Make an herb bundle of parsley, cilantro, and quilquina if you have it, and slice across it over a bowl.
These are the raw peanuts. Okay, they aren't WHITE, but they're almost white. Cream colored. They turn super white in the blender with water.
By Lindsay Sterling
I’m into peanuts these days for a handful of reasons. I recently learned how to cook an awesome peanut soup from Ghana. Soon after learning that, I happen go to, of all things, a professional peanut conference in Napa Valley. I sat next to – I’m not kidding – a VP of Peanut Butter. He works for Smucker’s. Nice guy. Scientists basically told us at the conference that peanuts are little vitamin pills. A couple days after I get home, my Bolivian friend offers to teach me how to make her favorite soup, sopa de mani. Guess what mani means. Peanut. I’m like, what thuh...why are peanuts suddenly coming at me from everywhere?
Well, the phenomenon has been a good ten thousand years in the making. From the moment Mother Nature gave birth to peanuts (it is thought in Bolivia) over 7600 years ago, they’ve been getting around. A necklace of gold and silver peanut shells found in a 2000-year-old tomb in Peru shows how much people revered them. (This necklace is stunning. Ever since I saw its picture online, I want it. Honey?...The Lord of Sipán’s necklace? For my birthday?) It is thought that Spanish or Portuguese explorers then introduced peanuts to Africa and Asia. Peanuts, it is thought, came to us by way of the African slave trade.
Well, you won’t believe our luck, but my Bolivian friend happens to be 99.9% Quechua! That’s a native population in Bolivia that goes back way before Europeans ever arrived. She could be the progeny of one of the original peanut eating peoples on the planet! Her grandparents still make sopa de mani at 3am and eat it for breakfast at 5am, before going to work in the potato fields. So...we’re talking about a cooking method – blending peanuts and using them in soup broth - that could go back, like, seven thousand years! Most of the main ingredients in this soup are native to Bolivia: potatoes, peppers, green beans, and peanuts. The Spaniards and Portuguese likely inspired adding beef, garlic, carrots, and oregano, after they came in the 1500s. Before they arrived, the soup was likely vegetarian or made with alpaca meat.
Now here’s what really threw me when I watched my Bolivian friend cook. All my life I thought peanuts were brown, but that’s only because I’ve never pulled a peanut out of the ground, peeled off the fibrous shell and papery red skin, and looked at the raw, unprocessed nut (technically, a legume). It’s white! She blended the raw nuts in a blender with water, and the puree looked as white as a vanilla milkshake. She intercepted me from tasting it, though. “Raw peanuts need to be cooked an hour at least or it makes the tummy ache. That’s what my mom says.” We mixed the puree into the soup broth we’d made of beef ribs, water, salt, diced onion, green pepper, carrot, red pepper, and slivers of green beans, and the soup turned as white as clam chowder. In the end, she placed a mound of fried potato strips in the middle of each bowl, and sprinkled chiffonade of fresh parsley and cilantro on top. Each person at the table put in their own dollop of a homemade hot sauce, llajua. “YAH hwah,” I practiced saying it. It sounds like how I feel about learning this soup. You’ve got to try it.
Copyright Lindsay Sterling 2011
Mastering a Latin Classic
ImmigrantKitchens.com, ‘round-the-world cooking school
By Lindsay Sterling
As I was picking my daughter up from school, my ears perked up to a woman telling a child it was time to go. She had an accent. Her skin was brown, her eyes big and chocolate, her hair black and long. Since I’ve cooked with something like forty immigrants from all over the world, my guessing of people’s origins is getting better. Recently I asked a parking lot attendant in Boston if by any chance she was from Eritrea (a country next to Ethiopia) because she looked uncannily like the Eritrean woman who taught me how to make injera. The attendant was thrilled -- I’d guessed correctly! In San Francisco, I asked my airport shuttle driver, “Are you by any chance from Nicaragua? Your accent is exactly like my cooking teacher’s.” “Close!” He said, laughing with amazement, “El Salvador!” As for the woman in front of me, however, I had to ask. “Where are you from?”
“Panama,” she said, breaking into a smile. Her answer was particularly thrilling to me because a dish from Panama was a missing puzzle piece on my world culinary tour. The prospect of what might unfold from here gave me the butterflies. Learning my first dish from a country, even if I never step foot out of Maine, feels like a major geographic feat, a country traveled, a grand vista earned. So...would she teach me to cook her favorite dish from home?
“Yes,” she said definitively, nodding with a smile. God love the nice people of the world, inviting a stranger to a personal cooking lesson! It really feels like such a miracle when this is happening that I have to fight hard to keep from jumping up and down and looking crazy. Reigning in my exuberance, I responded. “Really? That would be so great!” My new cooking teacher’s name is Gina. Full name: Karol Gina Barria Somarriba. She is a 28-year-old nanny from Panama City, Panama, working and going to cooking school in greater Portland, Maine. She offered to give me the lesson when her semester was over in three weeks. It was a long wait.
Panamanian arroz con pollo is an insanely delicious mixture of chicken and rice, studded with green olives. It’s typically served at parties (accompanied by potato and beet salad and fried yellow plantains) because the ingredients are affordable: bone-in chicken legs, onions, celery, garlic, green pepper, tomato paste, rice, chicken stock, cilantro, green olives, habanero pepper, peas, carrots, and roasted red pepper. The cooking method superficially isn’t too complicated, but Gina says the dish took years to master. She first learned, as most women in her culture do, from her mother and grandmother when she was twelve. As the onions, peppers, celery and garlic sizzled with the chicken meat, and later, a few minutes after she laid a banana leaf over the pot and the kitchen filled with the aroma of sweet grass, the book, Like Water For Chocolate, came to mind. It expressed exactly what I was feeling right then: that cooking in the way that Gina was cooking has the power to change the course of reality big time. As we were enjoying the meal together, she displayed the final quality of an arroz con pollo master. “My mother’s is still better,” she said with requisite humility. Gina, I will be saying for a lifetime the same of yours.
copyright Lindsay Sterling 2011