A Plate Full of Ghana


It all comes together this week, as one plate holds everything you’d need for a full meal, from meat, to potatoes, to vegetables.  Wrapping the total package in style is a recipe Fine Cooking offered in its April/May 2019 release, Crispy Peanut-Chile Chicken with Sweet Potatoes.

The preparation is inspired by Ghana’s affinity for combining poultry and the groundnut, the local name for peanuts.  The dish is a model of efficiency, with everything needed for a full, nutritious meal appearing together in one place.  Luxurious and elegant, yet unpretentious and nutritious, it’s Ghana on a plate.

The chicken and vegetables don’t meet at first, as the bird marinates for a while in the titular Peanut-Chile Sauce.  This thoroughly infuses it with a mildly hot richness, a flavor profile that eventually percolates through to the vegetables below when the poultry tops the other ingredients as they cook.

As for the vegetables, you have sweet potatoes and cherry tomatoes.  Both items’ subdued sweetness is a perfect foil for the pepper’s modest heat and the peanuts’ creaminess.  Though Fine Cooking pictures the dish with bright orange sweet potatoes, the white-fleshed variety has a more complex yet subtle flavor, ensuring its inclusion.  Finally, all is topped with roasted peanuts and chopped cilantro, elevating creamy and sweet notes respectively.

Tomatoes, chilies and potatoes are relative newcomers here, as they’re New World crops and they would have been unknown in Ghana (and elsewhere) until the 16th century.  Still, if Italians can adopt the tomato with enthusiasm, aren’t Ghanaian cooks entitled similar latitude?  Cooking’s all about sourcing the best ingredients available.  Besides, everything else has satisfied West Africans for millennia, and one taste of today’s offering likely will add others to that list.

*****

Crispy Peanut-Chile Chicken with Sweet Potatoes

  • 1/4 cup natural peanut butter (*1)
  • 2 Thai bird chilies, minced (*2)
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt, to taste
  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 large onion, chopped (*3)
  • 1/4 cup coarsely-chopped cilantro leaves, divided
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes (*4)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup shelled peanuts, coarsely chopped

In a large zip-top bag, thoroughly combine the peanut butter, chilies, lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, 2 teaspoons of the garlic and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil.  Add the chicken, force as much air as you can from the bag and seal the top.  “Massage” the chicken to ensure the sauce completely covers it, then refrigerate for an hour.

Position a rack in the center of the oven, then preheat it to 375°.  Place a cast-iron skillet over a medium flame, then add the remaining 2 tablespoons of the oil.  When it shimmers, add the onion, remaining garlic, 2 tablespoons of the cilantro and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens and the garlic is fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the sweet potatoes.  Cover the pan and cook until the sweet potatoes begin to soften, about 5 more minutes.  Cut the heat.

Remove the lid and add the tomatoes.  Remove the chicken from the marinade and place it on the top in a single layer.  Pour over everything any marinade that remains in the bag.  Scatter the peanuts over the chicken, the place the skillet in the oven.

Cook for 30 minutes, then increase the oven temperature to “Broil” and continue thusly for a minute or two, taking care that the food doesn’t scorch.  Remove from the oven and let rest for ten minutes.  Sprinkle with the remaining cilantro and serve.

NOTES:

1 – According to the recipe, either creamy or chunky is fine.  I went with chunky because, hey, more peanuts.

2 – If you don’t have bird chilies (I did, but then, half the time I’m cooking something Thai, and the pantry is stocked accordingly) cayenne or serrano chilies would be just as good.

3 – “Nope, nope, nope.  I’m getting a bad feeling about this, Jonesy.” (Odd spot for a Platoon quote, huh?)  Don’t put onion in my dish – two large shallots are much better.

4 – “Peeled,” says the recipe.  “Why?,” I ask.   The skin is perfectly edible, it’s the sweet potato’s most nutritious part, and it’s so thin it softens just as completely as does everything else.   Why go to the trouble?

