Acclaimed food author Mollie Katzen shares this recipe in advance of her Sept. 27 talk at Bastyr. The dish comes from her new book, The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation. Says Katzen:
I think this is one of the more beautiful dishes in my repertoire. The preparation is intensely (but not too) gingery and just peanutty enough to hit that certain spot.
Roasted peanut oil is an aromatic finishing oil that is also stable enough to cook with. Use it in combination with another oil, or on its own if you love a good, deep peanutty flavor.
Use bright orange sweet potatoes, not white ones, which are too dry and starchy.
Use a smooth, natural peanut butter for best results. The kind I use is lightly salted.
1. Place a soup pot, large saucepan, or Dutch oven over medium heat for about a minute. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the onion, ginger, and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring often, for about 3 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of the garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes longer, or until the onion becomes translucent.
2. Stir in the sweet potatoes, plus the remaining 1 teaspoon garlic and another ½ teaspoon salt. Cover the pot and cook for 5 minutes, then add ½ cup water, cover again, and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are almost done. Stir from time to time to be sure they’re cooking evenly.
3. Add the bell pepper and lime juice, stirring to get everything coated with everything else. Cover again and continue cooking for about 10 more minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are perfectly fork-tender. Check occasionally to see if anything is sticking, and if so add a little more water or lime juice as necessary. Gently stir in the beans during the last few minutes of cooking.
4. Meanwhile, lightly spray a 1⁄3-cup measure with nonstick spray (makes things easier), then measure the peanut butter and place in a medium bowl. Slowly stir in the boiling water, followed by the vinegar, sweetener, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. When the sauce is completely blended, taste to see if it needs more salt, and adjust if necessary.
5. Use a rubber spatula to scrape all the peanut sauce into the stew, then stir gently to get it completely distributed. Taste it one more time to make sure the lime juice and salt are right, and to see if you might want to add some crushed red pepper. Serve hot, with the additions of your choice.
Torn cilantro leaves
To cook the black beans from scratch, soak 1 cup dried beans in plenty of water for at least 4 hours (and as long as overnight). Drain and simmer in fresh water to cover by at least 2 inches for about 1½ hours, or until tender. (Make sure they are truly soft!) You can slip a few thick slices of ginger plus some whole garlic cloves into the simmering water to give the beans a head start on the spirit of this stew.
Vegan (when made with agave nectar)