Mafe is an African stew made with lots of lovely veg, tomato paste, hot chilis and peanut butter. Now, you would be right to say ‘don’t you hate peanut butter?’. I do, but when it’s all mixed in to a sauce like this I’m happy to leap on board the peanut train to Peanutsville. As long as I don’t have to eat any actual peanuts while I’m there, which seems unlikely given the name of the place. On second thoughts, I won’t get on that particular train. I still like this recipe, though.
Here’s a link to the original recipe for mafe on Leite’s Culinaria, which includes lamb and I’m sure is absolutely delicious. I made quite a few changes to mine, deciding to only use veg in an attempt to mediate a couple of weeks of eating lots of far less nutritious fare. Here’s the version I made:
- 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
- 2 small onions (or one large, I suppose), diced
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 2 generous tbsp tomato paste mixed with 1/2 cup hot water
- the top half of a butternut squash (the thin part without the seeds), peeled and cut into chunks
- 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 sticks of celery, chopped
- 1 small swede (or turnip, depending what you call it), peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 baking potato, NOT peeled but still cut into chunks
- 1 small white cabbage, outer leaves removed, cut into wedges
- 5 to 6 cups lamb stock (from cubes, unless you happen to have some fresh)
- 4 birds eye chilis, pierced but not sliced
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 more birds eye chilis, finely chopped, plus more to garnish to your own personal heat preference
- 4 – 5 generous tablespoons unsweetened peanut butter
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- salt and pepper
- parsley or coriander, for serving
- cooked white rice, for serving
A lot of ingredients, and a lot of peeling and chopping. My own least favourite vegetable to prepare is probably swede, given that to cut it in half you often have to wedge a knife in it and then HAMMER the whole lot off the chopping board, much to the consternation of your neighbours. That said, butternut squash has it’s own unique lack of charm because once you’ve got the peel off, you still have to de-seed it, and surely nobody enjoys being wrist deep in vegetable guts? On this occasion we sidestep that horror by only using the top half of the squash, thank heaven for small mercies.
So, the first thing to do is heat the oil in a large pot, over a medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened. Then tip the tomato paste and water mixture in to the pot, and cook for a minute or two. I think this takes the bitter edge off the tomato paste, though I’m not positive of this. Let us be clear that I am not presenting this as a tomato paste fact.
Next, add all the vegetables to the pot, mix well and add enough stock to almost cover them. Bring the stew to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and drop in the bay leaf. I’m not really convinced of the efficacy of one bay leaf, on a solo mission to flavour a giant pot of stew. Make it a big bay leaf, to give it a fighting chance. Also add the four pierced birds eye chilis.
Simmer the stew for 20 minutes. After this time, carefully remove 1 cup of the liquid, and put the peanut butter into a bowl which will be large enough to let you stir in the water without any spillage. Add the water gradually, stirring the peanut butter to a smooth and increasingly thin paste after each small addition of water until you’ve combined it all; doing it this way will mean you don’t get lumps in the sauce. It’s a good technique for any situation where you’re adding a liquid to a paste or powder. This includes hot chocolate or packet soup – a little extra time when adding the water means you don’t have that ghastly mass of partially dissolved lumpy soup at the bottom of the mug. This is assuming that you are in a situation where you have to eat packet soup in the first place, of course, and if you are then you have my sympathies.
Now, add the peanut butter mixture back into the pot, and stir well. Add the chopped birds eye chilis, too. Simmer the stew for another ten minutes, then check the texture of the veg. If it’s soft, the stew is ready. If not, let it simmer some more. Once it’s ready, turn the heat right down and add the allspice, then taste for flavour. You can add seasoning now, or more chilis if it’s not hot enough. Serve along with the white rice and some parsley or coriander torn over the top, for colour.
Apparently the traditional way to serve and eat this stew is without any cutlery, just rolling up rice and stew together to make little parcels and then delivering them to your mouth. I didn’t do that, though it does sound like it could be fun, if enormously messy at first. I went with the fork option. It seemed safer.