By Yewande Komolafe, The New York Times
For me, fall feels incomplete without a day at Oko Farms — my dear friend Yẹmí Amu’s sustainable aquaponic farm on the Williamsburg, Brooklyn, waterfront in New York — and the chance to get creative with whatever I bring home.
So, one late September weekend, when the weather began its subtle shift from summer to fall, my 3-year-old daughter, Aṣa, and I spent an afternoon there. The sun sparkled against the East River as we fed fish, plucked ripe bell peppers from their stalks, rubbed fresh lemongrass to inhale its aroma and picked a basket of fresh herbs.
We saw how Yẹmí’s fish are kept in raised tanks and how their filtered wastewater flows into the vegetables’ floating beds, providing nutrients for the produce. For Aṣa, this all felt like an interactive maze (there was a lot to see at a toddler’s eye level). She could peer over the tank’s edges to see plant roots submerged in water, with the stalks and leaves floating above.
When we got home, hungry and in need of something warm and soothing, we turned our farm-fresh bounty into a pot of maafé.
An adaptable peanut stew from Senegal, maafé has always been one of my fall comforts. It comes together with a few root vegetables, herbs, peppers and a protein, if you wish. A truly great one balances sweet, savory, salty, earthy and spicy.
Yẹmí and I both moved to New York from Lagos, and we share a passion for connecting with the idea of home through our work. I’ve witnessed the evolution of her farm, the ingenuity and physical labor that she puts into managing an urban aquaponics space. Each season, she adds a few crops that are native to West Africa, ingredients we know from the markets and farms back home: hot chiles, scent leaves, sorghum and melon seeds, and so many more.
And each season, whether I’m developing recipes or just cooking for my family, she knows I’ll be checking in when the harvest is ready. I’ll incorporate some of her produce into my maafé for as long as I can, because I know the dish works in so many forms.
Maafé is often called West African peanut stew, but that’s an oversimplification. Across the region, there are many versions that feature peanuts as a base, all greatly nuanced: for example, akitiwa in Togo, nkatenkwan in Ghana and miyan taushe across northern Nigeria. In fact, it was miyan taushe that brought me to maafé. In Lagos, my parents and I would make miyan taushe with the leafy greens, herbs and squash that grew in our backyard throughout the year, slipping the bounty into a rich groundnut-based sauce.
My maafé, now that I live in New York, is a small part of my ever-evolving story of home as I gather and adapt whatever I can to re-create the flavors I remember. Oko Farms is an extension of that, a space of pure delight and one that allows me to revisit pieces of my childhood — a cherished experience to share with Aṣa.
Maafé can be your highly adaptable stew, too. It plays well with any mix of proteins or vegetables. Immersed in a peanut-infused sauce, each ingredient’s flavor still shines. Cubes of beef, lamb, chicken, seafood or tofu do well here — but why not let fall’s bounty be the only inspiration you need?
Recipe from Yewande Komolafe
A great maafé effortlessly balances sweet, savory, earthy and spicy. Maafé is often called West African peanut stew, but that’s an oversimplification. Across the region, there are many versions that feature peanuts as a base, and all are greatly nuanced: For example, there’s akitiwa in Togo, nkatenkwan in Ghana and miyan taushe across northern Nigeria. This highly adaptable stew can be made with any assortment of meat, poultry, seafood and seasonal vegetables you have on hand (see Tips), but this one goes all-in on produce. Keeping the Scotch bonnet whole in the sauce controls the heat: cook to soften, then break it open to dissolve seeds in the sauce for more heat, or cook and remove the softened whole chile from the sauce for less heat. Serve it all over steamed rice, millet or fonio, with some lime slices for squeezing. Maafé can be made ahead, refrigerated and reheated for a warm, comforting meal whenever you need; its rich flavor only improves with time.
Yield: 6 servings
Total time: 1 hour
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 small red onion, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, scrubbed and grated
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 red Scotch bonnet
- 2 medium green plantains, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (see Tips)
- 1/2 medium butternut squash (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (see Tips)
- 2 medium carrots, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces (see Tips)
- 4 cups vegetable stock or water
- 1/2 cup creamy, unsalted peanut butter
- 2 tablespoon tamarind purée (optional)
- 2 teaspoons ground dawadawa (see Tips) or 1 tablespoon fish sauce (optional)
- 4 cups hearty greens, such as mature spinach, turnip greens, collards or kale, chopped with stems
- Steamed rice, fonio or millet, for serving
- 1 lime, sliced, for squeezing
1. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Sauté until soft and just beginning to brown at the edges, about 6 minutes. Add in the grated ginger and sauté until fragrant, 1 minute.
2. Add the tomato paste, stirring to evenly coat the vegetables. Cook until the paste turns brick red, 1 minute. Add the whole tomatoes and their liquid, breaking up the tomatoes in the pot. Stir and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen any bits that have stuck to the surface. Using a sharp knife, poke slits in the Scotch bonnet and drop it into the pot. Season the sauce with salt and bring the sauce to a simmer.
3. Add the plantains and cook until they just begin to soften, 10 minutes. Add the butternut squash, carrots and vegetable stock. Increase the heat to high and bring the stew up to a boil. Once the liquid is bubbling, reduce heat to medium. Cook until the vegetables are just fork-tender, about 15 minutes. In a small bowl, combine the peanut butter with 1/4 cup hot liquid from the pot. Stir into a loose sauce.
4. Stir the peanut butter mixture into the pot. Add the tamarind purée, ground dawadawa or fish sauce, if using. Stir in the greens. Drop the heat to low and let the sauce simmer, stirring frequently, for another 10 minutes or until the sauce is thickened to a creamy but loose consistency. Remove from heat, taste and season with more salt if necessary. Remove the Scotch bonnet chile and discard. Serve maafé over steamed rice, fonio or millet, with a couple of lime slices for squeezing.
Maafé lends itself to a variety of fall vegetables: potatoes, pumpkin, kabocha or any type of squash, parsnips, turnips, sweet potatoes or a mix of mushrooms. Substitute the amounts above with the same amounts of any mix of vegetables.
Dawadawa is a fermented locust bean product frequently used in West African cooking to add deep, robust flavor to soups and stews. It can be found as a ground powder or whole beans in the spice aisles of any African grocer. Possible alternatives are fish sauce or fermented black beans.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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