Now, I know in the States – between allergies and alternatives to peanut butter such as almond butter and cashew butter and all those other butters – there is a lot of controversy about peanuts, but in Nigeria, peanuts are a staple. In fact, you rarely hear about peanut allergies here, maybe because virtually everyone grows up with them.
Peanuts are called “groundnuts” here, and they are available almost everywhere around us. At intersections, girls – who usually look to be between 11-15 years old – carrying trays filled with bags of roasted and shelled peanuts walk from car to car shouting, “Buy groundnuts!” (and sometimes shoving the bags in your face as they do). This is such a common sight that Judah, from the time he was about 2 1/2, began mimicking this when he was playing. He would wander around the house with a basket on his head shouting, “Buy groundnuts!” My role was to buy them, of course, and Judah would yell a price to me – “500!” and I would gasp, “500?! Too much!” Judah would then barter on his price (though the prices of the groundnuts the girls sell seem to be set – 50 naira (about $0.30) for a smaller bag and 100 naira (about $0.65) for a larger bag), and say, “Okay, 200″ (or sometimes “Okay, 700.” We’re still working on numbers.), then hand me my purchase.
When we have visited Nigerians in between meals, we are often offered groundnuts to munch on, and we usually keep them on hand, especially useful to offer as a snack for any Nigerians who might stop by. (Actually, some of you may recall the slightly disastrous first time we had a Nigerian family over for dinner. Coincidentally, I’m sure, they have NEVER since stopped by anywhere close to a mealtime; all subsequent visits have been at non-mealtimes, where they could be assured of a safe snack offer – usually groundnuts and juice, and any invitations to dinner have been promptly met with, “Actually, who don’t you come to OUR house….”)
Several of the more international stores here in Jos have peanut butter for sale – Jif, for example, or Magic Time, a brand that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in the States, though it’s produced there, but is plentiful here – but it is quite expensive, usually at least $5-7 for a small jar.
We have never bought peanut butter from a store here, though, as we buy or order ours from a couple women we know who grind freshly roasted peanuts into peanut butter. One woman sells the peanut butter at a small market – located just outside the international school here in Jos – that caters to international customers.
The market caters to international customers, of course, because there are not many Nigerians who would keep such a large stock of peanut butter on hand! And peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Definitely a foreign concept – and not a meal, for sure.
This isn’t to say that Nigerians would only eat peanuts in their whole form and not ground up, but it would be used in different ways than what we typically use it for in the States. For example, often they will buy just a small amount at a time of ground, well, ground groundnuts, that have been ground with hot pepper, which would then be used as a dip with garden eggs. (This snack is particularly popular with one of the ethnic groups in Nigeria, and it would be enjoyed at virtually any large gathering or celebration.)
Peanuts probably get the most use, though, by being ground up and made into an oil (Oil is used – often LOTS of it! – in virtually every Nigerian dish, and groundnut oil and palm oil are undoubtedly the most popular kinds.).
…But our favorite is groundnut stew. Yum!
Now before you pass this dish up, give it a try. I must confess that I almost always forget how much I like this dish before I cook it, and I often try to think of alternative meals I can cook when I see it approaching on our menu… and then I reluctantly make it and usually have seconds.
We really like this dish – it’s quick, full of inexpensive protein and yummy. It’s a great dish for potlucks – at least here, where peanut allergies are very uncommon – because it’s inexpensive and can feed a crowd. The recipe below is one I slightly adapted from a pretty generic West African groundnut stew, given to me by a friend from Sierra Leone (Thanks, Martha!), but it can easily be varied according to what you like. The recipe calls for meat, for example, but I rarely use it because the peanuts provide a good source of protein. Many of our Nigerian friends use ginger, spinach and way more hot pepper than I can tolerate. Vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini , okra and softened sweet potatoes can be added as well. I often throw in shredded or chopped carrots and spinach to mine to increase the vegetable amount. (When I served it to guests one time, it came out that I had added carrots. Suddenly one of the children gasped, “There are carrots in here?!” Once they’re cooked, you don’t really notice them, as they usually cook to a soft texture, so it’s a great stew to sneak in some extra veggies.)
West African Groundnut Stew
*Plan ahead; meat should marinate. Not that I ever do it.
1 pound stewing meat OR chicken, optional
Seasoning for meat: 1/2 tsp. Mrs. Dash or salt, pepper, garlic, etc.
2 large tomatoes, diced (OR 1-2 cans if you have access to them. Try fire roasted tomatoes for kick.)
¼ cup groundnut paste (peanut butter)
1 large onion, chopped or sliced
1 large pepper, finely chopped
½ tsp. cayenne pepper, optional
Salt to taste
Oil for cooking
1. Season meat as desired. Let it absorb for three hours.
2. Brown meat in oil. Add some water and simmer until tender.
3. Remove meat and set aside.
4. In the same oil, sauté pepper and onions.
5. Add tomatoes and stir briskly.
6. Mix groundnut paste with ½ cup water to form a thin paste and add to stew. (I usually just add the peanut butter and the water separately to the stew. Why create more work? )
7. Stir, add meat, season to taste and let simmer 15 minutes over low heat.
Serve with rice, boiled sweet potatoes or boiled yam and salad or green vegetable.