Thursday, May 20, 2010


This is a long post; sorry.  You could of course skip to the recipe, which is cheap, hearty, and really delicious.

But even before I tried to title this post (sorry for the bad pun), I had some problems in organizing what I was going to write here.  The relationships between veganism (or more broadly, discourses of vegetarianism) and colonialism continue to be interesting, productive, and uncomfortable.  Looking at my mother's vegetarian cookbook from the 1970s, I don't know where Western veg*an food would be without the "discovery" of Indian cuisines.  Even today, and even in LA, if I want to suggest a vegan-friendly dinner option to omnivore friends, I almost always turn to Indian or Thai food (both of which are blissfully abundant here).

...And you have the whole eco-feminist thing, which both embraces and critiques the ways in which women have been aligned with nature ... and, in a few years, you'll have my dissertation on the ways in which discourses of eating--specifically vegetarianism--construct racialized, gendered, and sexuality-ized subjectivities in a colonial/transatlantic context...

But when it comes to the development of vegan food in the US, and indeed the impact of all sorts of ethnic foods on all sorts of cuisine in the US, how careful do we need to be?  "American" food has always been a heterogeneous, plagiaristic amalgamation.  Do vegans, by virtue of their standing alliances with the oppressed/voiceless/subaltern, have more of an imperative in this sort of a cultural exchange to be careful about how authenticity and exoticism are thrown around?

The folks at "Vegans of Color," which I really like, definitely think so.  Check out the post on "Helping Folks Eat the Other," where Western vegans are called out (Veganomicon, anyone?) for exoticizing and patronizing the Other.
“[Non-English ingredient or recipe name] must be [non-English language] for ‘delicious’!”
It's true; this is ubiquitous.  And it's particularly the author's critique of "African Peanut Stew" ("I cannot recall ever seeing a cookbook featuring anything like European Bean Soup..") that makes me self-conscious about this post.  That's why I've called it "Peanut Beans."  Authenticity be damned.  The blog from which it came describes the dish as "East African" and calls it "Shiro Wat"--an Ethiopian dish which (google tells me) contains neither peanut butter nor solid beans.  Moreover, this dish reminds me more than anything of some things Cape-Verdian dishes I ate in Senegal...which is not remotely "East African."  In Senegal, bean dishes, a relief from the fish and lamb, were always Cap-Vertien.  But Dakaroise food was already Cap-Vertien, and even also Lebanese... and Cap-Vertien food itself is a mixture of Portugese, French, Senegalese, more... and even many of the "official" dishes of Senegal are either Portugese-derived (for example, Yassa), or based on rice--itself a legacy of French colonialism in West Africa.  All of which is to say, yes, I'm sensitive to the problematic politics of Western vegans' appropriating other cultures' dishes, but any claim to authenticity is itself going to be a problem.


This dish also deserves the as-yet-uncreated tag of "delicious-but-not-pretty."  Hence the scallions, or as the original recipe suggests, cucumbers.

Another issue was the "healthiness" of this dish.  I looked at the recipe and was like, "4 TB of oil and 1 c of peanut butter?!  You can't be serious."  Now, I'm not at all a prude when it comes to fat (cf. deep-fried avocado), but this was just weird.  I halved the oil and the peanut butter, and increased the beans by 50%, and it seemed just right.   Go figure...  To wrap it up, it might need more spices than called for--it was just a little bit less flavorful than I would have liked.  Finally, watch the salt--it depends on how salty your peanut butter is.

Oh, one more note: I really liked how this recipe forced me to call on all the tiers of my spice cabinet-- a while back, I realized that the most reasonable way to organize spices was not alphabetically but according to how often I use them.  And this recipe totally collapsed my hierarchy.  PS: what spices do other people use most frequently?

Front row (use most frequently): cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, ground cumin, oregano, ground cinnamon; Middle row: turmeric, ground coriander, dried rosemary, nutmeg, cloves, thyme; Back row (use the least often): garlic powder, paprika, ground cardamom, dried sage, whole allspice, saffron; In front of steps: black peppercorns, ground allspice, ground ginger; Ancillary: Whole cloves, whole cardamom pods, whole cinnamon sticks, whole coriander seeds, dried peppers (incl. chipotle), backup spices, sesame seeds, gomasio, flaxseeds, ground flaxseeds, bay leaves, whole cumin seeds, liquid smoke, homemade garam masala, ground mustard, dried and ground mint leaves, wasabi powder

Peanut Beans
(adapted from The Fairest Feed)

1/2 cup peanut butter
3 cups cooked mung beans or black eyed beans (I started with 1 c dried mung beans)
2 TB corn oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 tbs tomato paste
1/2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp paprika
2 1/2 cups water
salt and pepper

1. Heat oil in a large heavy bottomed pan. Add the onion and cook for 3 minutes until golden. Add the tomato paste, thyme, spices, salt and pepper. Stir well.
2. Add the peanut butter and enough water to make a smooth, thick sauce. Mash the beans a little, then add to the pan. Stir well.
3. Check the seasoning, heat thoroughly and serve over rice or another grain with cucumber or green onion slices.  Serves at least 4.


Sarah said...

Hi Julia,
This is a very thoughtful post and the recipe sounds delicious. One thing made me laugh, though: you cite the original blog as describing the recipe as "moreish [sic]." This is one of those British expressions that (understandably) misleads non-Brits. It means, not, related to "the Moors," but rather "makes one want to have more." I use this expression a lot myself, as in "this chocolate cake is so moreish." I know that I baffle people frequently when I use it over here.

Julia said...

Oh no! I had no idea. And, it was only because the recipe was from E. Africa that I made that leap. I guess I was unduly harsh on this blogger. Thanks for filling me in!