I adapted this recipe from several I found online, and you should feel free to tweak it according to your tastes. No green pepper? No problem. Gluten intolerant? Don't add the seitan. Have black eyed peas sitting around instead of cow peas? That'll work. Afraid of too much heat? Cut back on the habaneros. It's a pretty forgiving dish.
That said, there are a few things you shouldn't change. First off, don't use canned beans. You won't get the same effect. Second, don't use refined peanut oil that's had all the peanut-y smell removed. You want that rich smell and, more importantly, that nutty flavor that the unrefined oil will impart to the dish. And, if at all possible, purchase some real African red palm oil, whether in a local shop or online.
I know what you're thinking: Palm oil is really, really unhealthy. But not all palm oil is created equal. Red palm oil contains nutrients such as beta carotene and vitamins A and E that are not present in clear, refined palm oils. Does that mean you should use it liberally? I don't think so - I would never use the amount of it that many African recipes call for. Some tell you to pour up to a cup in soups and stews! (Aside from the possible health implications, I think that amount is just too overpowering for a palate that isn't used to it.)
Like anything, moderation is key. Red palm oil has such a strong, distinctive flavor that can't be replicated by any other oil, but one tablespoon does the trick handily. After all, just look at how much color a small amount of palm oil gives these onions:
Fiery Liberian Bean Soup
- 1 -1/2 cups dried cow peas, pigeon peas, black eyed peas - or any earthy bean - soaked overnight in water and rinsed
- 1 tbsp red palm oil
- 3-4 tbsp peanut oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- 5-6 canned plum tomatoes or 3-4 whole ripe ones
- 4 tbsp tomato paste
- 2-3 habanero or Scotch bonnet chiles, seeds removed (I used two and it was quite hot, but in retrospect I could have used three. Just add these according to your heat tolerance.
- 1 or 2 organic veggie bouillon cubes (This is my version of the ever-present, MSG-laden Maggi cubes that are used in so much African cooking.)
- 1 or 2 cups of chicken-style seitan (optional)
- salt and black pepper, to taste
Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the chiles, 1/4 of the onion, and the tomatoes. Pulse until smooth.
In a stockpot, fry the rest of the onion over medium heat in the palm and peanut oils until translucent.
Add the green pepper and saute for another few minutes.
Add the tomato/pepper/onion mixture and stir until it begins to bubble.
To this, add the tomato paste, a few pinches of fresh ground black pepper, the bouillon cubes, and salt, to taste. The dish is going to be pretty hot at this point - don't panic! You'll be adding some liquid soon.
Add the beans - both mashed and whole - and the seitan, if you're using it. Add just enough water to cover the beans and lower the heat and simmer, stirring often, for about 20 minutes.
Traditionally, this soup (which is really more like a stew) would be served over rice, but I had a feeling that the spicy heat would match well with the sweetness of polenta. I wasn't wrong! Polenta may seem like a strange accompaniment for an African meal, but it's not such a stretch. In Kenya, for example, ugali - basically a cornmeal porridge - is served with many dishes. Opposite sides of the continent, I know, but not entirely out of left field! But feel free to serve this rich, satisfying soup with whatever starch you like.