Ever since Greyfriar's closed, I've longed for its peanut soup. Greyfriar's was a popular restaurant on Market Street in downtown Chattanooga, and the peanut soup was a favorite of several of us at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. We'd often order it for lunch and were always asked, "You want a small or large?" And our answer was always the same: Large. Always large.
Peanut soup is a wonderfully odd combination of ingredients: tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, celery and, of course, peanut butter — the crunchy kind that offers a nice texture to the soup. I say odd because one doesn't normally think of pairing peanut butter with tomatoes. But it works.
There are several versions of peanut soup. There's a creamy version that has its roots in 19th-century Virginia, stemming from the advent of commercial peanut butter. It didn't take long for the commercial product to become a household staple. Soon, consumer tastes matured to wanting more than a slather of peanut butter spread on a piece of bread.
Then there's the African version of peanut soup — a water-based soup thickened with ground peanuts and enriched with fruits de mer — seafood — fished from the African coast.
African peanut soup of today is a blend of both. It's creamy enough without being too heavy and light enough for September's transitional weather. We're not quite ready for heavy, cold-weather fare, but after a summer diet of salads and chilled dinners we're definitely ready for the mellow flavors of fall. This soup fits the bill in a delicious manner.
Add a little shredded chicken if you have any on hand, an addition that turns this soup into a meal. For a vegan meal, leave out the chicken, of course, and substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock.
African Peanut Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 large red bell peppers, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes, with liquid
8 cups chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 cup uncooked brown rice
1 cup extra-crunchy peanut butter
Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Cook onions, bell peppers and celery until lightly browned and tender, stirring in garlic when almost done to prevent burning. Stir in tomatoes, chicken stock, pepper and chili powder. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
Stir in rice, cover, and simmer another 20 minutes or so until rice is tender. Stir in peanut butter until well blended, and serve.
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