It’s that time of year when we seek comfort in a pot of fragrant, savory soup. When the leaves are crackling underfoot and there’s a little snap in the air, nothing is quite as warming as hot soup.
It’s also harvest time, and a trip to the farmers market seems to always lead to buying a bushel of vegetables destined for the soup pot. Make sure to pick up some sweet potatoes for this African Peanut Soup, destined to become a family favorite.
The secret to making a really satisfying soup in a short amount of time lies in the broth. This African-styled soup skips all the effort of making stock, or thickening with flour or cream. Instead, we simply whisk in some creamy peanut butter that makes for a satisfying soup.
Peanut soups originated in West Africa, where the tradition of adding crushed peanuts to soups and sauces goes way back. Maafe, or groundnut stew, is thought to have originated in Mali, although versions of it are beloved staples in West and Central Africa. The soup came to America with enslaved Africans and became part of the cuisine of the American South.
Meatless diners have made peanut soup their own. I first became acquainted with it through the “The Moosewood Cookbook,” back in the early ’80s. The addition of peanut butter to what is essentially a very simple vegetable soup is a stroke of genius. Instantly, the soup becomes creamy, rich and flavorful. It doesn’t hurt that it adds protein, too.
I’ve served it to children and adults alike, all of whom love it. It’s a natural for kids who love peanut butter and, in this case, it makes a big bowl of vegetables appealing.
For a soup that’s full of flavor and color, I like to chop up some beautiful orange sweet potatoes. For color and flavor, I’m partial to the Garnet variety, whose flesh is a deep, rusty orange. They are sweet and creamy, but hold their shape after simmering. If you don’t see Garnets, try Jewel, Beauregard or any variety of sweet potato for this soup.
Sautéed onions give it some earthy depth, and paprika, cumin, red pepper flakes and garlic give it enough intrigue to seem a bit exotic. Feel free to add more, as this is Minnesota-mild and kid-friendly, but chile lovers can amp up the heat. Spinach gives it a pop of green.
You’ll never look at peanut butter the same way again.
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan,” “The Whole Grain Promise” and “Great Bowls of Food.” Find her at robinasbell.com.