taste of history

i counted down the days to the smithsonian food history festival. i scheduled out my day the night before in my cell phone notes, anxious that i wouldn't have time to swing it between dorie greenspan's live baking demo on world peace cookies before I ran to a panel on the best of america's road food stops. when would i find time to pay homage to julia child's kitchen? what do i do with all these flower poundings i created? were they going to surprise us with bottomless samples even though they swore up and down there would not be samples?! these were all the very pressing questions running through my head. spoiler alert: they weren't kidding about the samples. 


however, i was so blown away by the talent and knowledge and passion of everyone who spoke that at the festival. my cell notes' pages were brimming with cooking tips, history tidbits and notes of recipes i needed to try. top on the list was soul food love's sweet potato broth. the authors of the book, a lovely mom-and-daughter duo of alice randall and caroline randall williams, did a live cooking demo of their peanut chicken stew. clearly i was into it because i ate peanut chicken stew for lunch for the next week.

i'm calling the title of this post "taste of history" for two reasons. 

  1. as the randalls cooked, they weaved through these incredible stories of george washington carver and his ingenuity when it came to peanuts. ingenuity to the tune of 300+ different uses for this tiny crop. his impact on society is massive - from the farmers he mentored to the fields he treated with innovative stewardship, our lives are made better because of his genius. the tiny, humble peanut is one of the stars of this stew, but i had no idea the full history behind why it's such a staple crop here.
  2. to me, this recipe really encapsulates the entire ethos of what the randalls are about: honoring the traditions of those who came before us, celebrating the north stars in our life - be they public figures like carver or loved ones like a grandmother, and making healthy, nourishing food accessible to all.

    the basis for this stew is sweet potato broth, an invention of the randalls. i love this idea. it came to be when alice randall called her daughter in urgent need of chicken stock. (also, i like that urgent need of chicken stock is a thing) as written in their cookbook and shared with the audience at the food history festival, they were feeling inspired by carver's knack for inventing and hatched up the idea for sweet potato stock. i've found it to be a solid, easy and affordable alternative to store-bought stock. it's also convenient in that you can double the batch and save some in the freezer for any other soup you'd like to make. just recently, i used it as the base for carrot ginger soup and it was perfect.

in short, the randalls taught me so much about digging deeper into the history of the food i eat and food's intersections with history, narratives, race, class and culture. food is so much more about the plate in front of us, and i think the food history festival really hit that home.

peanut chicken stew

recipes by alice randall & caroline randall williams, as featured in soul food love

3 cups chicken, cooked and chopped
1, 1/2 cups natural peanut butter
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained (or 3, 1/2 cups diced fresh tomatoes)
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 quart sweet potato broth (see ingredients and recipe below)
salt, to taste
1/2 cup unsalted and roasted peanuts, chopped

  1. in a medium pot, place the chicken, peanut butter, tomatoes, curry powder, cayanne and swet potato broth. simmer over medium heat until peanut butter is totally blended and the stew has a thick, even consistency. this should take about 20 minutes. 
  2. ladle the bowl into individual serving bowls. to serve, garnish with chopped peanuts.

sweet potato broth

1 medium onion. sliced
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
olive oil
1 large sweet potato, peeled and quartered
5 whole cloves
salt and pepper, to taste

  1. in a large stockpot, saute the onion, celery and carrot with a drizzle of olive oil over low heat. 

  2. once the onion has softened a bit (about 8 minutes), toss the sweet potato into the pot. then, pour in 6 cups of water, as well as the cloves, salt and pepper.

  3. bring to boil, then lower heat to simmer. after about 30 minutes (once the sweet potato has softened), remove the cloves from the stockpot.

  4. in a blender or food processor, blend together cooked onion, celery, carrot and sweet potato. if you don't have a blend or food processor, you can simple mash together with a wooden spoon. 

  5. you can use immediately, or refrigerate broth for up to five days, or simply freeze for up to two months.