Peanut butter and tomatoes do too go together!

During the most recent episode of Top Chef, Stephanie Izard made a sauce for chicken that included peanut butter and tomatoes. Twice Tom Colicchio talked as if he was repulsed by the idea of the combination. As I watched the episode, I thought I had used those flavors together at least once. It didn't take much digging to find an example. But let me give you some background first.

When my kids were in third grade, the curriculum focused on various parts of the world, one of them being Africa. The unit culminated with an African "Harambee" night at the school, during which the kids performed African songs and dances (the 2003 performance shown here).

Before each son's performance, I hosted an African-themed dinner. The boys invited a few classmates and their families, as well as their teachers. The first time I did this, in 2003, I included some authentic dishes like Injera bread and Ugali, but after those were mostly uneaten, I decided not to get hung up on authenticity. Instead, I just decided it was good enough to give people a sense of the kinds of foods and flavors served in the various countries in Africa.

For both dinners, the favorite dish was probably West African Peanut Soup, from the Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant cookbook. (Moosewood, by the way, is located in Ithaca, a couple of hours east of here.) In fact, the first time I hosted the dinner, it was gobbled up so quickly I didn't have a chance to eat some! My serving dish was practically licked clean. And both times, people asked me for the recipe. Two of the ingredients: two cups of tomato juice, and one cup of creamy peanut butter. While Stephanie's dish might not have been great, I rest my case that the two flavors can work together. I might add that the dish is a great example of a nourishing vegetarian dish that is inexpensive and has plenty of protein. Maybe I would have done that if I had faced that challenge as a contestant in Top Chef. Add a salad and a bread and you're good to go.

While I'm at it, I thought I'd include another favorite recipe from both African dinners -- ground beef Samosas.

Both of these photos are from 2003, before I had a blog, so I didn't take close-up shots of the food. This is the only photo from both evenings that included the food at all. I have to laugh at me in the photo -- I was wearing a heavy sweater while I was cooking and boy was I sweating. Duh!

West African Peanut Soup
(from Sundays at the Moosewood Restaurant, with my notes)

2 cups chopped onion
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 tsp cayenne or other ground chiles
1 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger
1 cup chopped carrots
2 cups chopped sweet potatoes
4 cups vegetable stock or water
2 cups tomato juice
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 Tablespoon sugar
chopped scallions, for garnish
chopped roasted peanuts, for garnish

Sauté onion in oil until it is translucent. Stir in cayenne and ginger. Add carrots and sauté a couple minutes more. Mix in potatoes and stock, bring to a boil, simmer 15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Puree the vegetables with tomato juice (and some of the cooking liquid if necessary) in a blender or food processor (or with a stick blender). Return the puree to the pot. Stir in the peanut butter until smooth. Check sweetness and add sugar if necessary. (I did add the sugar.) Reheat gently, using a heat diffuser if necessary to prevent scorching. (I did this in the crock pot). Add more water, stock, or tomato juice to make a thinner soup if desired. (I did not thin the soup.) Serve topped with plenty of chopped scallions and chopped roasted peanuts.

Serves 6-8

Samosas (also spelled Samoosas)

This dish originated in India. One of my sources said it was served in Kenya. Another one said South Africa. This is an amalgam of two different recipes I saw for this dish.

1 pound ground beef
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large onions, chopped
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper

1 pound egg roll wrappers

Brown meat; add remaining ingredients, and cook together for about 30 minutes.

Cut egg roll wrappers in half (into two long rectangles). Imagine the top half as a square that you will fold in half along its diagonal. Put a tablespoon of filling in the middle of that half. Fold top half down over the filling diagonally, so that the top of your strip is now a triangle. Then fold this triangle over the next section of the strip so that you have a square. Finally, fold once again along the diagonal so that you end with a multi-layered triangle. (This is easier to demonstrate than to write). Seal all edges with water. Be sure there are no open corners, or you'll lose the filling during frying. Fry in moderately hot oil until brown and crisp.

These can be held in a warm oven but they get tougher.


Lisa said...

What a great idea to host a dinner like that. The recipes sound great. We have international night at my children's school and I love trying all the ethnic foods.

bleeding espresso said...

That soup looks fabulous! Just may be worth a cup of my rationed peanut butter (hard to find in southern Italy!) ;)

Emiline said...

Ah ha! You've proven Mr. Colicchio wrong.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Oh, how I love African peanut soup. I haven't been watching Top Chef this season, but you'd win immunity with this bowl of soup.

IvySpot said...

I'm sooooo glad you posted this! My parents are from Ghana and my mom always used to make this soup for me when I was young! And I was raging mad when I heard Chef Tom express his repulsion at this combo of flavors. Just goes to show you: big time culinary chefs don't know everything!