Lettuce Eat Local
I’ve long had unusual taste preferences, to the extent that Brian and I always joked (and legitimately wondered) if I would crave normal food during pregnancy. I’m sure he was hoping that would be the case. Unfortunately, both of my pregnancies have produced more food aversions than cravings, although the few things I did uncharacteristically desire have been very standard for an American diet: I needed lots of potatoes when Benson was in utero, and this little baby so far has created very atypical penchants for sausage and soggy breakfast cereal. Don’t worry, not together. It is the togetherness, or combining, of foods that is usually expected in pregnancy. For some reason I feel like pickles and/or ketchup and ice cream is a stereotypical illustration of prenatal cravings; I haven’t been tempted at all to try that, since decades ago I already experimented with cocktail sauce and vanilla ice and I can conclusively say that it’s a bad idea. One of the odder combinations I’ve sampled recently was yellow mustard on an Oreo, but that’s because a friend is (wrongly) convinced of its palatability, and I’m fairly certain he’s not pregnant.
I’m really much more adventurous in my flavor combos when I’m not with child, so our prediction has essentially come true. It makes me wonder, however, what the maternal status is of the people who create some of the food items sold at the Kansas State Fair, which is of course in full swing this week. Apparently you can buy, as in pay good money for, a dill pickle stuffed with hot Cheetos, wrapped in fruit roll-ups, drizzled with chamoy, and sprinkled with Tajin. On a stick of course. Rumor has it there are more strange new options like deep-fried coke, hot dogs stuffed into jelly doughnuts, and pickle-flavored popsicles — and I’m sure a whole host of other fried things. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
However, clearly, who am I to judge? I think it’s boring when everything is normal, and my curiosity and appetite are absolutely piqued when it’s something out of the ordinary, so fry away. I just want you to keep some of those combinations and considerations in mind when I present my recipe for this week. Mixing tomatoes, peanut butter, and sweet potatoes might sound like something dreamed up in a maternal maelstrom, but actually I knew I wanted this stew because I’ve cooked these things up together so many times before. They’re a normal pairing in West Africa, only sounding strange to our Midwestern selves because we haven’t grown up with it. But while Brian and Benson may not have found it as addictively delicious as I did, they both liked it — which means you can, too. And like Brian said, even though I didn’t necessarily give him a choice at input in our menu, “At some point, you get tired of just fresh garden tomatoes and have to do something different.” While I’m not sure I agree with him on the tomato bit, I do appreciate the sentiment.
If you can try a pickle popsicle at the fair, you can try a peanut potato tomato stew at your table.
West African Sweet Potato Tomato Peanut Stew
Seriously, it makes me happy just thinking about it. I’m not saying it will blow your mind with life-changing deliciousness, but it’s just such a pleasantly unique and more-ish kind of meal. It’s rich and savory and hearty, while also somehow being fresh and sweet and light. Rice is a good accompaniment, and throw in some beef or chicken if you want.
Prep tips: I like the idea of the natural-style peanut butter, but standard will melt and meld better into the sauce. Skip the hot pepper if you don’t want any spice.
a good drizzle of peanut or olive oil
3 yellow onions, chopped
2” piece fresh ginger, minced; or 1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 hot pepper of choice, minced
½ tablespoon cumin
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2-3 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped
2-3 cups chicken broth
1-2 sweet potatoes, cubed
½ cup creamy peanut butter
Heat oil in a large saucepan, and add onions with a good pinch of salt; saute over medium heat until just browning. Stir in ginger and hot pepper, cook for a minute, then stir in cumin and tomato and cook for another minute. Add tomatoes, broth, sweet potatoes, and another good pinch of salt; bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, until sweet potatoes are just tender. Stir in peanut butter, and simmer for another 15 minutes or so until the sauce is thickened and rich. Season to taste, and serve over rice with coarsely chopped peanuts.