Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Making mafe because my sister is moving to Africa

My sister has joined the Peace Corps, and is moving to Senegal this March. Besides envy and pride, I also feel a great deal of curiosity. What is Senegal like? I don’t know anything about the country, except that it is on the west coast of Africa and borders the Gambia, which is where the action begins in Alex Haley’s classic Roots.

This curiosity meant that I was fascinated when, a couple months ago, I was looking through a new cookbook and found a tasty-looking Senegalese recipe. The cookbook was Seductions of Rice, and the recipe was peanut stew with lamb, otherwise known as mafe.

This recipe called for about two pounds of lamb shoulder. Conveniently, I have started trying to “move stock” in our freezer, largely by thinking really hard about the fact that I should be pushing the meat more. We have one big annual purchase of red meat, which had arrived recently. The problem was that we were by no means out of meat from last year, and now there is no room for my ice cream in the freezer – let alone mochi, extra loaves of bread and extra space for the “you never know” incidentals that might be better off frozen.

I have not been very good at getting the meat out of the freezer, in large part because I rarely feel like cooking or eating meat. (Hence, the large supply of over-one-year-old meat.) So, once I got it into my head that I wanted to make mafe, I ran with the idea. S— was more than happy to defrost a lamb shoulder.

A nice thing about our mafe recipe is that, despite the English name of “peanut stew with lamb,” it’s a very veggie-heavy dish. Also, it calls for okra. The full veggie complement is pictured below: sweet potato, carrots, tomatoes, okra, onion, hot pepper, along with tomato paste, peanut butter and vegetable stock (hanging out in the juice bottle, left).

Parsnips, a tomatillo and a shallot joined the recipe, though the book didn’t ask them to. We also invited along coriander, cloves, white pepper and, in happy inspiration, a dollop of Marmite mixed in with the peanut butter for additional depth.

We started by browning the lamb, which had been cut into bite-sized pieces. To this we added the alliums, and later the stock and root vegetables. Tomatoes, tomato paste, okra and habanero came next, and all simmered for a while along with the peanut butter and Marmite. The lamb turned quite pink, and was tender and lovely. We accompanied the stew with rice cooked with lemongrass and ginger.

In the end, it was delicious (and fed us for a solid week!). I have no idea how authentic our mafe was, though perhaps I can make it for my sister in a couple of years and ask for her opinion. I briefly considered making it for her when she visits us this spring, en route to Dakar. After thinking over that possibility for about ten seconds, I determined that she would likely prefer very American food during her last domestic days, rather than getting an early start on her two years of eating Senegalese fare.

S— declared the mafe to be a very good use of okra. It would seem he doesn't share my opinion that any stewed okra is delicious. It would also seem that I haven’t made much okra in the past few years, if I am only now learning his opinion of the stuff. The mafe was warm, filling, and habanero-ed up to a high degree of spicy. I hope my sister enjoys the food in Senegal as much as we enjoyed making it ourselves!

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