spicy peanut stew with ginger and tomato

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when I think of the word “international”, a few cities jump to mind: new york city, london, washington, d.c. three starkly different cities with completely different atmospheres, and yet when I think of each one, the first word that comes to mind is “international”.

new york is bustling, its immigrant population in full display in the crowded streets and its immigrant-welcoming history commemorated by the statue of liberty. skyscrapers tower like trees fighting for sunlight in a concrete jungle. businesses from around the world are located in nyc, from large global corporations to small, immigrant-run bakeries.

london, on the other hand, feels like an old european city. there are the famous bridges, the castles, the colossal, centuries-old government buildings and museums. and yet there is undoubtedly an international presence felt in the communities of immigrants, many from former colonies, where the smells of spices not native to europe and the sounds of foreign languages spill into the streets.

and then there’s washington, d.c., the seat of the federal government and so wholly american, yet international. where embassies of small countries are tucked in basements of residential neighborhoods, where every block seems to have some sort of foreign language learning school or university building or government office. in washington d.c., one truly feels how internationalism is interwoven with american government and culture. so many parts of d.c. feel transient, from the revolving foreign staff to our own elected officials to the large student populace and young professionals.

even in my apartment building, I hear different languages in the elevator and in the halls and around dinnertime, delicious odors waft into my apartment. sometimes, it’s a whiff of kimchi, other times a roast chicken. while frying up the aromatics for this peanut stew, a riff on west african peanut stew, the scents of cumin, cayenne, peppers, and shallots quickly filled my kitchen. I can only hope that someone else in the building enjoyed the smells and that it perhaps inspired them.

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makes eight servings

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-in dice
1 tsp kosher salt + more to taste
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil, divided
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 inches ginger, peeled and minced
1-2 jalapeƱo peppers, seeded and minced
1 onion, chopped
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
3-4 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup natural unsweetened peanut butter
1 medium-sized zucchini, cut in quarters lengthwise, then sliced 1/2 in thick
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped + more for garnish
chopped peanuts (optional)

julia moskin. spicy peanut stew with ginger and tomato. new york times. 24 january 2007. accessed 12 september 2017.
1 in a colander, toss eggplant with 1 tsp salt and set aside for 30 minutes. dry off with paper towels.
2 in a small bowl, combine cumin, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne; set aside.
3 in a large pot, heat 3 tbsp oil over medium-high heat. add shallots and fry, stirring often, until soft, crisp, and caramelized, ~10 minutes. using a slotted spoon, transfer shallots to a large bowl, leaving oil in pot. raise heat to high and add eggplant. cook, stirring often, until lightly browned and just tender, ~10 minutes. transfer to bowl with shallots.
4 add remaining 1 tbsp oil to pot and heat over medium-high heat. add ginger and chilies then cook, stirring for 30 seconds. add spices and cook, stirring, for another 30 seconds. add onion and cook, stirring to scrape up any browned bits, until softened and translucent, ~5 minutes. add tomato paste and cook, stirring, ~1 minute.
5 add diced tomatoes, vegetable stock, eggplants, shallots, and sprinkling of salt. bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. place peanut butter in a medium bowl, add 1-2 ladlefuls of hot soup and stir until emulsified, then pour mixture back into soup.
6 reduce heat to a simmer, add zucchini, cover, and cook for 10-15 minutes, until vegetables are tender. turn off heat and stir in lemon juice and chopped cilantro. let cool slightly and taste; add salt if necessary.
7 serve with rice, garnished with cilantro leaves and chopped peanuts.

*ingredients are flexible – juice of 1/2 a lime works well if you don’t have lemons; you can also add sweet potatoes (pan-fry with eggplant), collard greens/kale (add with diced tomatoes and vegetable stock), and/or chicken (1/2 chicken breast added after onions are softened and cooked for 3-4 additional minutes).

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