A Stew So Nice I Made It Twice . . .

. . . just so I could eat it once.

A recent all-night (and all-the-next-day) bout with a hidden crustacean left me, um, shell-shocked. I’ve been so careful these past few years. But with too many plates—and probably too many glasses—on the six-top that night, I didn’t ask our server all the questions I should have. I really do need to be more careful.

So, mid-prep last Tuesday night—as usual, mashing up a couple-three recipes—a nagging little voice prompted me to flip over the jar of roasted red chili paste and read the ingredients. Dammit. Shrimp. Good catch. Sadly, though, a big dollop of the stuff had already been in the pot for half an hour.

Why does gluten rate a front-label snipe? More than twice as many people suffer from severe shellfish allergies as from Celiac Disease.

So that batch went to Sheila and to co-workers, and after a trip to Wegman’s for some shellfish-free chili paste, I made a smaller pot Thursday for me.

It was worth the wait.

Creamy, spicy, warming, hearty. Perfect for riding out yet another named winter storm.
Curried Sweet Potato, Chicken & Peanut Stew

One of those warm-you-from-the-inside dishes, this time inspired equal parts by Mark Bittman and by my pal Michael, who used his own riff on this West African Peanut Stew to win our neighborhood’s annual Chili Cook-off a couple years ago.

Don’t be daunted by the ingredient list. It’s really quite simple—and quite adaptable. Add what you want, leave out what you don’t (it’s easily made vegetarian or even vegan). My version racked up lots of CSA points: carrots, sweet potatoes, and onions all came from recent-weeks’ shares; the garlic was leftover from one of the last fall-season deliveries; I’d canned the tomatoes over the summer; and the chicken and stock were from LFFC-supplied birds. The vacuum seal had failed on the packet of okra I’d frozen, or that would’ve gotten tossed in, too.

Serves 4.

Rhapsody in Orange: Sweet potatoes and carrots will be enhanced with tomatoes, turmeric-laced curry powder, and a hunter-blaze habanero.


  • 2 tbsp peanut or canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 large clove garlic, diced
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh ginger root, minced or grated
  • 1 tbsp curry sweet powder
  • 1-2 tsp roasted chili paste (optional)
  • 1/2 fresh habanero pepper, minced (optional)
  • other dried or fresh chili peppers, as you dare
  • 1 very large sweet potato or yam, peeled and diced (about a pound)
  • 3 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 pint canned tomatoes (with their liquid)
  • 1 cup sliced or whole okra (optional)
  • 8 oz coconut milk
  • 8 oz vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 pound cooked chicken, pulled off the bone and cubed or shredded
  • roasted, unsalted peanuts (garnish)
  • cilantro (garnish)

Coat the bottom of a large stew pot with oil and get it going over medium-high heat. Cook the onion, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes, until it starts to soften. Reduce the heat a bit, add the ginger and garlic, and cook for 3-4 more minutes. Stir in the chili paste, curry powder, and any fresh or dried chilis you’re using. Let it go another 3-4 minutes, until all the spices are well absorbed.

What are you, yellow? I’m down to just three jars of canned tomatoes in the pantry. Yes, sometimes I really do cook by color.

Add the sweet potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, and stock. Simmer for about 15 minutes, just until the vegetables are soft. If you want a thicker, creamier stew, take an immersion or heavy-duty blender to a third to a half of the mixture, then return the purée to the pot; if you’d rather wind up with chunks of veggies in a thinner broth, skip that step.

I rarely use a whole can of coconut milk at once, so this superthink, squeezable, resealable stuff from So Delicious has earned a permanent slot in my fridge door.

Swirl in the coconut milk and peanut butter. Add the cooked chicken (I had poached mine earlier in salted water seeded with scraps of onion and ginger, but you could use leftover roasted or grilled chicken, or even a grocery-store rotisserie bird). While you’re heating it through, taste and adjust the seasoning. Adjust the weight, too: if it’s watery, cook it down a bit; if it’s too thick, add a bit more stock and/or water and/or coconut milk.

Serve alone or over rice, garnished with chopped peanuts and cilantro.

What to drink?

Alsace Edelzwicker “Sept Grains” Domaine Barmès-Buecher 2013

Did I pick it because of the orange label? Nah. Just dumb luck. We’d uncorked a staff sample Wednesday. I had a hunch it’d be a great complement for the curry, and my colleagues graciously indulged me at the end of the night.

Sept Grains
Barmès-Buecher’s Sept Grains (“seven grapes”) is made from the free-run juice of Riesling, Muscat, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Chasselas, and Chardonnay.

Maxime Barmès, who took over the biodynamic estate after the sudden death of his father, François, several years ago, has given us an opulent, old-school, Edelzwicker—a noble field blend—in this case dominated by Riesling and joined by six other grapes. With a knock-me-out floral and creamy citrus nose, it’s rich enough to stand up to the layered flavors and hearty texture of the stew, and not so dry that it clangs against the chilis. One of my best pairings in a good, long while.

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