Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Maafe (West African Peanut Stew)

Virginia is famous for its peanuts, but I recently learned that the history of Virginia peanut soup goes far beyond colonial Williamsburg.  Maafe, a traditional West African dish first made by the Mandinka and Bambara people of Mali, was brought to the United States through the slave trade and is the direct ancestor of Virginia peanut soup, according to African American foodways specialist Michael TwittyMaafe can be served with rice, couscous, or sweet potatoes, but when we made it the other night, we ate it as a stand-alone stew.  

I promise it tastes better than it looks.
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 onions, diced
  • 1 - 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 - 6 ounce can tomato paste
  • 1.5 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 acorn squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 - 10 or 14 ounce bag of cole slaw cabbage 

First, heat the oil and garlic in a large soup pot over medium-high heat.  Once the oil is hot, add the onions and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Then add all remaining ingredients except the cole slaw cabbage.  Stir together and bring to a boil.  Then add the cabbage and cook, stirring frequently, for about 30 minutes, or until the squash is tender and can be easily pierced with a fork.

Serve hot over rice or on its own.  Yields 6 servings.

Rachel and I are maafe's new biggest fans.  The sauce is incredibly rich and creamy, and the peanut butter taste is subtle but pleasant.  My favorite part was that the acorn squash almost melts in your mouth.  Rachel compared the flavor of the sauce to chicken makhani.  Simon wasn't as keen on the dish because it lacked something to bite into, but I think serving it over rice or with some bread to dip in would add a bit more heft.
None of these ingredients is difficult to find.  You can substitute the bag of cole slaw for half of a head of cabbage, if you prefer. 
 Ease of Preparation:         
The recipe is pretty simple, but peeling the acorn squash was the opposite of simple.  It took forever to peel because of the ridges!  (We also don't have a vegetable peeler, which surely didn't help.)  Next time, I might try out these tips for peeling acorn squash: http://lazyhomesteader.com/2011/10/11/how-to-peel-an-acorn-squash/. 
Non-vegan friendliness:         
This dish has a great flavor and smooth texture, though I think it would be best eaten along with rice, bread, or something else (rather than on its own). 


  1. For the squash, definitely get yourself a peeler, and use butternut. Acorn is really best baked in its skin then the flesh scooped out for soup or puree or straight into your mouth. Most recipes for Maafe suggest carrot and eggplant.. the latter gives a "meatier" texture for your non-vegans. :)

    1. I have since acquired a peeler and it's makes a huge difference. And thanks for the tip about the squash types.

      I can definitely see how carrot and eggplant would work in this.