For Christmas Eve we are joined by the creative and talented Irina Wang. Irina is an Art & Design student in London and runs the blog Wandercrush, a food/travel blog documenting seasonal archives of her life in meals. I’m constantly inspired by her work, and I am clearly not alone – Irina recently received the Guardian OFM (Observer Food Monthly) Award for Best Food Photography 2014. Her beautiful and mesmerizing photographs capture life, food and culture in abundance. She isn’t vegan but she has a lovely vegan variation of ‘nkhatenkwan’ (ground nut stew from Ghana) from her wintery Wandercrush kitchen. This dish has been veganized with winter vegetables, perfect for this holiday season. Irina loves preparing sustainable and globally inspired recipes by altering dishes discovered from her travels with appropriate seasonal and local substitutions.
As much as I love to travel, the art student life often limits my cross-cultural meanderings to the kitchen. Thankfully, those physical limitations aren’t in the least bit restricting; twisting international recipes to fit local produce seasonality here in London can be a satisfying challenge with fantastically edible results.
Imagine my delighted surprise when Wandercrush was approached with a guest post proposition—by Rika, the wanderlusting queen herself! For every frankenstein recipe I dream up, she’s already been in and out of several countries, vegan treats and beautiful photographs in tow. So here I am: humbled, honoured, and excited to share this variation of nkatenkwan (groundnut stew from Ghana) on Vegan Miam, straight from the wintry Wandercrush kitchen.
African cuisine makes use of regionally abundant peanuts (called “groundnuts” although they’re technically legumes, the fruits of Arachis hypogaea growing in underground pods), which lend a velvety and incredibly filling aspect to many of their dishes, including this warming stew. Cashews are a different story, growing way up high in evergreens that also produce something called a cashew apple. Botanically speaking, they’re not really nuts either—they’re seeds. But what they lack in botanical nomenclature, peanuts and cashews make up for in their creaminess, dreaminess, and laundry list of lovely proteins and fats. Their “butter” form is the simple result of blending at a high speed with nothing more than a pinch of salt; nuts have enough natural oils to release during the process.
Ghanaian Nkatenkwan is traditionally made with meat, dried fish, and sometimes aubergine, sweet potato, or okra… but with veganisation and under-celebrated winter produce on the agenda, some seasonal substitutions were—as always—begging to be made.
As a kid growing up in America, I never quite understood the ubiquitous allure of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, but after making this stew I can vouch for how well caramelised sweetness marries with creamy nuttiness. Parsnip and butternut squash, when seasoned and oven-roasted with a drizzle of agave or maple syrup, celebrates the delicately sweet side of winter vegetables. And even as a leafy green, kale rounds out a hot and hearty stew far more readily than it cushions a fancy finger sandwich. All hail the hearty winter produce lineup!
This would be a handsome addition to any multi-cultural table at Christmas dinner, but equally suitable for a winter holiday potluck, soul-warming flu season cure, or solo indulgence after a chilly commute home.
Merriest of Christmases, all. May it be as warm as this steamy bowl of nkatenkwan, sweet as a parsnip, and memorable as an extra-generous sprinkle of crushed chillies.
Cashew-Peanut Stew with Roasted Butternut Squash & Parsnip
Yield: 4-5 servings
- 400 g butternut squash, peeled and chopped
- 400 g parsnips, peeled and chopped
- 1-2 T olive oil
- 1-2 T maple/agave syrup
- pinch of salt & pepper
- 3 shallots, minced
- 1 inch knob of ginger, peeled and grated
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1½ litres (~6 cups) vegetable stock
- 1-3 hot chillies, pounded into paste
- ½ cup tomato paste
- ¼ cup chunky peanut butter
- ¼ cup cashew butter
- 100 g curly kale, washed and torn off stems
- handful coriander/cilantro, chopped
- handful roasted peanuts, chopped roughly
- handful roasted cashews, chopped roughly
- brown rice or boiled potatoes, to serve
Preheat oven to 230°C/450°F. Mix maple/agave, olive oil, salt, and pepper, coating the chopped up butternut squash and parsnips in a baking tray. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until the exteriors are nice and caramelised.
Sauté garlic and ginger for a few minutes until fragrant before adding the shallots, parsnip, and butternut squash for another few minutes until the shallot becomes soft. Add in the broth and cover, bringing to a boil and then simmering for 5 minutes.
In a separate bowl, combine tomato paste, peanut butter, cashew butter, and chilli paste together with a few spoonfuls of hot broth from the pot. Stir until a smooth paste is formed, add all of it back into the pot, and whisk well. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the prepared kale, bringing the soup back to a boil before lowering to a simmer for another 15 minutes, whereafter the kale should be wilted and the vegetables tender. Stir often, scraping the bottom of the pot and adding some more broth if the stew becomes too thick or dry.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over brown rice or boiled potatoes, topped with chopped nuts and fresh coriander.
Uprooted from her hometown in Florida, Irina is now living in London as a multi-disciplinary design student, word nerd, aspiring nomad, and detail sponge. She is a stuff maker, bread breaker, thought jotter, scheme plotter. One day her phone filled up with too many food photos and so she created Wandercrush — a seasonal archive of her life in meals, it’s a food/travel blog celebrating whole foods and the whole wide world.