So here we are, the cusp of winter. Thanksgiving weekend. We have the holidays to look forward to with their sometimes forced yet undeniable charm, it is still not cold enough to make us curse the season, and there are so many delicious winter recipes in our future that we have yet to long for spring. It is a short-lived but nonetheless warm and cozy time, from now until the days when winter begins to feel icy, wet, dirty and unbearable, so enjoy. And once it does creep under our skin and into our bones we will have little other than soups, stews and mugs of hot frothy things to save us, so lets get going.
I don’t know about you but I would have no problem not seeing a carrot, squash or sweet potato for a week or two. I was looking for something warm, comforting, and stew-like with no orange vegetables in it, that we could enjoy all weekend. This recipe is an improvisation on a spicy African peanut stew that is often made with chicken or fish. The version I came up with has hearty vegetables and some deep fried golden cubes of tofu. If you are not in favor of deep-frying you could just throw in your cubed tofu (after pressing the liquid out) and heat in through in the stew before serving.
Spicy African Peanut Stew With Kale and Eggplant
2/3 cup natural creamy peanut butter
1 cup water
One medium onion, halved and sliced thinly
2 Tbs safflower oil (or whatever you’ve got)
1 poblano chili pepper, cut into thin strips
2 Tbs tomato paste
1-2 habaneros or red thai chiles, to taste (I used one and wished I’d used two, but go with your level of spice-comfort)
1 3/4 cups vegetable broth
1 medium eggplant cut into a 1/2 dice
1 bunch lacinato (dinosaur) kale, tough stems removed, finely chopped
salt to taste
1 lb firm tofu, pressed (see Note below)
oil for deep frying (optional)
Mix peanut butter and water in a small bowl until combined, set aside.
In a large, wide pot heat the oil on medium-high. Add onion and saute until softened and slightly browned. Add the strips of poblano chili and saute a few minutes more. Add tomato paste breaking it up and distributing it throughout with a wooden spoon or spatula. Add hot chili, peanut butter mixture and stock and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes before adding the eggplant. Turn heat up to medium and cook until eggplant is fork-tender then add kale and cover. Simmer on low until kale is softened. Either throw in you pressed tofu and heat thoroughly or sever topped with fried tofu cubes.
To fry your tofu, make sure you press as explained below. Heat 3-4 inches of high-temperature oil in a deep saute pan or pot on medium high heat. You will smell the oil when it is ready and you can test it by throwing in a tofu cube and seeing if it bubbles rapidly and begins turn golden within a few minutes. Do not overcrowd the pan. Remove golden cubes to a paper-towel-lined dish. mmmm
Tips and Tricks: Pressing your tofu to get the water out is an essential part of getting flavor into your tofu if you are using it raw, or in order to get it to fry up nice and crispy. Here’s what to do –
Drain a block of firm or extra firm tofu and set it on a few layers of paper towels or a clean dish cloth. Place a few more paper towels flat on top of it and then put something large and heavy down on top of that. I use a nice heavy cookbook or a cutting board and a couple jars of tomato sauce. Leave it to press of about 20 minutes. Then remove the weights and towels and cut your block of tofu in half horizontally, place fresh towels underneath and on top and press again for another 15 minutes. Now your tofu will soak up a marinade very nicely or fry to a golden-crispness.