Kwanzaa Culinarians

Recipes and Food Stories from the African Diaspora

Imani: Senegalese-Inspired Chicken Peanut Stew

The author, Steven Allwood, with his daughter celebrating Kwanzaa

The author, Steven Allwood, with his daughter celebrating Kwanzaa

“The black eye pea was introduced into the West Indies from Central Africa in the early 1700s and journeyed from there into the Carolinas. The pea with the small black dot is considered especially lucky by many cultures in Western Africa. While the pea was certainly not lucky for those who were caught and sold into slavery, the memory of the luck it was supposed to bring in West Africa lingered on among the enslaved in the southern United States and the Hoppin’ John that is still consumed on New Year’s Day by black and white Southerners alike is reputed to bring good fortune to all who eat it.” By Jessica B. Harris, High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America, pg. 18

Cooking is among the surest ways to access ancestral memory. The food we eat tells a story of where we’ve been and where we’re going. Recipes are passed down from generation to generation. They change over time as each generation adds their own interpretation, while remaining true to the original themes like so many stories passed down orally. Despite the fact that most blacks of the Diaspora have never had African food, the legacy of the African past is evident in all of the “soul foods” of the New World. From the inclusion of African ingredients like okra and black eye peas, to the methods of frying in oil, and stewing in rich heavily spiced sauces, Africa lives on in the soul cuisines of the American south, Latin America, Brazil, and the Caribbean. It is perhaps no coincidence that our food is called “soul food.” For the foundations of Diaposoran soul food lay in the harsh crucibles of slavery, segregation, and material deprivation that have characterized black life in the New World. It was precisely the ability to “make something out of nothing” combined with deep spirituality and faith in God that allowed African descended people to survive in their new homelands.

Imani (faith) is the last principle of Kwanzaa and it happens to fall on New Year’s Day, a day already imbued with spiritual significance for African Americans. African American churches hold “Watch Night” services on New Year’s Eve and black households can be found serving black eyed peas and greens (usually collards) on New Year’s Day. The black eyed pea is eaten for good luck and greens are eaten for financial prosperity in the year to come. These traditions pre-date Kwanzaa as cultural markers for African Americans and I have taken to combining them with a traditional African dish as our family’s New Year’s Day meal. I enjoy combining foods from around the Diaspora to showcase the continuity of African food ways and to celebrate the ingenuity of African peoples to incorporate European and Native American elements into creolized soul cuisines.

This year, I plan to make my favorite Senegalese dish Chicken Mafe, a peanut stew prevalent throughout much of West Africa. When I lived in Fort Greene, Brooklyn in the late 1990’s, Mafe was my favorite dish at a Senegalese restaurant on Fulton Street owned by Chef Pierre Thiam. Chef Thiam now owns Le Grand Dakar Restaurant in Brooklyn.

Mafe in a pressure cooker

Mafe in a pressure cooker

Chicken Mafe (Peanut Stew)*

¼ cup peanut or vegetable oil
¾ cup creamy peanut butter
½ cup tomato paste
Approximately 3 lbs. of any cuts of chicken you like (this recipe is delicious with lamb as well)
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, cut in strips
½ pound potato, cut in chunks (approx 1 ½ inch)
½ pound carrots, peeled and cut into small chunks (approx. 1½ inch)
1 small cabbage, cut in 1 inch pieces
1 scotch bonnet/habenero pepper, seeds removed and chopped
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Approximately 2½ cups chicken stock (or water)
3 tablespoons Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce

1. In a large pot, heat oil under medium-high heat and brown chicken pieces on all sides. Remove chicken and set aside.
2. In the same pot, add the onion and sauté until translucent.
3. Add bell pepper, carrots, cabbage and potato and stir approximately 5 – 10 minutes.
4. Add garlic and stir for 1 minute.
5. Stir in peanut butter and tomato paste. Add chicken stock or water as needed to mix and reach desired consistency.
6. Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining ingredients except fish sauce and chicken and stir approximately 5 minutes.
7. Add chicken, cover and stew 30 minutes to 1 hour until chicken is done and vegetables are cooked through.
8. Add fish sauce and stir approximately 1 minute.
9. Serve with rice or couscous.

*Note: Based on a recipe of Chef Pierre Thiam, owner of Le Grand Dakar Restaurant in Brooklyn, NY. When I lived in Fort Greene in the late 1990’s, Chef Thiam owned a restaurant in the neighborhood called Keur N’Daye. This was my favorite dish!

Mafe with couscous

Steven Allwood is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology and a passionate foodie. He lives in Atlanta, GA with his wife and two daughters. Steven blogs at

About Bren Herrera

Bren has been cooking Latin and fusion cuisine for 18 years, and professionally for 8, having developed a passion for entertaining at an early age. Cooking for friends and family has always fascinated her and brings her much joy. In 2008 she launched her critically acclaimed food blog, Flanboyant Eats™. The blog’s popularity has landed her TV gigs appearing with Emeril Lagasse, a private stodge and demo with Chef of the Century, Joel Robuchon and continues to do TV having recently appeared on CNN Español, reaching over 30 million viewers. Bren is a full-time private chef, food and travel writer, having written food columns for LATINA Magazine, Dean & DeLuca, Cuisine Noir and has been published in various print publications covering culinary trends, restaurant reviews, global cuisine and excursions. She’s been featured in Black Enterprise, The Washington Post, Daily Candy, The AJC and other notable publications.

4 comments on “Imani: Senegalese-Inspired Chicken Peanut Stew

  1. Wanda Jenkins
    January 7, 2012

    Having grown up in Ohio, and my mother was from Philly, she always cooked blackeyed peas for New Years Day but I don’t remember her giving the history behind it. She just said that’s what they did in Philly. She also made a sauerkraut salad to go with the peas. Not sure where she got that from, but we lived in a small town with German ancestry, so that might explain it, but that was one, delicious meal! The Peanut Stew looks and sounds absolutely delicious! I must try it with tofu. As a vegetarian, what can I substitute the fish sauce with?


    • Sanura Weathers
      January 8, 2012

      Hey, Wanda! Try substituting fish sauce for soy sauce. Thanks for visiting!


      • Wanda Jenkins
        January 8, 2012

        Thanks, Sanura! Will do.


  2. Bren Herrera
    January 1, 2012

    a pressure cooker recipe! yes, I’m for it. I love how you brought some of Brooklyn with you down to Atlanta where the food is Southern and diners are very loyal to it. And, so wonderful to see the kiddo’s learning about their heritage at such an early age. Thanks for the recipe. Have never had mafe before. In fact, don’t think I’ve ever had anything from Senegal!


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This entry was posted on December 31, 2011 by in 2011, Imani, Personal Story, Recipe and tagged , , , , , , , , .

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Learn more about Kwanzaa

The word "Kwanzaa" comes from the phrase, "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first-fruits." Kwanzaa's extra "a" evolved as a result of a particular history of the Organization Us. It was clone as an expression of African values in order to inspire the creativity of our children. In the early days of Us, there were seven children who each wanted to represent a letter of Kwanzaa. Since kwanza (first) has only six letters, we added an extra "a" to make it seven, thus creating "Kwanzaa." To learn more about Kwanzaa, visit the Official Kwanzaa Website.

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