I was gifted a cookbook recently (thank you JC!): Born to Cook: A Passion for Flavour, written by Chef Victor Bongo, a Congolese chef whose global cuisine has won international acclaim.
When I cracked open its hardcover, I was greeted with mouthwatering photos of appetizers, soups, mains, and desserts. The book is not only a collection of drool-worthy recipes from around the world, it also tells the story of Chef Bongo: his love for food, his family, and the Congo.
If you’ve never tried African food, this is a great place to start! The African peanut soup recipe is relatively easy to prepare, yet it has a rich and complex flavour profile. I love the creaminess of the coconut milk, the smokiness of the allspice, and the crunch of the roasted peanut garnish. This soup also packs a nutrition punch, it has beta-carotene from the yam, vitamin C from bell peppers, and protein from the peanut butter. If lowering fat intake is a priority for you, try using 1/2 cup of fat-reduced coconut milk and increasing the amount of water or vegetable broth by 1/2 cup.
I made a few modifications to the original recipe: I used water in place of vegetable broth (yet it was still plenty flavourful), and I omitted green plantains and okra (points for authenticity if you include them). I also pureed the soup to better blend the flavours– Chef Bongo encouraged his readers to experiment, and I pass on the same message to you.
African Peanut Soup with Coconut Creme
Modified from: Born to Cook: A Passion for Flavour by Victor Bongo
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup onion, medium dice
1/2 cup each: carrots and celery, medium dice
3/4 cup yams, medium dice
1/4 cup each: red, orange, and green bell pepper, medium dice
1 tablespoon each: ginger and garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon each: ground coriander and ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon each: ground turmeric and cayenne pepper
1 cup coconut milk
2 cups water or vegetable broth
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (I used on that’s made with roasted peanuts and salt)
1 tbsp lime juice
salt and black pepper to taste
for garnish: finely diced mixed bell peppers, cilantro, and chopped roasted peanuts
To make the coconut creme, reduce coconut milk by half in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cool in fridge.
Once cool, mix in crème fraîche or sour cream. Refrigerate until ready to use.
To make the soup, heat vegetable oil in a large pot (with a lid) over medium, once hot, add onion and saute for 10-12 minutes, or until it is caramelized.
Add carrots, celery and yams, cook for 5-7 minutes with the lid on.
Add the 3 kinds of bell peppers, cook for 5 minutes with the lid on.
Add ginger and garlic, cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.
Add the spices, cook for 1 minute.
Add coconut milk and water (or vegetable broth), stir in tomato paste and peanut butter. With the lid on, bring soup to a boil over high heat then simmer until vegetables are tender (about 15 minutes).
Puree soup using a blender until no chunks remain, season with salt, pepper, and lime juice.
To serve, garnish with coconut creme, finely diced mixed bell peppers, cilantro and chopped roasted peanuts.
Some things in life are beyond description, like the shades of sky at sunset, smell of air after rain, or my first taste of coconut cream. Thicker than coconut milk, coconut cream is sensual, luxurious, and deeply satisfying.
Make this curry as spicy as you can take it, or keep it mild to let the other flavours shine through. Let your taste buds guide your exploration of this dish and many more.
Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients. Most are spices and require only measuring. You can also substitute garam masala for the spices. If you do not have dried mango powder, I suggest trying lemon/ lime juice.
Coconut Chickpea Curry
1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight then boiled
4 tbsp oil, divided
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 russet potato, diced (about 1.5 cm cubes)
2 cups water, divided
Salt to taste
2 black cardamom pods
1.5 tsp black mustard seeds
1.5 tsp whole coriander seeds
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
2 tsp grated/ minced fresh ginger
2 whole dried red chilies
1/2 tsp ground chili powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp ground fennel seed
1 tsp dried mango powder
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
200 mL canned coconut cream
2 small or 1 large tomato, diced
In a large pot, heat 1 tbsp oil and saute onion over medium heat until golden brown, add garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
Add diced potatoes, 1 cup water, and some salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then simmer until potatoes are soft. Add more water to prevent burning if necessary.
Add chickpeas to potatoes and continue to cook.
Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan with a lid, heat remaining oil (3 tbsp) over medium-high heat. Add whole cardamom, mustard, coriander, and cumin seeds. Put a lid on the pan and let the spices splutter and pop. When the spluttering slows down, add ginger and whole chilies, stir for 15 seconds. Next, add the ground spices and cook for 15 seconds.
To the spices, add coconut cream and the remaining 1 cup water.
Pour the coconut and spice mixture into the pot with the chickpeas, add tomato(es). Simmer for 5-10 minutes to allow flavours to blend. Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove whole cardamom pods and chilies before serving with rice or a bread of your choosing.
Coconut milk is one of the staple ingredients in Thai cuisine, and it truly shines in this soup. Some of the ingredients, such as galangal and kaffir lime leaves, can be substituted for more easily found ones. However, I encourage you to gather the fresh galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves, since they do give a more authentic flavour. According to the people at EatingThaiFood.com, this soup is usually eaten with rice, like a curry.
Omit fish sauce and add 1/2 tsp salt to make it vegan.
Use vegetable/ chicken broth instead of water.
Add diced chicken or whole shrimp (adjust cooking time accordingly).
Try these other veggies: baby corn, straw mushrooms, white mushrooms, bok choy, bell peppers, broccoli, carrot, eggplant, okra.
I was very happy with how this soup turned out. The salty, sour, and spicy flavours danced on my palate as I slurped the creamy broth by the spoonful. Watercress was slightly bitter, which worked well with the rich soup. And I simply loved how the cherry tomato would burst with its warm, sweet, tomato-y juice at the first bite.
6 fresh or dried kaffir lime leaves, torn into large pieces (substitute: zest of 1 lime)
4 stalks lemongrass, bottom 6 inches only, bruised with back of a knife and cut into 2 inch long pieces
6 bird’s eye chilies, stems removed
350 g medium-firm tofu, 1/4 inch cubes
4-6 shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
12 cherry tomatoes
1 small bunch watercress, 1 inch pieces
1 cup coconut milk
2-3 tablespoons fish sauce (or to taste, substitute with 1/2 tsp salt for vegan option)
Juice of 1 lime (or to taste)
1/2 tsp sugar (or to taste)
2 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
In a medium pot, bring water to boil over high heat, then turn heat down to medium. If using dried galangal or lime leaves, add them first and boil for 10 minutes before adding the rest of the stock ingredients and cooking for another 15 minutes. If using fresh versions, add all ingredients at once and boil for 20 minutes.
Strain the stock into a large soup pot, discard the seasonings.
Bring the stock to a boil over medium-high heat, add tofu and cook for 5 minutes.
Add shiitake mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, cook for 3 minutes.
Add watercress and coconut milk, cook until the watercress is just wilted (3-4 minutes), stirring frequently.