29 thoughts on “A Plate Full of Ghana

    1. Thanks so much, Crystal!

      Isn’t it great sharing dinner with the world? Even better when the experience recalls a personal connection. A good meal is satisfying enough, but memories (and anticipation?) make it even more tasty.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Agreed, Crystal. A sprawling, festive banquet in the style of Thanksgiving (pre-COVID) brings contentment, but its charm benefits from its rarity.

        Despite their comparative ubiquity, dinner dates seem to hit similar high notes most of the time. No mean task, given the number of times those dice roll. No matter whether the meeting is romantic or platonic in nature, good food and a good, intimate, discussion is one heck of a combination.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Much appreciated, Jenn!

      The best thing about cherry tomatoes and the like is that the off-season doesn’t diminish their spirit. Not significantly, at least.

      Sure, a sun-warmed globe picked from the vine in August is unmatched, but cherry and grape tomatoes shine even in February. At a time all other tomatoes are sad…so sad.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I am under duress Rachel, but it doesn’t influence what the market supplies!

      Actually, the original recipe calls for sweet potatoes, but those of the more conventional, orange-fleshed variety. As those are edible, but only just so at that, I opted for my favorite, a purple-skinned, white-fleshed Japanese cultivar called Murasaki. Now that….that’s what a sweet potato should be. You’ll see more of them in future posts.

      As for the whole “gunpoint” thing, please, give a former assassin some credit. As you know, we’re trained to use any one of 165 methods to outwit a baddie brandishing a firearm. Outmaneuvering that threat is laughably easy, so I laugh – Ha!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ahh, now it makes sense. My narrow knowledge gives me away — I had no idea there was a variety of sweet potato that was white inside. I’m rather partial to the conventional orange ones myself, but perhaps that’s partly due to my associating them with holidays, and to my never having had the Murasaki variety.

        Surely even the best assassin may have some trouble if the baddie in question is actually smart enough to not be standing within, like, two feet of his intended victim, and to perhaps have a couple dozen snipers posted as backup?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. An excellent point, Rachel. How much do we favor certain foods because they bring us to a happy place? Thus, good eats become part of the legend.

        That the baddie relies on backup betrays a lack of imagination. A lack of confidence too. Already he’s lost the initiative, and soon enough, the faceoff. When an icy uncertainty grips his soul, how can he expect his henchmen to follow? Worse yet, last night you switched out his bullets for blanks. His whole world’s about to crumble.

        Of course, that does make him a failed assassin. Come to think of it, he probably will be the keynote speaker at this December’s Christmas Banquet. In her former life, didn’t your Executive Assistant try to bump you off in Rio back in ’17 or ’18?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Ha! Quite so. What’s a man with no bullets and an army of snipers with no confidence in their leader against an expert (if failed) assassin?

        Oh, yeah! Well, there’s something to be said for being frequent assassination targets: there’s always new recruits.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. That’s why we got out of the Bullet-for-Hire racket, isn’t it, Rachel? Much less stressful nowadays.

        Speaking broadly, of course. Although…do you still cringe upon remembering 2020’s debacle, when an amorous and tipsy couple snuck away from the Christmas Banquet and managed to uncork 47 of the 76 spirits that had been bottled up, sometimes for centuries?

        Or what about last July’s Charity Pro-Am Golf Tournament, when League members from Osaka and Tokyo showed up unexpectedly, and we didn’t have nearly enough equipment for them? You know how seriously the Japanese take golf, and we lost major face on that one. Most dishonorable.

        Naturally, when we were inventorying the upper level storerooms just a week later, we came across one room with 4,755 absolutely exquisite golf sets, surplus from the legendary St. Andrew’s Club in Scotland, and another chamber holding – it turns out – 130,622 golf balls. It would’ve been nice to have discovered all of this just eight days earlier!

        Those two moments freaked us out as much as dodging gunshots ever did, but all in all, I like the modern situation much, much better. As long as those miniature mammoths don’t get loose again…

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Lol! Indeed, that Tournament gave me quite the scare. I thought for sure I’d be expected to commit seppuku. Of course, I’m not entirely convinced they weren’t just messing with us. I still find it odd that not a one of them brought their own clubs.

