keito potato

Congolese Romaine-Lettuce Stew with Peanut Sauce
July 28, 2012, 7:07 pm
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I recently spent an afternoon cooking with some Congolese friends Florimond and Gisele, and this lettuce and peanut stew blew me away.  When I took the first bite, I almost got tears in my eyes because I was so overwhelmed by the fantastic flavor.

I had never heard of stewing romaine lettuce.  They explained to me that while spinach and other dark greens are often used in DR Congo, romaine lettuce is imported as a delicacy, and is revered for the delicate flavor and texture.

The recipe calls for cherry tomatoes, but you can substitute large tomatoes.


3 heads of romaine lettuce

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 of a head of celery (several stalks)

1 onion

2 garlic cloves

1 bunch of scallions

10 cherry tomatoes (or 2 large tomatoes)

1 can of tomato paste

3/4 cup to 1 cup of natural peanut butter

garlic salt to taste


Wash the romaine lettuce leaves.  Slice the leaves cross-wise, then wash them again.  Place the lettuce in a large pot with 3-4 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.  Continue simmering for about 20 minutes. 

In the meantime, prepare the rest of the vegetables.  Slice the onion.  Mince the garlic cloves.  Chop the celery.  Slice the scallions in 1/2-inch pieces.  Chop the cherry tomatoes.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet.  When hot, add the onions, garlic, celery, scallions, and cherry tomatoes.  Let it sit a few minutes before stirring.  Then stir, and add the can of tomato paste.  

Add the peanut butter and stir again.  The peanut butter is stiff, so you will need to stir with some pressure.  

Add 1-can of water, using the tomato paste can to measure.  Cook a few minutes in the skillet, then add the sauce to the lettuce.  Stir, add a few shakes of garlic salt.  Don’t cover the pot, so that the lettuce will keep its color.  

Let it simmer about another 30 minutes.  Taste for salt at the end.  Serve with rice or fufu.

Eggplant and Fennel Stew Braised in Red Wine
February 9, 2012, 5:20 pm
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This became a favorite stew this year.  I made it several times over the fall and winter, brought it to potlucks, and served it for extended family over the holidays.  I’m finally posting it to share.  It’s a richly flavored stew that perfumes the kitchen with fennel and red wine.  In contrast to the eggplant stew I posted last fall, in which you briefly saute all of the ingredients together on the stove, and then roast the whole stew in the oven for 2 hours, this stew has the opposite procedure.  You cook the vegetables separately and uniquely, then bring them together in a boozy red wine and herb stew.

The procedure for roasting the fennel was new to me.  You braise quarters of fennel on the stove with olive oil and broth for 5 minutes, then put the pan in the oven to roast for an hour, covered in parchment paper.  This does something magical to the fennel, and is more interesting than simply roasting slices of fennel in olive oil and salt (which was my previous method for roasting fennel).  Now I want to use this braising/roasting method on fennel at other times as a side dish, or a base for other stews as well.  And wouldn’t it be nice on a salad?

This recipe is inspired by Denis Cotter’s fantastic cookbook Cafe Paradiso Seasons.  I think that Julie/Julia gal is pretty OCD, but if I would ever decide to cook my way through a cookbook, it might just be this one.  My two changes are that I’ve cut the eggplants into slightly smaller pieces, and have also salted and rested the cut eggplant cubes before cooking them.  This step draws out liquid from the spongy eggplant cubes, and removes possible bitterness.  Since you have the fennel roasting for an hour, I think you might as well have the eggplant draining during this time.

You can serve this stew with any kind of starchy side.  Today I’m pairing it with thick slices of pan-seared polenta, but it’s also good with rice, couscous, or crusty bread.   Alternatively, it’s a great stew for composing a vegetarian version of shepherd’s pie (to do so, arrange the stew in the bottom of a casserole pan, top it with mashed potatoes, and then bake until the mashed potatoes are golden).   Since a shepherd’s pie is topped with mashed potatoes, I replace the potatoes in the stew with green beans.

