I grew up in North Carolina, where you can go to a supermarket and buy a gallon-sized can of boiled peanuts.  If you, too, were raised below the Mason-Dixon line, you know that the proper pronunciation sounds more like “bold peanuts,” even though their constitution is rather less than daring.  This southern staple has become a quirky delicacy outside the red-clay states, not unlike ramps, which have been renamed “wild leeks,” as if such suave titling would keep the resulting halitosis at bay.  I don’t like boiled peanuts, never have liked boiled peanuts and venture that I never will like boiled peanuts.  I put my peanuts in desserts, occasionally crush them to scatter on a plate of Thai noodles, and eat them in my PBJs and smoothies and for a long time I was perfectly content with that, thank you very much.  The very idea that these salty, crunchy little legumes would be floating in any kind of broth that had been at any point bold – er, boiled – was enough to keep me away from peanut soup for 25 years.

Well!  I was an idiot.

Look: peanuts, peppers, and tomatoes go great together, and don’t skimp on the garlic.  This soup relies on peanut butter for a midground flavor, with a bright kick of heat from jalapenos, the comfort factor from potatoes and/or rice, and a nice crunch of roasted peanuts used, heavily, to garnish.  This is almost totally pantry-based, save the essential fresh jalapeno.  (I’ve tried making it with just dried red pepper flakes and it’s not the same.)  My recipe is pretty basic – I have seen it with chicken (not happening here), coconut milk (I’ve garnished with shredded coconut – yum!), and tons of cilantro.  (I wish I could put into words how much I miss cilantro.)  Serve this with a nice hunk of fresh bread and your (vegan!) dinner is served.

Spicy Peanut Soup
makes a potful

2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola, sunflower, or peanut
1 large onion, chopped
2 bell peppers, seeded and diced, or about 1/2 cup chopped canned bell peppers
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 potatoes, scrubbed or peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup of your favorite grain (brown rice, bulgur, quinoa?)*
a handful of frozen green beans (optional)
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
4 cups water or mild vegetable broth
3/4 cup natural peanut butter
chopped roasted peanuts, to garnish
unsweetened shredded coconut, to garnish
chopped cilantro, to garnish

Heat oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onion, bell peppers, jalapeno, and garlic and cook until softened and fragrant, about 4-5 minutes. Add remaining potatoes, grain, beans, salt, pepper, tomatoes, and broth and bring it to a boil, then drop the heat down to low and simmer for about half an hour, adding water if necessary to keep it from getting too thick. This will depend on what kind of grain you used – some are total sponges. Towards the end of cooking time add the peanut butter, stirring to incorporate completely. Ladle it up and garnish with any or all of the three choices – peanuts, coconut, and cilantro. As soup-lovers know, this will be even better tomorrow.

*White rice won’t work so well – it will blow up to 5 times its original size and make the soup a mushy mess.  If that’s all you have, though, I’d recommend cooking it separately and then putting a few spoonfuls in the serving bowl before you ladle the soup over.

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