Monday, November 1, 2010

Monday: Daniel & West African Peanut Soup

I had that soup in a restaurant many years ago, and told the waitress I'm not leaving without the recipe, my all time favorite since.  Nickelsville has lots of donated peanut butter but, frankly, mentioning anything with peanut butter has not a good effect on people there, they are simply peanut-butter-and-jellied-out by now. I remember from last time I cooked for Nickelsville that they were quite resistant to the idea, and why should I cook something they wouldn't eat.

But finally the day came when nothing else was available, but a lonely cabbage and a few potatoes, one pepper and lots of peanut butter jars.  It must have been the combination of mellow taste of peanuts with acidy tomatoes plus a healthy kick of Sriracha hot chili sauce that won them over - they loved it, and we cooked it often.

It's also a very forgiving recipe - as long you have the basics mentioned above the rest is really up to you.  Normally i don't put any rice or noodles in it, but considering that I wanted it extremely hearty tonight I asked Daniel, who volunteered to help me cook, what does he think would be better.

'Noodles, definitely, we are kind of riced-out'.  Peanuted-out and riced-out, OK, better follow the advice - we packed a few boxes of elbow and penne pasta, several cans of tomatoes in juice, a jar of each creamy and crunchy peanut butter, all the fresh veggies we could find and off we went, to the Lutheran Church kitchen.

While chopping onions and carrots  Daniel told me he was raised in a small farming community in Maryland; he obviously knew his veggies, mentioned his uncle growing  bok choy for living and taking it to a local farmer's market.  We threw carrots and onion into a pot of water and let it cook with a half of a bag of left over lentils while Daniel and I went for more chopping: zucchinis, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens and broccoli.  Daniel was talking about eating real, made from scratch  food in childhood, because stopping for processed food at McDonald or Burger King was simply not an option; they weren't any around.

While i was throwing pasta into the pot (the package said it needs 11 minutes to cook), Daniel was opening cilantro and chipotle bouillon cubes  and telling me how his family moved to Florida some 13 years ago, and how much he loved it there: the sunny, balmy weather, the blue waters, all the fishing and  beaching.  There was not much work there, so he supported himself mainly cutting lawns and through commercial fishing.  The water is bubbling again, so all the veggies went in, save for broccoli (needs not to be overcooked).

Now Daniel is chopping finishing touches:  fresh green and red pepper and cilantro, while i started to open tomato cans.  Then we switched: Daniel is opening the cans, while I add chicken bouillon (at home I use veggie bouillon),  and a jar and a half of peanut butter, then chopped pepper and all the tomatoes. We threw in a couple of cans of green been for a good measure (fresh beans are fine, too). Cillantro on the end.

The soup is almost ready.  We let it simmer while Dan tells me what brought him to Washington State: he would like to work as a commercial fisherman in Alaska, but no amount of faxing information on the topic is going to make up for showing up in person with the fishing companies. So in mid-August Daniel flies in to Seattle, leaving behind his comfy home, couch and TV, only to find out the next assignment is in...  January.  Ouch!  Waiting for January in shelters, now in Nickelsville.

Daniel is getting nervous now: at 6 Pm there is a camp meeting he has to attend. The camp has rules. It's getting very close.  On the way back he tries to memorize my name and other details to report on why he is late:  I was with Miss Aleks, cooking West African Peanut Soup in Lutheran Church for Nickelsville dinner.  He placed the soup bucket in the tent- kitchen and disappeared. I put the soup cups and spoons next to it. Some people smiled at me, but most were looking at the meeting's speaker. I left at this point.

While driving away I looked at Nickelsville's container garden in the corner of parking lot: ripening corn and tomatoes, some herbs.  Must bring a camera next time and photograph it!

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges."
- Anatole France

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