Sengalese Cuisine — Maafe Ginaar, Chicken and Peanut Stew

Two adjectives can best be used to describe Senegalese cuisine — rich and spicy — and as aficionados of both characteristics in our food, we were eager to make Senegalese recipes in our kitchen.  As a French colony until the 1960s, the slave trade was abolished, as within all French territory, 1n 1810, more than fifty years before it was in the United States.  As a result Senegal was quick to transition from a human-trading nation to a peanut-trading one, and peanuts can be found in one form or another in many of the popular national dishes including the one presented here, maafe ginaar.  French and Portuguese colonialism have left their stamp on the food, and nearby Moroccan cuisine to the north has been a strong influence.  Recent immigration from Vietnam has played a part in the Senegalese food scene, with the Vietnamese fish sauce nước mắm finding its way onto Dakar store shelves.

Senegal quick facts:

  • Capital: Dakar
  • Population: 12,855,153 (2011 estimate)
  • Notable Senegalese: Akon, Demba Ba

Maafe ginaar might not be Senegal’s national dish (if pressed, the Senegalese would likely bestow that honor upon thiéboudienne, a fish dish flavored with lemon, onion, tomatoes, and spices, and containing various vegetables), but it embodies many characteristics typical of the cuisine.  There are the peanuts, of course.  Also making it distinctly Senegalese are sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbage, okra, and most of all hot peppers.

Maafe ginaar

(adapted from Saveur, May 2012)

SERVES 4

  • 2 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 2 chicken thighs and 2 legs (cut into small pieces with a cleaver or really large French knife, optional)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbs tomato paste
  • 1 cup roasted peanuts, chopped finely in food processor (natural peanut butter is an acceptable substitute)
  • 1/2 habañero pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 large carrot, cut into one inch pieces
  • 1 small sweet potato, cut into one inch pieces
  • 3 ounces frozen sliced okra
  • 1/2 small head cabbage, cut into wedges lengthwise
  • Long grain white rice, cooked, for serving

First, we cut up the chicken.  Being novice food bloggists, we forgot to take pictures of the process.  Each leg and thigh was cut into three pieces perpendicular to the bone.  To get through the bone as cleanly as possible we recommend using a cleaver.  Since we do not own a cleaver, we used our largest knife, the kind that snooty chefs use to assault dissatisfied patrons.  To produce the cleanest cut possible, each cut was made with one carefully placed, sharp strike using the heel of the knife, shown here:

wheretocutchicken

Then, when that one strike invariably failed to cut all the way through the cut was finished by leaning on the knife with all of our weight until the piece finally gave way, dulling the knife considerably we are certain.  Just to be sure we weren’t getting bone shards in our stew, each piece was rinsed carefully and inspected before use.  Next, we prepped the rest of the ingredients:

ingredientsready

Clockwise from left: onion, sweet potato, okra, cabbage, garlic, habañero pepper, carrot

Special care was taken to dice the habañero as finely as possible, by first cutting into very thin strips:

habanerodicing

…then cutting the strips into a fine dice:

habanerodiced

Next our trusty blue Dutch oven was put on a medium-high burner, and once it was hot the oil was added.  As soon as the oil hit the pan the chicken was added to brown a little:

chickeninpot

The pan was a little overcrowded but we were hungry and for this stew just a little browning would be fine.  Turning every couple of minutes, the chicken was browned for about ten minutes total and was removed to a plate.  Next, into the leftover oil and chicken drippings went the onions and garlic:

onionsinpot

Immediately after the addition the heat was turned down to just a bit below medium and the onion and garlic were cooked until softened, about six minutes.  Next it was time for the tomato paste, peanuts, and habañero:

peanutsadded

The mixture was stirred constantly over the heat until it was uniform in consistency, about two minutes.  All remaining ingredients but the cabbage were added and stirred thoroughly until fully incorporated:

liquidadded

The chicken was returned to the pot and mixed into the sauce, and the cabbage was placed on top, pressed in slightly with the tongs:

cabbageadded

The heat was reduced to medium-low and the lid placed on the pot.  After about ten minutes the cabbage was removed, the stew stirred, scraping the bottom thoroughly, and the cabbage replaced on top with the undercooked side facing downward this time:

cabbageflipped

The stew was done once all the vegetables were tender, about eight to ten more minutes.  Ready to serve, the stew was scooped into bowls over rice with a cabbage wedge on top:

finishedmafeginaar

Maafe ginaar was peanutty and spicy (though we could have handled more peppers), and, thickened by the okra and flavored by the cut bones, rich and satisfying.  West African dishes like this are influenced by and have made their own influence on foods from around the world and we were glad to experience this small bit of Senegal in our kitchen.

More from our Senegalese meal: accara with sosu kaani

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