Mafé: The Senegalese Peanut Stew You Should Try At Least Once

Senegalese cuisine is a melting pot that has imbibed the essence of food made in North Africa, France, and Portugal (via Travel Food Atlas). Since the 15th century, it has been colonized by several European nations. Each of these countries, especially France, has left an indelible mark on the culture and cuisine, making it a riot of tropical colors.

For instance, Senegal's national dish, Thiéboudienne, a one-pot dish that features chicken, mutton, or fish at its center with a vibrant tomato sauce, was born in Saint-Louis (via Matador Network) — a city named by the French after the 13th-century king, Louis IX and King Louis XIV. 

The citrusy-sweet chicken yassa also reflects the mark left by the French colony since the dish is also known as poulet (chicken in French) yassa in West Africa. In this dish, the meat is diced into cubes and marinated with vegetables, then topped with vinegar and peanut oil.

Such dishes also celebrate the crops that grow in Senegal such as peanuts, white rice, cassava, lentils, black-eyed peas, and various vegetables, says the World Bank. These flavors — especially peanuts — also make quite the splash in a spicy stew called mafé.

How to make it

Mafé, also known as sauce d'arachide, tigadèguèna, or domoda was conceived in Mali, West Africa, and was taken to Senegal and The Gambia when they were occupied by European rulers (via Britannica). Peanuts are prominent in this dish because the colonists upped the production of this local resource. 

Other ingredients include unsalted stock of your choice, canola oil, chopped onion, garlic cloves, salt and pepper, tomatoes, thyme, green bell pepper, cayenne pepper, and carrots, according to Demand Africa. The meat in this dish is up to you — be it beef or chicken — or you may keep it completely vegetarian, says Thrillist.

This hearty stew is rather simple to put together, the biggest investment is time, so it can cook low and slow and the flavors can develop. The first step is to make the sauce, which is a blend of peanut butter and stock seasoned with salt and pepper, then set it aside. Next, brown your choice of meat in a pan to make the flavor base. 

Once the meat is brown, remove it from the pan and add in the vegetables. Cook the vegetables until they're tender, then add the peanut butter and stock mixture, tomatoes, and add the meat back to the pan. Stir and let it simmer for an hour or until your meat is tender. Voila! Your tasty, spicy stew is ready.

Mafé variations

A dish like mafé perhaps gets its good name because of its versatility. For instance, The New York Times says that some variations use Southeast Asian fish sauce to elevate the coastal aura of the stew. The outlet also recommends that if you are using chicken, you could marinate it with a mixture of minced ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, and black pepper for an extra burst of flavor. If you are using beef for the dish, Africa Cuisine advises cutting it into smaller pieces so it is proportional to the other ingredients.

For a vegetarian Mafé, Thrillist suggests you make a market tour for fresh eggplants, cabbage, turnips, and okra. You can also replace the cayenne pepper with habanero for an extra kick. It's a significant kick, as habaneros have a Scoville score of 100,000 to 350,000 units, while cayenne has 30,000 to 50,000 units.

Mafé is typically served with white rice, according to The New York Times. You can keep the rice plain or add complexity by turning it into jollof rice or Jamaican rice and peas, according to Keesha's Kitchen. It can also be served with fufu or couscous, but however you serve it, this dish will surely be comforting and satisfying.