I would be terribly remiss if I didn’t serve up an extra special peanut butter recipe this month. With winter nipping at our heels and holiday stress rearing its ugly head, only one thing will do: SOUP! Hearty, comforting peanut soup!
I had my first bowl of peanut soup at King’s Arms Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg back in the early 80’s. For our first Christmas in Virginia, it was positively magical savoring spoonfuls of rich creamy broth in a firelit 18th century dining room. I remember thinking it was odd to have soup made from peanuts, then being pleasantly surprised at the marvelous flavor.
I just learned this Southern favorite probably wouldn’t have been on the menu back in the 18th century. Peanut soups, mushes and stews were likely part of the slave diet, but peanuts would not gain national acceptance as something more than animal feed or simple fare until after the Civil War. Still, Jefferson did raise peanuts at Monticello, and Washington liked peanut soup enough to eat it daily as a first course.
The earliest peanut soups prepared in this country were probably more stew-like; slave recipes may have been styled after tomato-based soups popular in central Africa or a Sudanese soup made with lamb bones, garlic and rice. Sarah Rutledge’s version (Carolina Housewife, 1847) included oysters.
Wanting to make a dairy-free recipe that wasn’t quite as rich as the one served at King’s Arms Tavern (it calls for almost two cups of cream), I set Cornelius to the task of finding another peanut soup recipe we could eat as a main course.
He was partial to the Teddy Bears & Peanut Soup book, which includes a handful of First Lady recipes, but we decided to nix Rosalyn Carter’s recipe for something with fresh ingredients (hers calls for adding 1/2 cup of smooth peanut butter to condensed cream of chicken soup and milk).
While pawing through Jane Brody’s Good Food Book (W.W. Norton & Co., 1980), he found “Peanut Butter-Vegetable Chicken Soup.” Aha! Lots of veggies and no cream! So I played sous chef, chopping, slicing and dicing, while Cornelius supervised. (In my next life, I will have a cadre of trained sous chefs resembling George Clooney, Paul McCartney, James Taylor and Bob Dylan.)
Prep work is all the work in a made-from-scratch soup, unless you’re a purist and insist on making your own chicken stock. We used cartoned organic unsalted chicken broth and were happy with the results. In her headnote, Jane mentions the original recipe was devised by a newsletter for consumers and health professionals called Environmental Nutrition (I’ve since seen it posted at several recipe websites).
After cooking the chicken, potatoes and carrots in the broth for about 10 minutes, I added all the chopped veggies, simmered for another 8 minutes, and finally stirred in the peanut butter, parsley, and seasonings. Easy peasy!
It did feel a little strange adding a cup of peanut butter to a pot of soup. However, the color and consistency of the finished soup reminded me of miso soup, which makes perfect sense since soybeans, like peanuts, are legumes. :)
So, if you’ve got a resident bear who’d rather sous chef than supervise, or if you’re expecting George, Paul, Bob or James to drop by anytime soon, plan to make this soup! While you’re slurping at leisure, you can marvel at the well-traveled peanut, first grown in South America, taken by Portuguese traders to West Africa, then brought to North America via slave ships. Thanks to George Washington Carver, we know about the peanut’s gazillion cool uses, in and out of the kitchen. But do you think he could have ever predicted peanut butter inspiring so many interesting poems? :)
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PEANUT BUTTER-VEGETABLE CHICKEN SOUP
8 cups chicken broth (if broth is salty, use only 4 cups broth, the rest water)
2 cups diced cooked chicken
1 cup peeled and diced potatoes
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced zucchini (do not peel)
1 cup broccoli or cauliflower florets
1 cup tomatoes (fresh or canned), chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced (2 teaspoons)
1 cup peanut butter, preferably natural smooth
1 T minced fresh parsley or 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Salt, if desired, to taste
1. In a large stock pot, combine the broth, chicken, potatoes, and carrots. Bring the soup to a boil, and cook it over medium heat until the vegetables are nearly tender, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the zucchini, broccoli or cauliflower, tomatoes, celery, onion, green pepper, and garlic. Simmer the soup for about 8 minutes.
3. Add the peanut butter, parsley, pepper, and salt, stirring the soup until the peanut butter is fully blended. Simmer the soup for 3 minutes longer.
4. Enjoy with some warm, buttered crusty bread. Hits the spot after a long day of holiday shopping. :)
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This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts (fiction/nonfiction/cookbook/movie reviews, recipes, musings, photos, etc.). I smell delicious butter rolls baking!
Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.