A fruity red wine is preferred.  The author Denis Cotter says the first time he made this stew, he drank the rest of the bottle while the stew simmered, “but that’s not always necessary.”

I used chilies and thyme from the garden.  If you’re afraid of the heat, leave the chilies out.


3 fat fennel bulbs

1/3 cup olive oil

18 ounces vegetable stock (separated as 1 cup and 1  1/4 cup)

2 large eggplants

18 ounces potatoes

28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes

6 cloves galic

2-4 fresh chilies

2-3 sprigs thyme

10 ounces (1  1/4 cup) red wine

salt, to season


Trim the greens off the top of the fennel bulbs and slice a thin sliver off the root end.  Then slice the bulbs into quarters.  Place them in a cast iron pan or skillet with tall sides (something that you an use both on the stove and in the oven), together with 1/3 cup olive oil and 1 cup vegetable broth.  Bring it to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.  Cover the pot loosely with parchment paper and bake in the oven at 350F for 1 hour.  Check occasionally to see if there is enough liquid, and you may need to turn some of the fennel pieces.  

Here are the before-and-after photos.

In the meantime, peel the eggplant, and cut it into 1-inch cubes.  Toss the cubes in salt, and place in a colander to drain.  After about 30 minutes of draining, pat with paper towels to dry.

During this time, prepare the ingredients for the rest of the stew.  Slice the garlic cloves and the chilies.  Heat them in a large soup pot for 30 seconds or so, and then add the tomatoes.  I crush the whole tomatoes with my hands, or use a cheese grater with large holes to roughly grate the tomatoes.  Cook the tomatoes with the garlic  and chilies for about 5 minutes.  Then add the thyme sprigs, the wine, and the remaining 1 -1/4 cup of vegetable broth.  Season with a little salt, bring to a boil, and then simmer around 20 minutes.

Peel the potatoes.  Quarter them, then cut the quarters into big wedges around 1 -1/2 inches thick.  Steam the potato cubes in a vegetable steamer until soft, around 15-20 minutes.

When the fennel comes out of the oven, it’s time to bake the eggplant.  Place the eggplant in a baking dish (I prefer cast iron), and toss with olive oil.  Bake at 375F for about 20-30 minutes, or until soft.  I usually have the eggplant baking at the same time as I have the potatoes steaming.

Add the roasted fennel and all of its oil juices to the stew.  Add the steamed potatoes and the roasted eggplant.  Bring the stew back to a boil, and simmer again on very low heat, covered, for 15 minutes.  If you have the time, turn off the heat, and let the stew sit for an hour or so to mellow.  Check the seasoning before serving.

Macedonian Eggplant and Chickpea Stew
October 14, 2011, 8:46 pm
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I’m joining the cool kids, and am beginning to learn how to grow vegetables in the backyard.  This week, a few of the eggplants look ready, so I wanted to find a delicate eggplant recipe to highlight a super-fresh vegetable pulled right from the garden. 

After perusing all of my Middle Eastern cookbooks, I happened upon this Paula Wolfert recipe from The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean.  Her long introduction to this recipe was exuberant and poetic, and I knew that if the stew made her this electric, then I would love it as well.  Paula first tasted this dish at a conference in Greece on traditional Greek food-ways, at a special Lenten meal accompanied by clerical prayers, candles, and ancient Christian music.

This dish takes some time to cook  — 2  1/2 hours in the oven, or all day in a crock pot — but is pretty easy to assemble.  The advantage of slow-cooking is that the delicate eggplant softens to melt in your mouth, and you don’t have to worry about last-minute kitchen management before supper.  I enjoyed smelling this cook all afternoon while I read textbooks in the next room.  If you like something like a French ratatouille, this is somewhat similar in terms of ingredients, but is far superior and delicate because of the slow-cooking.  The flavors have time to marry and soften. 

