An African Dinner in Berkeley

| March 23, 2010 | 6 Comments
  • 6 Comments

Making African Groundnut Stew
Meet our Host

Awhile back, we hosted an epic Chinese New Year day of feasting. Throughout the continual grazing, I had the chance to catch up with my friend, Golden. I learned that he spends up to 6 months of the year in Madagascar, and is also quite the cook. As a thank you for all the tasty dumplings he dominated at our party, he invited us over for some African home cooking, Berkeley-style.

I love dinner parties — there’s just something wonderfully intimate about getting to know someone in their element, through the food they’ve taken the time and thoughtfulness to prepare. On the menu this evening was a Senegalese-style Mafé, a tomato-based groundnut stew, and for dessert, Bread Pudding with Malagasy Vanilla Rum Sauce.

African Dinner Party
Hua & Justin

As we dug in, we learned more about Golden’s studies and travels throughout Africa, and particularly, in Madagascar. Amazingly, what started out as a third grade book report on lemurs, has turned into a total immersion of Malagasy culture and language for the past ten years. Golden is pursuing a PhD at Berkeley in Environmental Science and Public Health, and studies “the interconnectivity between bushmeat harvesting, sustainability, conservation policy, nutrition, and disease.”

Tangentially, he apparently also studies the art of barefoot trekking, hunting with blow-darts, building waterwheels, great reggae, and starring in local music videos.

We eagerly drank in visions of a land filled with lychee trees and mango fruit, and tales of exotic animals (like the fosa — pound per pound, the deadliest carnivore on Earth); we listened, captivated by stories of friendships made and adventures had.

fosa
The Fosa (Photo Credit: Nick Garbutt)

We also discovered a new ingredient! Golden used these curious looking pods to flavor the stew.

Melegueta Pepper
Melegueta Pepper (?)

They vaguely resembled brown cardamom pods but with a tougher shell. They had a pleasant woodsy flavor to them, tasting a bit like licorice, with notes of ginger and camphor.

Upon a little research on the interwebs, I think that it may be Melegueta Pepper. Is anyone familiar with the spice, and can you confirm or deny my speculation?

Whatever it is, it brought a wonderful aroma to the stew. This was also the first time I’ve tasted a stew made with a ground nut base, and it was surprisingly, very hearty for a vegetarian dish. In Madagascar, they would have made the base by grinding up peanuts. Here, we used smooth peanut butter…and threw in some shiitakes and leeks sourced from the farmer’s market (ok, maybe not completely traditional, but 100% delicious). The mushrooms were a great call, they soaked up all the savory goodness from the sauce enriched with coconut milk.

Senegalese-style Mafé (Groundnut Stew)
Senegalese-style Mafé (Groundnut Stew)

For dessert, we were treated with a slow-cooked Bread Pudding topped with Malagasy Vanilla Rum Sauce and whipped cream.

To be fair, I never met a bread pudding I didn’t like, but this one was especially good. The slow-cooker did wonders to it, turning the middle into a rich custard and the crust into a caramelized, golden bite of heaven. It was so good, I was convinced that it was just doused in heavy cream and sugar, but it turns out, it was just made with regular milk and not an obscene amount of sugar…which is more than I can ask of any bread pudding.

Bread Pudding with Malagasy Vanilla Rum Sauce
Bread Pudding with Malagasy Vanilla Rum Sauce

The best part, though, was the fruit that was hidden inside! Plump homemade raisins, big pieces of dried plums, and sweet white peaches (more loot from the farmer’s market). You can of course, use whatever fruit you’d like, and however much of it, maybe none at all. But, I highly recommend you go with this version. I wouldn’t change a thing.

The clincher was the Vanilla Rum Sauce made from homemade Malagasy rum flavored with vanilla beans (that he grew himself)! Since we don’t all have access to a distillery and vanilla beans in our backyard, I’m sure this sauce would be totally acceptable with store-bought vanilla-flavored rum. Or, if you are going to be really lazy about it, you could also just spike some melted vanilla ice cream and voila, sauce done. I won’t tell a soul…

*******

Senegalese-style Mafé (Groundnut Stew)
Recipes courtesy of Chris Golden, scientist, Malagasy music video star, blow-dart hunter extraordinaire.

