When Top Chef’s Carla Hall won this season’s tennis challenge with her African groundnut soup with sweet potatoes, adzuki beans, and peanuts, I knew I would eventually make a version of her dish. I love peanut butter – I could eat a container a week – so she had me right there. But I also love a good meal that doesn’t cost much money, and sweet potatoes and peanut butter are some of the most inexpensive ingredients around.
But first, why are peanuts also called groundnuts? The name comes from the way the peanut plant grows. Its branches twist downward so its pods can be buried below the ground.
The peanuts/groundnuts are the base of this soup, but you can use a variety of vegetables to make the dish your own. Carla used peppers in her version, while this recipe calls for eggplant. Still, to be authentic, the word is that chili peppers, onions, and tomatoes must be used.
Although Carla’s version is laced with some of my favorite spices – cumin, coriander, and cayenne pepper – I used this simple recipe for sweet potato-peanut bisque from Eating Well. The recipe has the necessary chilies and onions, but it calls for tomato juice instead of regular tomatoes. (Next time I’ll try adding a can of tomatoes instead and will increase the amount of stock.) The end result is a thick soup, rich with peanut buter and slighly sweet from the sweet potatoes.
In West Africa, the finished soup is often eaten with a quivering starch called fufu. (I’d never heard of fufu until one of my classmates wrote a fascinating story about Ghanaian food last semester. I’m hoping she’ll publish the piece so you can read it someday.) But I think the soup would be delicious with some fresh, crusty bread, or even just a sprinkle of cilantro. Enjoy!