6.27.2015

A Cultural Mash Up

Many years ago, I went to the Saxton's River Inn with my Aunt Rae during one of my many visits to her in Vermont.


The Inn, as it was simply called by the locals, was pretty much known for good, solid, traditional fare.

Basic beef or steak, chicken this-way-or-that, some kind of white fish almondine. Generally, nothing for which you'd write to Bon Appétit or Gourmet Magazine asking for the recipe.

Except that day. That day, they had an African Peanut Soup on the menu. Needless to say, I was intrigued, and ordered it.

It actually was so good that I did request the recipe from the chef that same day. He obliged and, on a small piece of paper meant for a telephone message, wrote a few simple instructions beginning with, "Place a chicken in your pot and cover with water."

I have made this soup countless times since that day 30-some years ago. I still love it, and that is why I couldn't resist when I saw today's recipe for Togolese Couscous with Peanut Butter.

I was paging through Mint Tea and Minarets by Kitty Morse, a gift brought back from Morocco by my friend Heather, when I saw the recipe name and knew I needed to make it soon.

Now, I am not Moroccan, and have only been to Morocco once, and this isn't a traditional Moroccan couscous. And that's okay.

Ms. Morse has taken a traditional couscous on a little visit to the West African nation of Togo. It is one of many West African countries that make a version of Peanut Soup.

The joint venture of this cultural mash up ends with an amazing dish, satisfying every comfort craving I could have. It is one of those dishes I could not stop eating.

I made a few changes, the most major of which was using only boneless, skinless chicken thighs. The recipe calls for chicken legs and thighs, which have the bones and skin. For ease of dining and reduction of fat, I prefer skinless and boneless chicken. The bones do add flavor, but I can boost that in other ways.

My friend, Hassan, with the hand of his cousin, Lachsen. (1992)
The book has a lot of fun recipes, and is a great read. It is more a memoir than a cookbook, which makes the recipes all the more enjoyable.

The view form the room in which I stayed in the High Atlas Mountains. (1992)
I think you'll like this dish (barring any peanut allergies!). And, really, who doesn't like pronouncing peanut en français: cacahuète!

Bon appétit!

~ David

Couscous Togolais au Beurre de Cacahuète
Kitty Morse, from Mint Tea and Minarets

1 chicken bouillon cube, crushed
1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 tomatoes, seeded and coarsely diced
1 medium onion, coarsely cubed
2 1/3 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) smooth peanut butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup couscous
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup (4 ounces) dry roasted peanuts, chopped
4 scallions, thinly sliced

In a large bowl, mix crushed bouillon cube, ginger, and pepper. Coat chicken pieces with the mixture and set aside.

In a blender, pulse half the diced tomato, onion, and 1 cup broth until smooth. Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan set over medium-high heat. Brown chicken on both sides. Add reserved tomato-onion mixture. Cover and cook until sauce comes to a brisk simmer, about 10-15 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, peanut butter, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Lower the heat to medium. Continue cooking, covered, until chicken is tender - about 20 minutes (30-35 if bone in). If sauce becomes too thick, dilute with a few tablespoons of water or broth.

In a medium saucepan, bring remaining 1 1/2 cups broth, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon oil to a boil. Add couscous and stir once. Cover tightly and remove from the heat until couscous is tender - about 5 minutes. Add butter and fluff with a fork. Mound couscous in the center of a tagine. Surround with the chicken pieces and top with peanut sauce. Garnish with chopped peanuts, remaining tomatoes, and sliced scallions.

Serves 4.



32 comments:

  1. Beautiful photos, David! Really lovely. And just look at that tagine!

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    1. Thanks, Liz - the tagine is one we brought back from the Arab Market in Marseille, France!

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  2. I can almost taste this! Studied French for years in a previous life. Can't say I remembered the word for peanuts.

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    1. It's cacahuète, Priscilla! Such a fun word!

