A Soup for Peanut Lovers

December 15, 2011
By Holly Jennings

Does two of anything make a trend? If so, peanut soup is trending in Vermont, where I live. I’ve enjoyed peanut butter–pumpkin soup at the nearby South Royalton Market, and peanut curry soup at Cockadoodle Pizza Café in the neighboring town of Bethel, where it was recently the soup of the day. Both were delicious and spicy.

Peanut soup is not a trend, however, in the Southern United States, and, in particular, in Virginia, where my family lived in the seventies. There it has been made since Colonial Days. It has been served at the Wayside Inn, in Middletown, Virginia, where, my family would dine to celebrate special occasions, since the Inn opened in 1797. Their version, a traditional recipe that has remained unchanged, is not spicy.

If you trace the peanut back to Africa—it was most likely brought to the Southern United States via captured Africans on slave ships—there you will find dozens of spicy peanut-based soups, stews, and sauces.

The following soup recipe from the cookbook 70 Traditional African Recipes by Rosamund Grant, the current DCCC pick, is one such example.

Referencing the African name for the peanut, which is actually a legume that grows underground, and the starring role it plays in this delicately flavored yet easy-to-make yet 10-ingredient soup, Grant’s recipe is called, simply, Groudnut Soup.

I made just a few changes to Grant’s recipe: I increased the amount of peanut butter and fresh ginger slightly and doubled the amount of white yams to create a heartier soup. In the original recipe, okra is optional; I’ve made okra a must-have for the distinctive flavor and aroma it adds to the soup. Grant has you add the okra whole, but mentions in a note that they are traditionally chopped, which gives the soup what she calls a “slightly ‘tacky’ consistency.” Yes, the chopped okra does had some viscosity, but it’s thickening properties also give the soup some body. And we can all live with a little better body, can’t we?

Spicy Peanut and White Yam Soup
Adapted from recipe in 70 Traditional African Recipes by Rosamund Grant

Serves 4 to 6

4 tablespoons unsalted and unsweetened smooth peanut butter or groundnut paste (see Notes)
6¼ cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 onion, chopped
3 slices peeled fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or other ground red chili pepper), or to taste
1 pound white yam, peeled and diced (see Notes)
10 small okras, trimmed and chopped

  1. Place the peanut butter in a bowl, add 1¼ cups of the stock and the tomato paste, and blend together until smooth.
  2. Place the peanut mixture in a 3-quart or larger saucepan and add the onion, ginger, thyme, bay leaf, 1 teaspoon of salt, chili powder, and remaining stock.
  3. Heat gently over medium heat until simmering, then simmer for 1 hour, moderating the heat as necessary and stirring from time to time to keep the peanut mixture from sticking.
  4. Add the white yam, cook 10 minutes more, then add the okra and simmer until both are tender. Taste for seasoning, and serve immediately. (Note: The natural oil in the peanuts will tend to separate as the soups sits or when refrigerated. Simply stir the oil back into the soup before serving.)

Notes: In her recipe, Grant calls for peanut butter or “groundnut paste,” which she says is available in health food shops. This brought to mind the peanut butter machines I’ve often seen in health food stores or food co-ops. You push a button and out comes fresh ground peanut butter that has neither an ultra-smooth nor a chunky texture but is somewhere in between—and is more like a paste. This is what I used as for the soup.

If you cannot find true yams, substitute an equal amount of sweet potatoes. I used the Hannah variety of white yams, which have a cream colored skin with a pale yellow interior flesh. They cook quickly and have a very tender, but not mushy, texture and delicate, sweet flavor. If you don’t find white yams at your local market, ask the produce manager if he or she can place a special order for you. That’s how I got mine.

Recipe reprinted from 70 Traditional African Recipes (ISBN: 978-1-84476-966-7) with the express permission of Southwater. Recipe introduction was written by Holly Jennings.



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