Note that you’ll need to plan ahead and soak your dried chickpeas overnight.  You could used canned chickpeas in a pinch, but the dried chickpeas have a better texture, and are cheaper.  Paula Wolfert says the ultimate version of this stew is achieved from baking the stew in an earthenware pot, but I think most of us don’t own clay pots, or at least not yet.  I baked mine in an enamed cast iron pot (Le Creseut) and it was lovely.

The large pepper and hot chili provide an appropriate soft echo of heat.  Along with the eggplant, I was also able to use a larger pepper and a smaller chili (jalapeno) from the garden as well.


1/2 pound chickpeas, soaked overnight

1-pound eggplant

coarse salt

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cups chopped onions

1 large green frying pepper

2  1/2 teaspoons chopped long green chili

1  1/2 teaspoons garlic

2 cups canned tomatoes with juice

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1 teaspoon oregano

1 bay leaf


Drain the chickpeas after soaking overnight.  Place in a saucepan, add fresh water to cover, bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, over low heat until half-cooked, about 45 minutes.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, peel the eggplant and cut into 1-inch cubes.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and let stand in a colander to draw off excess moisture, about 45 minutes.  Set aside.

Chop the onions.  Chop both the large pepper and small chili into small pieces.  Peel and crush the garlic with pinch of salt.  I used a mortar and pestle for this.

Preheat the oven to 300F (if baking instead of using a crock pot).

Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet.  Add the onions, frying pepper, and chili.  Stir 3 minutes.  Add the eggplant and saute without browning it, 2 more minutes.  Add the garlic, tomatoes with juice, parsley, oregano, and 1 teaspoon coarse salt.  Cook at a simmer 10 minutes, stirring often.

In a 4-quart oven-proof cast iron pot, bean pot, clay casserole, or crock pot, mix the chickpeas,  1  3/4 cups of their cooking liquid, the bay leaf, and the contents of the skillet.  Cover and bake in the oven 2  1/2 hours, or alternatively all day in the crock pot.  The aroma will be extremely fragrant, and the chickpeas very tender.  Remove the lid and bake 10 minutes more to allow excess moisture to evaporate. 

This stew is so completely satisfying that Paula Wolfert suggests that it only needs to be accompanied by dense, chewy bread.  I served it with a rice pilaf today.

Fennel and Potato Stew with Olives and Preserved Lemon
August 3, 2011, 9:02 pm
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Invariably when I buy fennel, the person standing next to me in the produce section asks me what I do with it.  I usually tell them I slice it and roast it on high heat with olive oil and sea salt.  Roasted fennel is complex and delicious, and I can usually convince my fellow customers to pick up a few bulbs of fennel themselves.  This French stew is my other favorite way with fennel.  I’m drawn to fennel stews from the Mediterranean that are brightened with citrus and perfumed with herbs.  In hot summer weather, when I happen to crave a stew or soup, I want it to be lemony, light, and fresh. 


This stew is an adaptation of a recipe in Skye Gyngell’s cookbook A Year in My Kitchen from the Petersham Nurseries on the outskirts of London.  I have made this stew numerous times, but have gradually made it my own.  Her stew is built on both fennel and artichokes, but I found the artichokes bland actually, in comparison to the fennel.  I have finally landed on substituting yellow potatoes for the artichokes, and found that they pair perfectly with the fennel.  I have also omitted the saffron threads from the original recipe.  The flavors of the stew are so vibrant that the soft and subtle saffron is lost.  I think it’s a waste of an expensive ingredient.

I have tried several other French fennel stew recipes over the years, but this one is more interesting because of the preserved lemon and olives.  I love letting olives slowly cook into a stew or soup.  They give off a saltiness that is more earthy that plain salt.  If you can’t find preserved lemons at your local Arab market, you can make them at home, or substitute fresh lemon juice (although fresh lemon juice doesn’t have quite the same flavor).  If using fresh lemon juice, you may have to add a bit extra juice to make the stew bright enough.

