Malabar spinach is a vining, heat-loving plant which produces huge quantities of edible leaves in the summer. African groundnut stew is the perfect recipe to put lots of Malabar spinach to good use!
I had an unusual upbringing. In the summer, my parents would take me overseas as they did research or lead student groups. Then we’d come back home to South Carolina where I would presumably fit back in with my peers and be “normal.”
After a summer in Africa, I was sitting in a circle of other students on the first day of elementary school. The teacher asked us to state what our favorite food was, presumably to break the ice. Around the circle we went: “hamburgers,” “hotdogs,” “pizza,” said the other kids.
Then it was my turn… “Groundnut stew with couscous,” I said, trying my best to answer the teacher’s question honestly. Needless to say, this turned out to be an atypical answer that did not earn me the admiration of my elementary school peers. I don’t recall the teacher being terribly impressed either.
Little did they know how much they were missing out on because groundnut stew with couscous is a far superior meal than our provincial fare. And as a semi-mature adult, I’ve now taken the liberty to begin improving upon the groundnut stew recipe I grew up with using home-grown ingredients like Malabar spinach.
Malabar spinach: the heat-loving summer green that grows on a vine
Just because you have scorching hot summers doesn’t mean you can’t grow greens in the warm months. It just means you have to be selective about what greens you grow since lettuce, kale, spinach, and most common leafy greens won’t grow.
In our article 13 garden greens you can grow in the summer in hot climates, we detail our top recommendations. One of our favorites: Malabar spinach (Basella alba).
We haven’t intentionally planted Malabar spinach in our garden in many years, but our plants readily reseed, providing us with low-maintenance greens from June through first frost each year. We grow Basella alba ‘Rubra’, which produces deep purple stems, although the coloration in our plants isn’t as pronounced as others we’ve seen.
Best ways to use Malabar spinach
Malabar spinach isn’t a true spinach, its leaves just look and taste similar to spinach. Native to tropical regions of Asia, Malabar spinach has also become a popular green in many parts of Africa as well — especially the hot, tropical regions.
The only downside is that the sap of Malabar spinach leaves is somewhat mucilaginous (aka slimy), like okra. This texture isn’t ideal if you’re making a raw salad. However, Malabar spinach leaves are ideal for making cooked soups, stews, or other baked dishes wherein the slimy compounds in the sap are degraded.
Not surprisingly, Malabar spinach leaves are also quite nutritious, with high concentrations of Vitamins A, C, and B9 (folate), plus trace minerals such as Manganese and Magnesium.
Edible parts of Malabar spinach plant
Malabar spinach leaves can be eaten at all stages, from small to large — and they can get quite big.
Other edible parts of the plant include the tender young vine tips, the immature flower stalks (which make a beautiful garnish), and the “berries.”
Mature Malabar spinach berries are bland and relatively flavorless, so not really worth eating. However, if you need a dark purple food coloring, their juice would do the trick.
Malabar spinach meets groundnut stew (maafe)
With a young baby to care for and little time, The Tyrant and I have been doing our best to make large dinners that we can get 2-3 nights of leftovers from. We also wanted to put the piles of Malabar spinach leaves at our disposal to good use…
My childhood favorite food, groundnut stew, to the rescue!
There is no single recipe for groundnut stew. In Africa, ingredients and ratios vary by country, town, village, and family.
We like a groundnut stew that is heavy on the peanut/peanut butter flavor, but you can go more tomato-forward if you want. Here’s our groundnut stew recipe made with four densely packed cups of Malabar spinach leaves, which provided us with several nights of delicious dinner.
*If you don’t have Malabar spinach handy for this recipe, don’t worry! You can substitute kale, spinach, collards, or pretty much any Brassica green you have available.
Groundnut stew (maafe) with Malabar spinach
A delicious, rich and savory African stew made with tomatoes, peanut butter, greens (like Malabar spinach), okra, and other ingredients. Best served over couscous, rice, or bulgur wheat.
- 4 cups diced onion
- 4 tbsp sunflower or peanut oil
- 4 lbs humanely raised chicken (recommend dark meat with bones in for best flavor)
- 2 tbsp diced ginger
- 4 cups Malabar spinach, densely packed and chopped
- 1 cup okra, chopped into circles
- 1/4 cup diced garlic
- 1 1/2 jars peanut butter, 1.5 lbs (we recommend organic, natural-style creamy peanut butter - no sugar, no salt)
- 56 ounces stewed or diced tomatoes (2 large cans)
- 2 cups water (added with peanut butter)
- 1.5 tbsp sea salt, or to taste
- 1 tsp hot red pepper flake (optional)
In large pot, heat oil on medium heat, then add chicken, diced onions, and ginger. Cook, turning every few minutes, until chicken is browned on all outer surfaces and onions are translucent.
Add chopped okra and garlic. Stir and cook for another 5 minutes.
Add stewed tomatoes and cook for about 30 minutes to cook meat all the way through.
Add peanut butter, Malabar spinach leaves, plus 2 cups of water, then turn heat to low and cook for another 20-30 minutes. Stir vigorously after adding peanut butter to make sure peanut butter dissolves evenly into stew. Then stir every 5-10 minutes thereafter to make sure peanut butter-thickened sauce doesn't stick to bottom of pot and burn.
Serve over couscous, bulgur wheat, or brown rice. Garnish with fresh, seasonal flowers like garlic chive flowers shown in photos.
We hope you love this African groundnut stew (maafe) with Malabar spinach recipe as much as we do! If someone asks you what your favorite food is, you’ll now have an answer that will earn you some odd looks from your peers.
Other super soupy recipes you can stew over:
- Mom’s pumpkin chili with turkey and black beans
- Heirloom watermelon gazpacho
- Red shishito pepper soup
- Corn smut (huitlacoche) soup