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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Cookbooks and a Long-Overdue Soup

 West African Peanut Soup

Cookbooks and a Long-Overdue Soup
by Victoria Challancin

For the last several years I have somewhat backed off buying cookbooks simply because I have no more room for them. None!  But there are several chefs that I avidly follow with great anticipation, waiting like a hungry baby bird with my mouth open for whatever they might produce.  I own all of their respective cookbooks, until now bought from Amazon UK because I couldn't wait for them to be released in the U.S.  This time I actually waited for their U.S. release--but not patiently.  The two chefs are Yotam Ottolenghi, whose column I follow each week in the UK paper, The Guardian, and Greg Malouf, an Australian of Lebanese descent.  Both restauranteurs, both innovative, both exciting talents.

I first became aware of Yotam Ottolenghi when I discovered his cookbooks via a British food newsletter some years ago.  Intrigued, I immediately ordered both Plenty (with Jonathan Lovekin) and Ottolenghi (another co-authored with the talented Sami Tamimi), which quickly became two of my favorite cookbooks.  Malouf also found his way to me via the UK when I was looking for a good cookbook on Middle Eastern food, something new and different.  I quickly devoured all of his books, excited to the core to see my favorite cuisines showcased:  Turquoise ( Turkey), Arabesque (Modern Middle Eastern) , Moorish:  Flavors from Mecca to Marrakech, Saha (Lebanon and Syria), Artichoke to Za'atar, and Saraban (Persia--to be released in the U.S. in May 2013).  Dazzled.  I was and am dazzled by these innovative and often heart-stoppingly beautiful and poignantly written books by this former husband-wife team.
Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli Jew who moved to London to study cookery at the Cordon Bleu, owns the London restaurants, Ottolenghi and Nopi.  Drawing on diverse culinary traditions, but focusing on Mediterranean, Ottolenghi provides some of the most innovative food in the modern food scene.  In the new Jerusalem cookbook, he teams up again with Sami Tamimi, an Arab born of Palestinian parents, who grew up in east Jerusalem.  The blending of Arab and Jewish cultures and food come together splendidly in their new book, which celebrates the vibrant, exciting food of the Middle East, specifically Jerusalem.  

A few of the many recipes I have starred to try are:
  • Chermoula Eggplant with Bulgur and Yogurt
  • Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Hazelnuts
  • Spicy Carrot Salad with Harissa
  • Butternut Squash and Tahini Spread
  • Saffron Chicken and Herb Salad
  • Polpettone with Green Sauce
  • Fricassee Salad with Harissa
  • Every condiment in the book...and don't get me started on the desserts
The second much-anticipated book comes from Greg Malouf, the Australian chef, consultant, and restauranteur, who with his former wife Lucy, has produced some of the most exciting books in my collection.  Malouf's take on Middle Eastern food, spanning from Lebanon to Turkey to North Africa, showcases traditional ingredients used in unique, modern ways.  

A sampling of recipes just waiting for me to try from Malouf:  New Middle Eastern Food by Greg and Lucy Malouf are:
  • Golden Mussel Chowder
  • North African Couscous Soup
  • Preserved Lemon Guacamole
  • Green Olive, Walnut and Pomegranate Salad
  • Braised Chard with Crisp Onions and Tahini Sauce
  • Crunchy Red Lentil Kofte with Mint
  • Crunchy Zucchini Stuffed with Haloumi
  • Jeweled Cracked Wheat Pilaf with Honey-Ginger Tomato Sauce
  • Parsnip Skordalia
  • Profiterole with Thick Fig Cream
  • And as with Ottolenghi and Tamimi's book, the Larder...the larder where the condiments reside...too many stars to count
*     *     *
After writing about Mexican Day of the Dead for the last couple of posts (and still with dozens more photos to share of the celebration...), I am back to offering a recipe.  And what a recipe it is!  For years I have been saving an assortment of recipes for a West African Peanut Soup.  After having tried something a peanut-yam stew in East Africa, Kenya to be exact, many years ago, I have long thought of trying to make something similar in my own kitchen.  Somehow I just never got around to it until last week.  

As predicted, the Mexican cooks in my cooking class, thought this soup sounded strange.  Of course, once we made it, they all loved it, all except the youngest who didn't even want to try it because it sounded so odd to her.  My sister-in-law loved it so much that she went home and made it the next day.  Trust me, this soup recipe is a keeper.  A star, nay, five stars.  A new favorite recipe.

