I never realized that my tendency to overbuy at the farmers’ market was a hereditary condition. If you open my mother’s refrigerator at any given time, you’ll probably find a bunch of chard, just waiting to be turned into a green soup. But just one bunch. Not three. It wasn’t until I visited my aunt and uncle in Los Angeles that I saw my own habits reflected in someone else’s refrigerator, and on their countertops.
Back in October, after Steph and Rodrigo’s Santa Barbara wedding, I decided to milk my West Coast trip for all it was worth, and spend the rest of the week in LA. This just so happened to coincide with the random East Coast blizzard, making it the third time this year that I’ve conveniently missed a NYC natural disaster.
To thank Denny and Barbara for housing me, and ensure I would get a repeat invitation, I offered to cook for them one night. Even now that I am a cookbook author, this is a rather intimidating thing to do. Denny and Barbara are excellent cooks, and have learned even more over the years by opening up their kitchen to cooking classes with local chefs like Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger.
When you’re cooking in someone else’s home, the first contingency to deal with is not knowing what’s inside their pantry. While I might ordinarily dream up a simple and affordable pantry pasta (at least, before I became gluten-free), if there is no Parmesan, white wine, or bacon in the fridge, as there always is in mine, I might be starting from scratch. Luckily, I was not dealing with a couple whose shelves were low on anything.
From the counter-tops alone, I could already see that I had the last of the season’s tomatoes (meaning, about a dozen of them), onions, poblano peppers, avocados, potatoes, garlic, and clementines at my disposal. Before I decided what I wanted to make, I took a peak inside Denny and Barbara’s crisper drawer. What I found was the contents of an entire supermarket produce section, but not necessarily from the same month.
Denny saw what I was doing, and emphatically told me to use whatever I found: “You may notice that we have a little bit of a problem.”
To lend a hand where it was really needed, I decided to make a vegetarian African peanut stew, with an ingredient list that included everything but the kitchen sink. I’ve simplified it below. But perhaps the best part is adding in nearly a full bag of spinach and a handful of herbs—two things that you might find slowly waiting to die in my crisper drawer, if you even came to visit.
From my kitchen, cleaning out the fridge and making dinner at the same time, to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Vegetarian African Peanut Stew
Makes 4-6 servings
This dish can be made a night before, just wait to add the spinach until you serve. Reheat on the stove. Inspired by Relish.
1 medium red onion
1 poblano pepper, seeded and ribs removed, finely chopped (you can use 1 green bell pepper if you can’t find poblano)
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons curry powder
One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups veggie stock
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
½ cup shelled edamame
2 cups tightly packed baby spinach
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Roasted peanuts (optional)
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large Dutch oven over a medium flame. Add the onion, pepper, and carrot and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic, ginger and curry powder, and sauté for 2 more minutes. Add the tomatoes and the salt and simmer until soft and reduced, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the sweet potatoes and cover with stock until submerged (it might be less than 4 cups, depending on the size of your pot). Bring the liquids to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the sweet potatoes are just tender, about 10-15 minutes. Whisk in the peanut butter and simmer until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Add edamame and spinach and cook until the spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning and then garnish with the cilantro and peanuts (if using).