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Fiery Stew, Exotic Flavors
By John Havel

One of the most enjoyable parts of travel is to taste the foods that are indigenous to different countries and cultures. If you judge Mexican food by local restaurants you would miss the incredible variety of moles for Oaxaca, for example. The stews of Hunan province are not served in Chinese restaurants and African food is hard to find outside of large cities.

But traveling to all these regions to sample these wonderful cuisines is near impossible, so we turn to cookbooks. Traditionally, West African dishes are real mouth-blisterers. In fact, some of them are so hot that they make spicy Indian food seem bland by comparison. African recipes, like this one, have to be severely toned down for western palettes.

Peanut flavor is prominently featured in this dish. You may have seen recipes for "groundnut" stew. Groundnut is a traditional name for a peanut and relates to how the peanut grows; on a vine that buries its pods into the ground. In West African cuisine, peanuts can be found in just about anything, from soups and stews to garnishes, snacks and pounded into a paste.

A typical meal in West Africa is heavy on starchy foods, light on meat, generous on fat and commonly cooked in one pot. Other than that, the most telling characteristic of an African dish is heat. Equatorial climates all tend to encourage the use of chilis, as these hot foods produce the effect of "gustatory sweating" resulting in an overall cooling effect.

The basis of this recipe is so globally widespread, it has evolved to include the various ingredients native to the new regions. After all, most stews are very adaptable making additions and substitutions easy. You can include okra, carrots, tomatoes ... pretty much any vegetable and substituting the chicken for beef, pork, or lamb will certainly work.

West African Stew
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1 1/2 lbs. boneless chicken breasts or thighs, cut in bite sized pieces
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 or 2 habanaro peppers, seeded and diced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 large sweet potato, cut in 3/4" cubes
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter (Skippy Natural is very tasty)
1 (15 oz.) can chick peas, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup cilantro, choppped

In a large Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium high heat. Add chicken, and brown quickly. Remove chicken from pot. Add 1 tablespoon oil. Reduce heat to medium low, and add garlic, onions and habanaro peppers; saute 2 to 3 minutes. Season with cumin, black pepper, and salt.

Mix in chicken stock, sweet potato, and browned chicken, plus any accumulated juices. Place lid on Dutch oven and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove lid, and stir in the peanut butter and chick peas. Make sure the peanut butter is blended in. Replace lid and simmer for 10 more minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and sweet potatoes are tender. Stir in cilantro. Remove from heat, adjust seasoning, and serve with hot white rice.

Music By John Havel

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