Considering you Yankees invented peanut butter and even had a peanut farmer for president, you really don’t use it much. Sure, you eat peanut butter sandwiches with jelly (jam for the Dutch), peanut butter cookies and Reese’s Pieces, but that’s pretty much it.
We Dutch use peanut butter more as a savory ingredient. Peanut butter sandwiches are savored as is. And thanks to having colonized Indonesia for centuries, many Indonesian flavors have been incorporated into our cuisine. One important part of most Indonesian meals is peanut sauce. So we use peanut butter in cooking. We even eat french fries with peanut sauce.
Therefore it wasn’t a big leap for my otherwise not very adventurous mother to try out a recipe for Nigerian peanut soup from a women’s magazine in the early eighties, and I have been making variations on it ever since.
My basic Nigerian peanut soup is mainly a short-cut variation of that magazine recipe. There’s no way I can retrieve it to give credit to the original creator, who no doubt adapted it from a real Nigerian recipe anyway. And I feel I’ve changed it enough to make it my own. So here goes.
1 chopped onion, 1 tbsp minced garlic, olive oil or peanut oil, 1 or 2 14.5 oz cans tomatoes, chopped meat from 1 grilled chicken, 1 diced red bell pepper, 1 huge dollop of peanut butter (probably close to 1 cup), salt, curry, turmeric, 1 tsp sambal (hot pepper sauce, optional), dash of kecap manis (sweet soy sauce, optional).
Preparation (about 20 minutes)
Saute the onion and garlic in some oil in a large pan until browned. Add salt and spices and chicken. Stir for a bit, then add tomatoes and as much water as you need to make as much soup as you want. Then add peanut butter and soy sauce and bring it all to a boil, stirring all the time to dissolve the peanut butter. Let simmer for a few minutes and see if it needs more spices and salt. Serve and enjoy.
The Backer-Gray Variations
So that’s the basic recipe, but the possibilities are endless. As long as you have a can of tomatoes, peanut butter and water, you’ve got yourself a soup. Leave out the soy sauce, add rice, Cajun spices, shrimp and okra, and you’ve got a peanut gumbo. Or use turkey instead of chicken. Or brisket or tilapia or catfish. Add eggplant, collard greens, coleslaw, bok choy, carrots or sweet potatoes. Leave out curry and soy sauce and use herbes de provence instead. Or add sweetened coconut. And real peanuts or roasted soybeans for some crunch. Add chickpeas and/or use couscous instead of rice.
Get the picture? Pretty much anything goes in peanut soup, and anything can be turned into peanut soup. Your leftovers aren’t quite enough? Add some water, a can of tomatoes and a dollop of peanut butter, and you’ve got a whole new meal. A recipe turned out too watery? Add a dollop of peanut butter and it’s the perfect peanut soup you meant it to be all along.