Inspiration to cook can come from near, far, or simply your pantry. Not far from where I live, there is a thriving neighborhood with many African immigrants. They come from different countries like Senegal, Mauritania, and Mali, to name a few. I noticed that on some of the restaurant menus, they have a stew made with peanut butter, herbs, meats, and vegetables, root vegetables in particular.
Such a stew sounded like a great idea, and I decided to make a sweet potato-based vegan stew of my own with harissa sauce and almond butter providing the flavoring. Harissa is a hot chile sauce made from crushed chilies, tomatoes and paprika, and herbs like coriander and caraway. So you see, I took a distinctly West African dish, put a North African spin on it (harissa is a common ingredient in the cuisines of North Africa), and used my American peanut-butter alternative to come up with something unique, healthy, and fun.
I served this stew with brown rice and a side of collard greens. It was a meal that was hearty without being heavy, and quite tasty.
Spicy North African Sweet Potato Stew
1-2 teaspoons neutral cooking oil of choice (I used coconut oil)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
4 grated garlic cloves
2 cups low sodium vegetable broth or stock
2/3 Cup almond butter
4 medium sweet potatoes in large chunks (peeling optional; scrub thoroughly if leaving peels on)
1 medium potato, diced (peeling optional; scrub thoroughly if leaving peels on)
2 Tablespoons Harissa paste (Don’t have? See Note below this recipe to make your own)
1 Tablespoon turmeric
2 teaspoons fenugreek
Pinch each of cinnamon and allspice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 can black beans, drained
Optional: garnish with herbs of choice. Some good options: cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, watercress.
1. In a small skillet or saucepan, gently warm coconut oil over a medium flame. Once oil is shimmery, add in onions and cook for 3 minutes, stirring often. Lower heat to low, then add in ginger and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes more. Turn off heat and remove pan from heat.
2. Place all ingredients except for black beans and herb garnish into the slow cooker. Stir thoroughly, making sure to break up any lumps in almond butter and harissa paste.
3. Cook on high for 4-6 hours, or low for 8 hours. Adjust seasoning to taste. Stir in black beans, and garnish with herbs, if using.
NOTE: If you don’t have harissa paste/sauce, whip up a simple version by blending one jarred bell red bell pepper (rinsed) and/or a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste with one tablespoon of paprika, a few chili flakes, and a few herbs. Toss in a pinch of whatever you have of the following: ground cumin, coriander, caraway, allspice, nutmeg, and blend.