coriander leaves
  • 1 green onion
  • 1 fresh red chili pepper
  • ½ a lime
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil

 

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preparation

1. Start by making the curry paste: peel, halve and roughly chop 1 large white onion and transfer it to a food processor. Crush and peel 4-6 cloves of garlic and add them to the food processor too. Roughly chop a 2 cm nub of fresh ginger and add it to the processor along with a 1 cm nub of fresh turmeric (or ½ tsp ground turmeric) and 2 teaspoons of chili flakes. Next, crush one teaspoon each of cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds and coriander seeds using a mortar and pestle (if you don’t have one, you can also just toss the seeds whole into the food processor). Add 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika, a tiny splash of water, and a good pinch of sea salt. Blitz everything into a paste. If your food processor is struggling to get started, feel free to add a splash more of water — it’ll cook off later.

2. Preheat the oven to 200°C fan / 220°C / 425°F  while you start on the stew. In a large, heavy skillet or in a wide frying pan, add around 3 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and turn the heat to medium. Once the oil is hot, transfer the curry paste out of the food processor and into the pan using a rubber spatula, so as to scrape every last bit out. Leave to cook, stirring occasionally, until the paste has reduced and darkened, and until the oil has absorbed into the paste and then split out again (about 15 minutes). Once the oil has separated, you know that all the rawness has been cooked out of the aromatics in the paste.

3. While the curry paste cooks, prepare the vegetables for roasting: dice 1 medium-large eggplant and 1 large sweet potato into big cubes, about 4 cm or 5 cm wide each. Spread them out onto a sheet pan or two, so that no two pieces are touching.

 

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Sprinkle 1 teaspoon each of curry powder and smoked paprika over the cubed vegetables, as well as a half teaspoon of cinnamon. Season with salt and pepper, then drizzle on just enough olive oil to help the spices stick to the veg before tossing each sheet pan’s contents together with your hands, so as to coat the eggplant and sweet potato evenly in spices. Wash and dry your hands, then place each tray in the oven. Leave to roast for 25-30 minutes, until the eggplant and sweet potato are tender all the way through and have slightly caramelised edges. Then remove from the oven and leave on the trays to cool.

 

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4. Once the curry paste has cooked through, add 1 can of tomatoes (or 400g fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped) to the skillet/pan. If using whole tomatoes, crush them a bit using a wooden spoon, then stir them through the paste. Use the empty can or a measuring cup to measure out 400ml of vegetable stock, then add that to the pan along with 1 heaped tablespoon of double concentrated tomato purée (or 2 Tbsp regular tomato purée) and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. Season with salt and pepper before stirring everything through and leaving to simmer on low heat, until most of the liquid has reduced and the stew has thickened and darkened (i.e. its flavours have deepened), about 30-40 minutes.

5. While the peanut stew bubbles away, prepare the garnishes: roughly chop 1 or 2 handfuls of roasted salted peanuts, as well as 1 big handful of fresh coriander. Then slice 1 green onion and 1 fresh red chili into thin rings and set all the garnished aside (on a plate or cutting board).

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6. When the peanut stew is ready, gently stir in about ¾ of the roasted eggplant and roasted sweet potato along with the juice of ½ lime. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

7. Serve by piling the stew onto a large serving plate, then topping with the remaining roasted vegetables and a delicate sprinkling of the garnishes. Drizzle on a thin ribbon of olive oil, and season lightly with a bit of extra salt and pepper. Any remaining garnishes can be served on a small plate alongside the stew so diners can help themselves.

 

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I served this peanut stew with a side of red rice and a side of black-eyed peas (that I simply dressed with fresh lime juice, olive oil, salt and fresh coriander leaves) and I can heartily recommend that you do the same with similar sides of grains and pulses. The meal was a smash hit, and it made for wonderful leftovers the next day too.

 

 

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