This recipe calls for a drizzle of “basil oil” for garnish.  This is one of the foundational sauces of Gyngell’s cookbook.  It’s similar to pesto in consistency, but omits the nuts and cheese, and you can use it in a myriad of ways.  Keep in mind that it only keeps 1 week in the fridge, so you might want to make a smaller batch of it, or alternatively simply garnish the stew with a handful of torn basil leaves.

I like to serve this stew with either rice pilaf or couscous, a simple green salad, and dry white wine.  I should also mention that I often make a double batch, especially on evenings like tonight when I’m cooking for guests and want to make sure I have plenty of leftovers.


2 heads fennel

3 waxy yellow potatoes (such as Yukon Gold)

1 tablespoon olive oil

2-3 tablespoons butter

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage, plus extra leaves for garnish

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 dried red chili

4 plum tomatoes (or 14-oz canned plum tomatoes)

1/2 preserved lemon, chopped

1/2 cup vegetable broth

about 12 black olives (kalamata, Nicoise, or Ligurian)

freshly grated parmesan to serve

2 tablespoons basil oil (or alternatively, a handful of torn basil leaves)

For the basil oil, combine 3 bunches fresh basil in a food processor with 1 garlic clove, sea salt and black pepper to taste, and 3/4 cup good quality olive oil.  Adjust seasonings and pour into a jar.  It will keep refrigerated for 1 week.


Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).  Trim the fennel and cut off the base.  Cut each fennel bulb into quarters.  Peel the potatoes and quarter them lengthwise.

Use a heavy saucepan that is oven-safe, and warm it on the stove at medium-heat.  Add the olive oil and butter and heat until the butter has melted.  Add the fennel and potatoes.  Season with a little salt and cook for 10 minutes or so.  Add the bay leaves, sage, and garlic.  Crumble in the dried red chili, and stir to combine.  Roughly chop the tomatoes and add to the pan, along with the chopped preserved lemon, then pour over the broth. 

Cover and cook in the oven for 40 minutes, or until the fennel is very tender, adding the olives for the last 5-10 minutes.

Taste and adjust the seasoning then spoon over the basil oil (or torn basil), and scatter over some sage leaves to garnish.  Sprinkle with grated parmesan and serve.

Lemony Potato Stew
May 19, 2010, 6:38 pm
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This Mediterranean stew helped me earn a reputation in college as a cook. Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking was one of my 2 cookbooks in college, and was formative in shaping my sensibility as I experimented in my tiny college apartment kitchen. This stew became a favorite, and I made it so often that my roommates affectionately called it “The Red Stuff.”

It’s a simple, earthy stew, but the simplicity is far from boring. The clean flavors have kept my friends happy over the years, and it is a great addition to a potluck. This recipe feels like an old friend, and I can’t believe I didn’t share it will all of you sooner.

I usually serve the stew over rice or bulgar pilaf, but today I poured it over a piece of toast from a rustic loaf. That made the stew seem even more homey, almost like an Italian bread soup.

I have strayed from Madhur Jaffrey’s original recipe in increasing the amounts of garlic and lemon juice.


4 medium size potatoes
6 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic
2 medium size onions
14 oz whole canned plum tomatoes
14 oz canned chickpeas
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice


Boil the potatoes in their jackets. Drain. When they are cool enough to touch, peel and roughly chop them.

Roughly chop the onions. Mince the garlic.

Grate the canned tomatoes with a cheese grater into a bowl. This is a trick that will given them a rough and rustic texture You will use both the tomatoes and their canning juice. Rinse and drain the canned chickpeas well in a colander.

Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. When hot, put in the garlic and onions. Stir and fry until onions are translucent, turning the heat down if necessary. Add the tomatoes and their juice. Stir and cook for 1 minute.

Add all the remaining ingredients (potatoes, chickpeas, salt, pepper, lemon juice) plus 1 cup water. Bring to a boil. Cover. Lower the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes.