Haven’t Been Here Yet, Have We?

To Africa, very far from the Mediterranean, that is.  This changes today with a visit to Senegal, on the continent’s West Coast.  The weekly entry pictured above, specifically, is the Senegalese version of chicken soup.  Sure, it’s one more soup atop a swaying stack of them, but this one takes things in an unexpected direction.

For one thing, “chicken” is a label of convenience and describes so little of what’s really happening just beneath the surface here.  As the color suggests, tomatoes should receive at least equal billing.  In fact, we’re treated to a double supply of them, both in the puree that deeply informs the base, and in the sections of plum tomatoes that mingle feely throughout.  The vegetable (actually a fruit, but let’s not start) contributes a sweet, slightly acidic, note which tames the chicken’s richness.

Joining the tomatoes and chicken in the lead lineup are peanuts.  As with the others, peanuts are featured twice, both in the peanut butter that smoothly accents the other flavors, and in the ground nuts that top it all.  Their earthiness and subtle saltiness take the other tastes to new heights.  A platform, actually, from which all else excels.

All of this, though, only hints at the spiciness which is the soup’s calling card.  Cayenne and curry, so redolent of Northern Africa, elevate the other ingredients and set the tone.  To be clear, their main contribution here is flavor, not heat.  While Senegalese Chicken Soup is richly, even intensely, aromatic, this suggests the tastes that are in store for us.  Hotness,  not so much.

Normally, by this point, the recipe’s original location is credited, be it a magazine article, a website, or a book.  In this instance, though, such details have been  lost over the years.  Oh, the recipe exists, and with the minor modifications described below it’s reproduced intact, but the source eludes.  This is among the recipes I inherited, and while it has beckoned ever since it first was spotted, no other details are forthcoming other than that is was taken from a magazine decades ago.  Just guessing, it looks to date from the Eighties, and the lack of brand names suggest an article, not an ad.  This may or may not be the case, but those are the only clues we have.

It’s a mystery, perhaps befitting this site’s first foray deep into the African wilds.  Not really, as Senegalese Chicken Soup is quite civilized, but it is something new, exciting and delicious.  Maybe it’s only right that the recipe below just appeared, and no-one seems to know from where or from whom.  Just try it.


Senegalese Chicken Soup

  • 1 large onion, diced (*1)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 6 tablespoons curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 5 cups chicken broth (*2)
  • 2 cups tomato puree
  • 2 cups crushed plum tomatoes
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (*3)
  • 1 pound chicken white meat, diced (*4)
  • 1 cup scallions, sliced thinly
  • peanuts and cilantro, chopped to garnish, and to taste

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium temperature.  Cook the onion, stirring frequently, until it’s soft and translucent, about five minutes.

Add the garlic and cook for a couple more minutes.  Add the curry, cayenne and coriander and cook for two more minutes.

Add the chicken broth, being sure to scrape the bottom well.  Add the tomato puree and tomato pieces.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the peanut butter and stir well so that it’s thoroughly mixed.

Meanwhile, cook the chicken separately.  (*4)  After the chicken is cooked, set it aside to cool and when it’s safe to handle, dice it and add it to the main pot.

Add the scallions and cook for five more minutes.  Ladle soup into individual bowls and serve, garnishing with chopped cilantro and peanuts.


1 –  Naturally, I substituted shallots.  Two large or three medium shallots produces an amount similar to one large onion.

2 – It’s a familiar refrain by now – use homemade stock it you can get it.  Particularly when you’re making a soup.

3 – I used a little more than half a cup of peanut butter, and added a fair amount of chopped nuts at the end.  Then again, I’m particularly fond of peanuts.

4 – As they’re more flavorful, I used thighs instead of breasts.  In cooking, at least, I opted for bone-in, skin-on thighs, so the total was closer to two pounds.  Also, things are more flavorful when the chicken is cooked in with the soup, fished out when it’s done, skinned and shredded, and finally the shreds are returned to the original pot.



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