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  3. David, I love it when I see I have a Cocoa and Lavender email. I know I'm in for superb writing and a great recipe. You're one in a million...

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    1. Thanks so much, Connie! You are so sweet! I am glad to know you look forward to my C&L posts!

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  4. Wait! I forgot to mention stunning photography!

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  5. It doesn't look difficult to prepare but I need some courage to try it. I'm not the kind to try such exotic recipes.

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    1. I know you can go it - and well! - Cindy! Thanks for your comment!

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  6. Hi David, so many of your recipes come with such wonderful stories like this one. I love dishes like this, so much flavor.

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    1. Thanks, Cheri! The flavors in this dish are pretty wonderful! I think you'll enjoy it!

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  7. David - This looks fabulous - something that Ed and I would definitely like. I'd likely use quinoa or rice in place of the couscous to make it gluten-free. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. This would be wonderful with quinoa, Nicole! Great idea!

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  8. Great post! Fabulous photos. I've not heard about this cookbook, so thank you!

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    1. Thanks, Mimi! So glad you enjoyed the photos!

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  9. It's been quite some time since I last cooked anything remotely Moroccan. I adore the cuisine, yet neglect it for some unknown reason.

    I think I'll be cooking up a batch of this sometime this week as it will take no time. Although knowing me, I'll throw in a few aromatic spices to remind me of our travels in Morocco!

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    1. We love Moroccan food! And I like your idea of adding a few Moroccan spices, John!

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  10. Simply damn delicious n comforting dish!!!
    lovin fusion culinary too....
    Dedy@Dentist Chef

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  11. I have a teeny little tangine. I wonder if I can quarter this recipe. Yes my tangine is that small. GREG

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    1. Size doesn't matter, Greg. Yours will be perfect.

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  12. David, your beautiful tagine reminds me of the very pretty ones I always see when I visit the International Market in Antwerp, Belgium - I do not own one, except those spice-holder-sized ones. But, of course, your meal and your post are exquisite.
    Have fun in Salzburg cooking from Hugh´s book (among other things) and see you very soon in lovely Cologne,
    Andrea

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    1. Andrea - we now have two tagines: the one here which is for serving, and one for cooking. I love them! See you soon!

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  13. I remember making peanut soup pretty much at beginning of my blogging adventure: I have never been to the regions of Africa were it is customary nor have I ever had it at a restaurant but I was intrigued when I read a recipe for it and really liked it although it probably wasn't authentic since I had nothing to compare it with. I will go and check out your recipe if it is here on the blog. I also love couscous (I have had it in Marocco, Tunisia and at my mother in law's house: the city my husband comes from in Sicily is well known for its seafood couscous, a tradition left over from the Arab domination. It is also really the only area in Sicily to make it, but they do a really good job at it. My mother in law hand made her own couscous for years!). I love the idea of combining these two dishes... great job!

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    1. Fiona - I have never posted the peanut soup recipe. Maybe I will this winter! I will check yours out and see how they differ. I have seen no fewer than six authentic recipes for peanut soup and they are all different.

      How lucky to have had those wonderful seafood couscous dishes prepared for you! You should post one of those recipes! :)

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  14. What a great story behind the recipe! I'm not a big fan of couscous, but I love so many peanutty dishes, so this may convert me. I love the black and white shots from your travels; how wonderful to have those memories. I need to organize my old photos, but I feel like I'd need another lifetime to do so! :(

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    1. I think you really should try this, Christina! Glad you liked the BW photos - I had fun digging through them!

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  15. Wow, what a beautiful set of ingredients. Aromatic, colorful and oh-so-delicious. I love tagine cooking!

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    1. Thanks, Valentina! I love all the flavors melding like this!

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    2. What a wonderful post! I am getting out our tagine! Loved the story, too, and the photographs are so touching. Thank you David for such a treat!

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    3. Thanks, Susan - and, after this published, I finally found all my Morocco photos! There could have been so many more!

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