Sunday, January 9, 2011

All Star Soup

I am loving Top Chef All Stars this season.  Bringing back the best contestants (or biggest characters) to compete against each other was a great idea from the TC producers.  One of the best parts of this season has also been following my friend De's awesome blog, where she gives the play by play with running commentary of every episode.  Its hysterical and whenever I read I'm constantly exclaiming, "That's exactly what I was thinking!  What's up with that?"  To add to the fun of the competition, we all pick 2 contestants to win it all.  One of my picks this season is crazy Carla.  She's a nut, but she's not a jerk like the majority of the chefs.  And I love her style of cooking simple, delicious food.  So I was thrilled a few weeks ago when she won the episode!  The challenge was to create a healthy but filling dish to serve at the US Open.  Carla decided to make a vegetarian African peanut soup, which immediately intrigued me.  We also found out that Carla's a runner, so she knows what kind of fuel athletes need.  The other chefs doubted Carla's choice, thinking it wasn't sophisticated enough.  Don't they know that's what Carla does best?  Taking humble comfort food and executing it so perfectly that she kicks your molecular-foam-freeze-dried-loving butt!  The judges loved her spicy stew and she won a trip to Italy!

This soup worked out so well for Carla, I had to create my own version.  I didn't get much info on what went into Carla's soup, other than that she used sweet potatoes and when she presented it to the judges she called it a "ground nut soup," so I'm guessing she didn't use the peanuts but went with a different nut.  Smart move, since just about any nut is healthier than a peanut.  But I decided to stick with the peanut for my version.  I ground the peanuts in the food processor until they made a peanut butter, but you could also just buy natural peanut butter.
I scoured the internets for African peanut soup recipes, and found that its traditionally made with chicken and often has coconut milk.  Sweet potatoes and chickpeas replaced the chicken in my version.
I used lots of fresh chopped vegetables as the base.
TC judge Gail had commented that Carla's soup was really spicy.  I like a little heat, but probably not as much as Carla used.  I used harissa, which is a North African hot chili sauce that has a little smokiness.  You could use any chile sauce, and adjust the amount to your taste.  I think this would also be delicious with chipotle peppers, usually my go-to for adding heat to dishes.
This soup is perfect for a snowy January.  Warm, comforting and hearty, but still healthy and not too heavy for those of use trying to recover from a gluttonous holiday season.

African Peanut Soup
serves 4 - 6
2 Tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 Tbs fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3/4 cup unsalted roasted peanuts, or 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1 Tbs harissa, or other chile sauce to taste
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1" cubes
1 x 28 can whole plum tomatoes
1 cup coconut milk
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1 x 15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper to taste
chopped peanuts, cilantro, and sour cream, for garnish
  • If using whole peanuts, grind in food processor until they form peanut butter.
  • Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add onion, peppers and carrot and saute until softened, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic and ginger and saute 30 seconds until fragrant.  Add peanut butter and harissa and saute 30 seconds.
  • Add sweet potatoes to pot and let cook for a few minutes.  Meanwhile, pour canned tomatoes with juices into a large bowl and crush with hands or a potato masher.  Add tomatoes to pot and stir.  
  • Add coconut milk, vegetable broth, spices and salt and pepper.  Cover pot and lower heat to a simmer.  Simmer for about 20 minutes, until sweet potatoes are just tender.  Add chickpeas and taste to adjust seasonings.  Simmer another 10 minutes.
  • Serve soup topped with chopped peanuts and chopped fresh cilantro.  Its also good with a dollop of sour cream.


  1. This looks like a fabulous vegetarian soup (and I bet it was just as good as Carla's). Thanks for getting back into blogging- I've missed your amazing, tasty, clean recipes!

  2. This sure beats the burger I'm having right now!! Can you send a bowl my way?? ;-)

    Happy Wednesday Darling!

  3. Thanks for the shoutout! Har!
    I can't believe you made this soup! Doooood! I'm gonna try this recipe tomorrow in between football for suresies.