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Spicy Peanut Butter Cabbage: A Dish Steeped in Memories and Flavor




Peanut butter and peri peri might seem like unusual bedfellows for the unassuming cabbage, but in Zimbabwe, this combination is a symphony of flavors rooted in tradition and heartwarming memories.


Growing up in Zimbabwe, cabbage held a special place in my heart. I loved its crisp texture and surprising sweetness, often sneaking handfuls of raw cabbage while my aunt bustled in the kitchen. Unlike other vegetables, cabbage seemed abundant. It flourished in sprawling fields, proof of its ease of cultivation. This abundance made it a lifeline for large gatherings, particularly the somber occasions of funerals where throngs of mourners needed to be fed.

At these gatherings, cabbage was a constant. It would simmer in giant, soot-blackened pots, often flavored with nothing more than salt and perhaps a precious onion. Its simplicity was a necessity but also a quiet dignity, ensuring everyone had something to eat during a time of shared grief.


Peanuts, or groundnuts as we call them, are woven into the fabric of Zimbabwean cuisine. My grandmother would transform freshly roasted peanuts into thick, grainy peanut butter using a grinding stone, its rich aroma filling up the yard as she ground the peanuts outside her kitchen door.


Peri peri, the fiery heart of Zimbabwean cooking, was another constant. Its bright red pods would dry under the relentless African sun, ready to be crushed into a fiery powder that brought both heat and an irrepressible zest to our meals. Peri peri was an exception to the otherwise mild Zimbabwean cuisine. It could easily be the nation's spice.


This spicy peanut butter cabbage recipe is my homage to those flavors and traditions. It takes the humble cabbage, often relegated to the backdrop, and transforms it into a star. The peanut butter adds a luxurious creaminess, a reminder of the comforting bowls of peanut porridge I'd savor as a child (and my American children LOVE). The peri peri infuses a thrilling warmth, the kind that makes your forehead bead with sweat and your heart sing with a vibrant aliveness.


This dish is more than just sustenance; it's a heritage. It speaks of resourcefulness and finding joy and nourishment in the simplest ingredients. It whispers of bustling markets filled with the chatter of vendors and the earthy scent of peanuts. It carries the warmth of shared meals and the quiet comfort that only food can provide in moments of both celebration and sorrow.


So, this week if you crave a taste of something deeply comforting, try this Zimbabwean twist on cabbage. Let the warmth of the peanut butter, the spark of the peri peri, and the humble sweetness of the cabbage transport you. Each bite is a journey, a connection to a land and a culture where food isn't just about eating, it's about heart and home.



Ingredients:

  • 1 small head of cabbage, thinly sliced

  • 1 tomato, chopped

  • 1 small onion, chopped

  • ½ cup red, yellow, and orange bell peppers, chopped

  • Crushed peri peri, to taste (start with a teaspoon and adjust according to your spice preference)

  • 1 heaped tablespoon creamy peanut butter

  • Salt, to taste



Instructions:

  • In a large pot or pan heat a drizzle of oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

  • Add the bell peppers and tomatoes and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld.

  • Stir in the cabbage and cook for another 5 minutes, until the cabbage starts to wilt.

  • Add the peanut butter.

  • Pour in about ½ cup of water (or vegetable broth for added depth) and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover, and let the cabbage cook until tender-crisp, about 10-15 minutes.

  • Once the cabbage is cooked, stir in the crushed peri peri. Adjust the amount of peri peri according to your desired spice level.

  • Season with salt to taste.

  • Serve hot with sadza, rice or enjoy on its own




Tips:


  • If you don't have fresh peri peri, substitute it with red pepper flakes or your favorite hot sauce.

  • For a richer peanut flavor, try using fresh ground peanut butter.

  • To make this dish vegan, simply use vegan peanut butter.


 



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