Serves: 6-8

Ingredients:
24 oz. crushed tomatoes with basil
1 ½ cups smooth peanut butter (roughly, half of a standard-sized jar)
3 cups chopped shiitake mushrooms
2 cups chopped leeks
8 oz. coconut milk
8 pods of Melegueta pepper (substitute brown cardamom)
2 tablespoons ground ginger powder (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
Bunch of cilantro, coarsely chopped

Preparation:
1. Combine the crushed tomatoes and peanut butter in a large skillet or pot and simmer slowly, stirring every so often so that the peanut butter doesn’t burn.
2. In a separate pot, cook the chopped mushrooms and leeks in the coconut milk until softened. You can make your own by soaking some shredded coconut meat in hot water, or you can use the canned variety.
3. Once the mushrooms and leeks are softened, add everything to the skillet with the tomatoes and peanut butter.
4. Add the pods of Melegueta pepper (or cardamom). To release the flavor even more, crush the pods with the back of your knife (like you would crush a clove of garlic). They should pop open slightly.
5. Add ginger powder, garlic powder, dried red pepper flakes (or harissa), salt and pepper.
6. Allow the mixture to thoroughly combine, and come to a simmer. Stir in the chopped cilantro and serve immediately.
7. Best served with couscous, but also good with rice.

Bread Pudding with Malagasy Vanilla Rum Sauce

Serves: 6-8

Ingredients:
1 ½ loaves stale French bread, sliced into thick pieces
2 cups milk
1 stick butter
4 eggs
½ cup sugar
Raisins
Dried plums
White peaches
Slow-cooker

Preparation:
1. Slice the bread into thick pieces, about 1 ½ inches thick, and leave it out for a day or two so that it hardens up a bit.
2. In a slow cooker, add the bread and milk. If you want to be extra decadent, you can use half-and-half, but it’s not really necessary.
3. Stir in whatever fruit you like. Our version (highly recommended) used homemade raisins, dried plums, and white peaches, sliced up. You can choose how much or little to put in.
4. Stir in a melted stick of butter.
5. Beat together the eggs and sugar. Pour over the mixture.
6. Cover the slow cooker and cook on low for 3-4 hours. Once a knife comes out clean, you’re good to go. Try to wait for the bread to be golden brown.
7. Top with Vanilla Rum Sauce and whipped cream right before serving.

Vanilla Rum Sauce:
Aggressive Version: Make your own vanilla rum by soaking split Malagasy vanilla beans in rum for several weeks.

Ambitious Version: Mix together 6 shots of store-bought vanilla rum with 3 tablespoons of sugar, and ¼ cup of cream (or half-and-half). Gently heat it over low-heat until the sugar dissolves and the ingredients combine.

Slacker Version: Melt some vanilla bean ice cream into a “sauce” and stir in some rum.

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About the Author ()

Stephanie Hua is the creator of Lick My Spoon, a place for all things delicious. So far she has learned that she very much enjoys salted caramel anything, a good soup dumpling is worth a scalded tongue, and there is no room in life for non-fat cheese and crappy chocolate. Also, a barrel of cheese balls never ends well. Stephanie has been known to choose her company based on how much they can pack it down. Ability to endure cramped quarters, sketchy back alleys, and uncharted paths to seek out that special dish is also a plus in her book. If you fit the criteria, drop a note. You’ll probably get along just fine. Stephanie's writing and photography have been featured in Fodor's Travel, Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Serious Eats, and Sundance Channel. Follow her on Facebook and @lickmyspoon.
  • http://flavorboulevard.com Mai (Flavor Boulevard)

    The pepper doesn’t look like any pepper I know! Did your friend bring it back from Madagascar, bought it, grow it, or smuggle it pass custom somehow? :-P

  • http://lickmyspoon.com Stephanie Im

    I know! I’ve never seen/tasted/heard of it until now. Indeed, my friend brought it back with him from Madagascar :)

  • bethh

    I just bought the spice called Grains of Paradise which that article references. It’s got a great peppery flavor with a sort of floral sweetness to it as well. I got it at Berkeley’s Spanish Table for $6 for a jar – it might be worth trying to see how it compares to the food made with the pepper pods!

  • http://lickmyspoon.com Stephanie Im

    Hi Bethh, thanks for the tip on where to find it in the Bay Area!

  • Ms. Boatman

    I believe my great grandfather was from Madagascar. For years we thought it was India.

    Anyway this Bread pudding is a recipe in our family. Any other Malagasy recipes let me know.

    By the way ask your visitor to Madagascar if the first name for a male Isom a familiar name in Madagascar? Its a long shot but thought I’d ask. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • http://lickmyspoon.com Stephanie

    Hi Ms. Boatman, thanks for your message! I asked my friend about the name and he says he’s never heard of it but there is no such thing really as a common namle there, anything goes!