One thing that hasn’t changed during the COVID-19 pandemic is the need to eat. Staying home has encouraged some to perfect their culinary skills while others have cracked open cookbooks for the first time.
To provide you with some kitchen inspiration, Modern Farmer is asking top chefs what they’ve been cooking while staying isolated. This week, our publisher, Frank Giustra, weighs in with a spicy peanut butter West African chicken curry.
If I were on a desert island and offered only one bag of groceries, it would include canned tomatoes, pasta, olive oil and a couple of jars of peanut butter (no bread needed).
Peanut butter is a kid-favorite that seems to follow most of us into adulthood. It’s not only tasty, but nutritious, and like many health-conscious people these days, I eventually transitioned from the sugary brands, to the more natural selections. While I love the stuff, I must admit that I paused for a moment when the team at Acceso—an organization I founded to find entrepreneurial solutions to global poverty—suggested we produce a spicy peanut butter in Haiti.
Since 2014, Acceso has been working to lift thousands of Haitian farmers out of poverty by building the largest formal network of smallholder farmers in Haiti, and becoming the largest supplier of local peanuts on the island. To build on this success, the team wanted to sell a spicy peanut butter using scotch bonnet peppers and peanuts grown by these Haitian farmers to consumers in the US. After a few years of perfecting a recipe, conducting taste tests in Haiti and New York, and ideating around a name and design, Lavi Spicy Peanut Butter was born. “Lavi” means “life” in Haitian Creole and Acceso’s intent with this name was to capture the vibrant, life-loving culture of Haiti in a new and exciting product. We introduced Lavi in the US at the end of 2019.
Lavi is now generating a new source of income for these farmers, and on top of that, for each jar purchased, a peanut-based nutritious snack is provided to a child in Haiti through Acceso Haiti’s school meals program.
Spicy peanut butter, or mamba, is a common condiment in Haiti that’s sold on street corners in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. It’s often savoury and hot, unlike the sweet peanut butters we tend to consume in the US. As I’ve learned more about mamba, I’ve tried some traditional Haitian and West African recipes that include this unique ingredient. Recently, I tried a recipe for Chicken Mafé, a West African dish that’s culturally close to Haitian cooking, which I found in NYT Cooking.
I followed the recipe, but, as I was out in the countryside, I didn’t have access to cabbage, carrots and tomato paste on that particular day. I did the best I could by thickening canned tomatoes and adding green beans. Meanwhile, my girlfriend decided to create a second dish, which was more of a chicken curry style recipe, also using spicy peanut butter.
The resulting dishes were both very tasty, and we had them again for leftovers the following night. My girlfriend’s dish had more of a peanut butter taste and was spicier than mine, although we used equal amounts of peanut butter. At first, I thought this was due to the additional spices she had used, but was later told by a chef friend of ours that I had added too many potatoes. Apparently, potatoes absorb a lot of the heat from spices. Our friend also suggested we add lime juice (cherry tomatoes work as well) for acidity which helps balance and enhance the flavors. We added lime juice on the leftovers and I must admit, it made a big difference.
West African chicken curry
4 chicken thighs
4 large garlic cloves
3 inches ginger
1 red pepper
2 sweet potatoes
1 Yukon gold potato
1 pack green string beans
5 chopped runner beans
1 tin chopped tomatoes
½ pint Chicken stock
½ jar of spicy peanut butter
½ cup light coconut milk
1 large handful of chopped fresh coriander
*we suggest that you use spices in quantities to your preference as the measurements used in this recipe were eyeballed
Chop the garlic cloves into small pieces. Mix half of them with the oil, honey, lime, salt, pepper, turmeric, cumin and paprika. Add these to a zip lock bag and massage the chicken in until covered completely. Leave this to marinate for a minimum of one hour, and preferably overnight if possible.
Chop the potatoes into cubes and the other vegetables roughly into a similar size.
Add them to a pan, along with the onions, ginger, and the rest of the garlic. Fry for 30 seconds to release the aroma in a light oil, and then add chopped tomatoes, the chicken stock, fish sauce, peanut butter and coconut milk. Once simmering, add the ready marinated chicken thighs and the veg.
Slow cook this for 45 minutes to an hour on high.
Once the chicken is cooked through, add roughly chopped fresh parsley and the lime juice. Season it with salt, pepper, paprika and turmeric to taste.