        Yep, that’s just our luck. The perfect resolution to an issue… after the issue’s already over with. But then again, we handled that business at the Banquet well enough, thanks to your quick thinking.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Actually Rachel, the “perfect resolution” came much earlier, when you persuaded the PGA’s top players each to pair off with one of the visitors, and then for each golf pro to throw his/her game. Even now, well over a year later, the Rising Sun still glows on stories about “(t)hat time I bested the PGA Masters’ Champion!”

        You even ended the day receiving a deep bow from Tetsuta. “Profound gratitude for a most unique, sparkling, and memorable entertainment!”

        Then there was your deft handling of the situation when the mammoths got loose. Right into Midtown they surged, in front of hundreds of astounded spectators. Fortunately, you noticed the incredulous crowds had filed out of their company’s own New Year’s party, and that all had been well-plied with champagne.

        With lightning wit, you persuaded the partiers the pink elephants they were seeing actually were wooly, and in miniature. By the time the boisterous crowds had sobered up the next morning, nobody was any the wiser, and one of the League’s (many) secrets was safe again.

        Oh, and how about that afternoon you…

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Ahh, of course. How could I forget? Why, Tetsuta even contacted me later to discuss the potential of another joint outing sometime in the future. It was really something.

        Heh. Too bad it wasn’t a stampede of the actual pink elephants. Actually… never mind. That would’ve ended much worse.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. No doubt. The miniature mammoths were more bewildered than anything else, poor things. Once the hordes of drunken yuppies noticed them, the tuskers only were too happy to return to the warmth, comfort and safety of their lodgings.

        Full-size elephants (pink or not) would’ve been another matter altogether. Over a year later, most’ve of them still would be rampaging through the city.

        Imagine the difficulty of enlisting Tetsuta…not to participate in another golf outing this summer, but to cajole his membership to help us round up rogue pachyderms.

        Thanks to your quick thinking one sunny July afternoon, though, we’ll never learn how you would’ve finessed that particular situation.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Or volumes of incantations, or an exhaustive inventory of flintlocks, or 76 bottles corked with angry ghosts inside….

        Point is, though each on our extensive roster has forsaken his/her former profession, they still are prepared for any situation. Naturally, they’re experts in using countless devices of nefarious intent.

        That’s why over a hundred of our halls and storerooms bristle with an arsenal besting Fort Knox’s. Infinitely more varied and fascinating too. Of course, the chambers also hold endless oddities and treasures people have collected and bestowed since 1897. Naturally, there’s considerable overlap among the three groups. …and nobody has gone through even 5% of it yet.

        Don’t I have the best job in the world?

        Liked by 1 person

  1. ha! LOVE “Cooking’s all about sourcing the best ingredients available”

    I can relate so much. As a sport mom of two very busy multi-sports athletes, with a full time job I don’t have time for mundane things others take for granted like cleaning or grocery shopping 🙂 sooo there is a lot of “sourcing the (only) ingredients available” for me. 🙂

    I do have to say, it has made it a much more creative cook lol.

    I see all the wonderful things: cherry tomatoes, cilantro, chilies, peanuts… so, as usual, I love this recipe

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Mar!

      One thing you definitely find time to do is to set up a wonderfully comfortable and enticing book-lined corner, to read and to write. Every time you show a photo on your blog my envy is renewed.

      You celebrate your children, and the written word. Priorities, Mar, priorities. All other minor details, such as food, will take care of themselves, right?

      Like

  2. Peanut butter again! I’m so happy to see it. I love it but don’t get to use it enough in cooking. I’ve got lots of recipes to try when I get back home! I also did not know that tomatoes were native to South America, but it makes sense… potato, tomato. It’s really hard to imagine what Italian cooking was like before they got hold of the tomato. Pretty amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, JoAnn! Winter is just the time for something as comforting and as warming as is PB.

      Add tomatoes to the list of New World ingredients unknown to the broader world until the 16th century. These include potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, vanilla, cacao (and hence, chocolate), peanuts, pumpkins, corn…

      Viewed this way, just about all the world’s cuisines are hybrids to some degree. So what? Cooking is in constant evolution.

      Liked by 1 person

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