Although I have a folder full of versions of this soup, I decided on a simple one by NYTimes columnist/blogger and cookbook author Mark Bittman.  Easy to prepare, full of fresh goodness, and loaded with favorite ingredients, I knew this would be tasty.  I had to substitute spinach for the collards required in the original recipe, but any greens would work.  Because I am fond of punched-up, lively flavors, I might add even more ginger next time and even a bit more cayenne.  But now that I consider it, it tasted so good just as written that perhaps no adjustments are needed.

Cook's Notes:  I used chicken breasts, a combination of 4 cups chicken broth and 2 cups water (because that is what I had), fresh tomatoes (would peel them first next time), spinach, and chunky peanut butter (1/2 cup and perhaps a tad more).

Recipe:  West African Peanut Soup with Chicken
(Recipe by Mark Bittman, The NYTimes)
Serves 4

3/4 cup roasted and shelled peanuts
2 tablespoons peanut or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn
1 medium red or white onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon garlic
1/2 pound skinless, boneless chicken (about 2 thighs or breasts), cut into chunks
Pinch of cayenne
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups stock or water 
2 sweet potatoes or yams (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into thick slices (I cut them into cubes)
8 plum tomatoes, cored and halved (canned are fine; drain and reserve the liquid for another use)
1/2 pound collards or kale, washed and cut into wide ribbons
1/4 to 1/2 cup peanut butter, chunky or smooth

Chop peanuts, or crush them with the side of a knife, or pulse them in a food processor to chop roughly.

Put oil in a deep skillet or medium saucepan over medium heat; a minute later, add onion, ginger, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add chicken and continue cooking for another 3 to 4 minutes, until just coloring.  Add 1/2 cup peanuts and the cayenne and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Stir in the stock and the sweet potatoes, brin to a boil, and turn heat down to medium-low so the soup bubbles gently.  Stir in tomatoes and collards, then cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Stir in 1/4 cup peanut butter.  Taste, adjust seasoning (you may want to add more peanut butter at this point) and serve, garnished with remaining chopped peanuts.

Parting Shot:  
 Artichoke flowers on silver...or at least aluminum

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Like life, recipes are meant to be shared.  But please ask permission before using text or photos.  Thanks!


janet @ the taste space said...

I have had to trim my cookbook purchases, too, but you make me want to buy more. I agree, I love these authors. You may also like Denis Cotter who has a similar style although not Middle Eastern focused.

Victoria of Flavors of the Sun said...

I'll check him out, Janet. Thanks for the tip. Not that I need more, no!

Not Quite Nigella said...

I too have stopped buying cookbooks. I just don't have any room here to store them but I think you were wise to break the rule for these :)

Joan Nova said...

Niether chef is that familiar to me although I've recently been seeing other mentions of Ottolenghi's book -- and every recipe I've seen, I liked! I'm a big fan of Mideastern food and vegetable forward dishes. Thanks for recommending the books.

I've had this soup before and it's delicious. Hmm, maybe I'll try it this winter.

Eha said...

I feel about one inch tall as a 'foodie' at the moment! Have over 600 cookbooks, all of them 'favourites': where is the balance? Well, Ottolenghi's writings have been amongst my favourites on the computer for a year: so you think . . .? OK: I cherish what I DO have and I buy very judiciously [with a number of friends putting out books this is not necessarily easy]:still enjoy the new and special one and DO love your soup :D!

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

I have stopped buying cookbooks but treasure the ones that I have. The peanut soup sounds terrific for the cool fall weather.

Hotly Spiced said...

Love the artichoke flowers. Such a beautiful colour and the silvery colour really accentuates their colour. What a delicious looking soup. I don't think I've ever had a peanut soup before xx

Nancy said...

I'm not familiar with either Chef, but I have come across the books on Amazon. They sound great so thanks for the tip. The soup looks really good. Thanks for sharing!

I love your Dia de los Muertos post and photos.

Sawsan@chef in disguise said...

Your posts are always very informative. I have promised my husband not to buy any more cookbooks (at least till the end of the year lol) but I will have to check both chefs out
A peanut soup sounds odd indeed but I trust your taste in food and I will give it a try, maybe over the weekend and I will let you know how it goes :)

Evelyne CulturEatz said...

I have to check out the Jerusalem one. both look great but I love that chef. I also have no room for the book thought :-( That is a delicious soup, I have a you African recipes with peanuts too.

Evelyne CulturEatz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shish kebab said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator. said...

I just cleaned out my book cases and sent about 50 cook books to the church and ordered this book last week. Waiting patiently for it. I like the feel of a book in hand and turning of pages.