You may have already noticed that I love Collard Greens. Big time. I could give up every other kind of green leafy vegetable except for Collards. They're not bitter. They stand up to prolonged cooking times. They'll adapt to almost any cooking method from steaming to stewing. If you didn't already try it, check out my post Collard Greens à la Benin with Black Eyed Peas! I even roll the smaller, more tender leaves and cut them into a Chiffonade to serve raw in salads. I love sweet potatoes and peanuts almost as much as Collards.
This stew is so rich and satisfying that you'll want to make it a regular offering in your culinary quiver. What's more, it will appeal to even the most green vegetable adverse among you. The sauce alone will win them over.
This is a market near the border crossing into Togo.
When I say that the stew is authentic, I can make that claim honestly, having friends in Benin, West Africa who I've visited and cooked with.
Enjoying morning coffee at my friend's home in Come, Benin.
Benin, featured prominently in the Netflix documentary series 'High On the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America', is where many of the foodways of Black America had their origins. I've watched the series a couple of times, focusing particularly on the first episode which is filmed in the places I've visited.
Although Collard Greens are not native to West Africa, the method of cooking them in a stew is. According to Michael Twitty, of Afroculinaria, "Collards (Brassica oleracea acephala) are not African, they are temperate and Eurasian in origin, but their consumption, and with them—turnip, kale, rape, mustard and other greens are a healthy blend of tastes—West and Central African, Scottish, Portuguese, German and the like. Many culinary historians agree that the green craze in the South is supported by tastes for spring greens among Celtic and Germanic Southerners but was really spearheaded by people of African descent. In tropical West Africa, greens were available year round in gardens and markets and figured prominently."
A nutritional powerhouse, one cup of cooked collards contains 49 calories and 4 grams of protein. They are one of the best non-dairy sources of calcium, surpassing an 8-ounce serving of milk. Collards boast a unique trifecta: Anti-inflammatories in the form of omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin K; Antioxidants in the form of beta carotene, Vitamins C and E and manganese; and detoxifiers in the form of glucosinolates, compounds that are being studied for their abilities to ward off cancer as well as cardiovascular disease. When purchasing Collards, look for firm leaves and stems without any wilting or yellowing. Don't wash until ready to cook. They'll last in the refrigerator for about three days. Oh, and they can be frozen to toss into soups and stews later on and make wonderful vegetable stock.
Sweet Potatoes are the next component of this culinary journey. No, they're not Yams. The two tubers are often confused by being commonly mislabeled in markets. We talk about 'candied yams' at holiday meals, when in reality, we've served sweet potatoes. I've never actually seen a real Yam outside of West Africa, where they are widely grown and consumed.
My favorite sweet potato variety is the Jewel with the Beauregard and Garnet close behind. I prefer these for the color and flavor - the Jewel is not intensely sweet as you'd want for 'candied yams', but 'just right' for this stew.
Peanuts are next up for a brief discussion. Originally from South America (who knew!) few ingredients make the transition from sweet to savory with as much ease as peanuts. Peanuts are especially important in cooking in parts of Africa — especially Central and West Africa, but also southeast Asia. Think Thai cuisine. Peanut stews and soups are common, often incorporating chilies and starchy vegetables. I keep roasted, unsalted peanuts in my pantry in Mason jars. This way I can toss 'em into stir fry, salads or whatever on the fly. For this stew, I put a handful in an old coffee/spice grinder (or food processor) and made 'fast as' peanut butter.
Peanuts are an incredible food. Like other legumes, they are extremely high in protein and fiber. They are a great source of niacin, Vitamin E, Vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, manganese and potassium. Peanuts also contain iron and calcium, and are loaded with monounsaturated fats, which can help lower cholesterol.
Now that you understand the players, it's time to get cooking. As always, get your Mis en Place organized. I recommend that you start your sweet potatoes in the Instant Pot now, so they'll be ready to toss into the stew.
Plan and organize your cooking space and ingredients right at the beginning. Before I learned to do this, I'd occasionally um, forget an ingredient and be madly dashing around trying to find it.
Sauté the onions, garlic and ginger, adding just a dash of broth as needed to keep the food from sticking. Then, add the peppers. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Now it's time to add the tomatoes ... let them cook a couple of minutes, until they begin to break down. Then, add the tomato paste and peanut butter. If you haven't already tried it, make your own. It's far more cost effective to buy roasted peanuts from bins - like at Winco Foods - and grind them in a little spice/coffee grinder. I keep one just for this purpose. It's much fresher, you make just what you need, when you need it.
When you've mixed the tomato paste and peanut butter in, Now add the spices: Cumin, red pepper, Bay leaves, black pepper and brown sugar. Now, pour in six cups of low-sodium broth. Check out my recipe for Vegan Low-Sodium Chikin Boullion. It works perfectly for this recipe.
Don't forget the Bay Leaves! They're essential.
Add the Collards and the pre-cooked, reserved sweet potatoes. Let them cook 15 to 20 minutes over the lowest heat, covered. Stir occasionally. If you want a thicker sauce, mash up a few of the sweet potatoes against the side of the pot. I usually serve this with brown rice for dinner, but for lunch we like just a big bowl of the stew and some warm, whole wheat Naan. The 365 Tandoori Naan is always in my freezer.
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