Tuesday, January 31, 2012

African Inspired Pumpkin Mash with Peanuts & Spinach

Joe in the Kitchen Chopping Pumpkin
Joe Attacking Pumpkin with Cleaver & Mallet

Recipe by Joe

My friend Joe mentioned this recipe a couple of times before I asked him to come over and cook the large pumpkin I’d been procrastinating about since last fall’s harvest. Joe cooks like many of us, with a little of this and a handful of that, simmering it till it looks right, etc., so it’s not easy to quantify this recipe. Truthfully though, quantities don’t matter much, as long as cinnamon isn’t overdone. The amount of pumpkin, potatoes, greens, and peanuts can vary quite a bit and still make a delicious and healthful dish. It’s appropriate that quantities be flexible, since the concept for this dish comes from northern Africa. The African cooks that I know never measure, and excel at improvising with quantities and ingredients at hand.

Looking into Cooking Pot of Pumpkin Mash
Freshly Cooked Pumpkin Mash
Joe started out with a similar recipe by chef Marcus Samuelsson, a NYC chef of Ethiopian/Swedish descent who traveled throughout north Africa gathering culinary knowledge. Throughout years of preparation, Joe added the peanut oil, turmeric, peanuts and spinach (or other greens), and eliminated the butter, milk, garlic, sugar, and nutmeg, and substituted water for the chicken stock, creating a whole new flavor focused on ginger and pumpkin. As you can see, you can vary this recipe quite a bit, and still have the basic dish of mashed pumpkin with spices.

We were lucky to have fresh turmeric root on hand, thanks to our local natural foods market that stocks this seasonally, usually in fall. You may substitute powdered turmeric, or use a bit of each like we did. Fresh ginger root is a prominent and delicious taste, so I would try not to substitute powdered ginger…although this might possibly be equally tasty if you feel experimental.

According to Joe, any green can be used. Some of the tougher greens: collards, kale, or even chard, should be steamed semi-soft first, and I would cut up the stems finely or use them in another dish, like a stir-fry. 

Green Bowl Filled with Pumpkin Chunks
Three Quart Bowl of Pumpkin
Our pumpkin was old and of a unique variety. The flesh wasn’t at all dense or hard, so we cut it up and added it to the pot without pre-cooking. Denser pumpkin can be pre-cooked along with the potatoes, to make cutting it up easier and reduce simmering time. Joe uses the oven to pre-bake pumpkin and potatoes, but I would choose to steam or microwave both veggies instead. You can also substitute butternut squash for some or all of the pumpkin, and you will definitely want to peel and steam, bake, or microwave  that till semi-tender before putting it into the stew pot.

Pumpkin mash is good over cooked millet or rice. Its natural sweetness makes it a compliment to Red Pepper Chicken, and it combines well with many other savory poultry dishes.

Plate of Pumpkin Mash
Last of the Pumpkin Mash Leftovers, with Extra Peanuts
North African Inspired Pumpkin Mash
feeds a small village (~20 servings)

3 tbsp. peanut oil
2 large onion, sliced into thick rings
~3 inches ginger root, peeled, sliced, and chopped
~1 tbsp. chopped turmeric root
1 ½ tsp. powdered turmeric
5 medium Yellow Finn potatoes
1 large pumpkin
1 large bunch spinach
1 cup peanuts
½  - 1 tsp. salt or dehydrated broth to taste if peanuts not salted
~3 cups water
~¼  tsp. cinnamon
peanuts for optional garnish

Chop the pumpkin into large pieces with a cleaver and mallet. Discard stringy orange stuff inside. If pumpkin is soft, cut into 1-inch cubes, cutting off the skin. You should have about 12 cups.

If pumpkin is not soft, you can pre-cook large chunks along with the potatoes. Scrub potatoes and cut in half. Either roast veggies in 350 degree oven about 45 minutes, or steam about 20 minutes, until they’re semi-soft. Or you could microwave them about 10 minutes instead, reducing cooking time and energy consumption. Cool and cut potatoes into chunks, slipping or cutting off skins. Cut pumpkin into 1-inch cubes, slicing off skin and discarding.

In a large soup pot, sauté onions in peanut oil about 5 minutes, till somewhat limp. Add chopped turmeric and ginger roots, and powdered turmeric. Stir around and cook another 5 minutes.

Add pumpkin and potatoes, and about 2 cups water. Simmer about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, till all veggies including onion and ginger are getting soft. Mash with potato masher. Add peanuts, and salt or dehydrated broth if peanuts aren’t salted. If you’re using tough greens, add them now. Add water if it seems very thick and apt to burn. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until ginger and onion are soft enough to mash. Mash again.

Add spinach to top of pot, cover, and let it steam. When wilted, about 5 minutes, stir in and mash up spinach. Add a few dashes of cinnamon, or to taste. Cook for 10 minutes or more, until flavors are blended and spinach can be mashed into small bits. Mash one more time. Serve with a dish of peanuts on the side for optional garnish.

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