I admit it, I’m a food geek. Not only do I read cookbooks like novels, but I read books on food science, food policy and — my favorite subject — food history. There’s something fascinating about discovering what was cooking in the kitchens of Henry VIII or what Caesar and the rest of the Roman Empire had for dinner.
For me and my family, it’s been a way to make history itself more real. While we’ll never know for sure what hot biscuits out of a cast iron skillet tasted like to a pioneer on the Oregon Trail, we can make them in our own kitchen and use our imaginations to fill in the blanks. It’s a way to bring history to the dinner table. Not in a “there will be a test at the end of this meal” manner — that would be NO fun — but as a natural way to spark a conversation. “Did you know that peanuts first grew in South America, then went to Africa and were brought to the United States on slave ships?”
The conversation is even more interesting if your diners are actually eating the history while talking about it, which can easily be the case with African Peanut Soup.
Anyone who’s enjoyed the living history of Williamsburg, Va., is most likely familiar with peanut soup. It’s one of the more popular dishes served in the historically themed taverns. While there are many versions of this soup, the one I enjoy most is linked more closely to Africa than colonial America.
Yes, the combination of peanut butter, coconut milk, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and curry sounds strange, but the result is mouthwateringly addictive. I’ve been making this soup for my sons and their friends for years, and I’ve yet to see anyone turn down a bowl. In fact, for a crowd of teenage boys, one batch is definitely not enough.
Quick and easy to make, African Peanut Soup is perfect for any night of the week and the ingredients are ones that can be kept on hand. This recipe contains ground turkey, but that can be left out or replaced with drained, canned garbanzo beans for a vegetarian version.
So tonight, make your meal one for the history books. You don’t have to be a food geek to enjoy a bite of the past.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.