Spicy West African Fish Stew

I love this dish. It’s packed with flavor, specifically the flavors of West Africa. It also incorporates a few more “exotic” ingredients typical of East Africa and its trade connections. In that way, we can say this spicy, sweet, tomatoey fish stew is in honor of the great Bantu expansion, when the Bantu peoples of West Africa embarked on many waves of migrations which successively took over much of the continent south of the Sahara.

Paired with fufu or with corn porridge, let this dish and all it’s many flavors transport you to Africa.

RUSTIC AFRICAN FISH STEW

2-3 filets White Fish, cooked*
1/4 cup palm oil
2-4 pounds Tomatoes, rough diced (or a large can of whole peeled tomatoes)
1 lb. fresh Red Chili Peppers, de-seeded and sliced (African or Jamaican varieties best here)
1 Head of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 small ginger root, peeled and minced
1 onion, sliced
2 tbsp. black peppercorns, coarse grind

1 tbsp. ground tumeric
2 lbs. mixed bitter greens *
2 tbsp. tamarind paste*
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 cup vinegar

*On the fish:
-Stews, especially in Sub Saharan African, are meant to be like… well, a stewpot! Throw in what you have! Incorporate last night’s dinner! So that’s what I did, in my case it was some char grilled tilapia.
– This recipe works great with raw fish too, if you’d rather use that. It has a stronger seafood flavor though. I’ll include down in the instructions how to cook it both ways.

*Note that tomatoes and chilis are only in African cuisine post contact with the New World and the Columbian Exchange, but these days are pretty quintessential to African cuisine. Additionally, tamarind, ginger, and black pepper are ingredients from East and Central Asia, which made their way around Sub Saharan Africa via trade networks across the Indian Ocean

*Before I got cooking, I went outside and harvested some wild and garden greens to cook into my stew.

Dandelion, frisee, and arugula.

Once your ingredients are picked and prepped, the cooking part is pretty simple.

In a stewpot or dutch oven, warm up the palm oil over medium heat and saute the onion, ginger, and black pepper for a few minutes until a little soft.

Add the hot red pepper, tumeric, and the smashed garlic cloves and continue to cook for 5 more minutes, when things are just starting to brown up. Add the vinegar and deglaze the bottom of the pot before adding in all the tomatoes, sugar, and tamarind paste.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately turn down to a simmer. Cook on low for 1-2 hours.

When everything is nicely melded and cooked down, add the greens. It will seem like a lot, but cook down quite quickly.

This is when you’d add the raw fish if that’s what you’re using. Let the fish simmer in the sauce until it flakes apart. If using pre-cooked fish, add at the very end of cooking, turning off the heat as soon as you do. Flake the fish apart and let it warm up in the still hot mixture.

With Plantain and Cassava Fufu.

Pork Mole

To further explore Episode 20, the Columbian Exchange, we’ll be making some classic recipes that were only possible once Eurasia and the Americas began mixing their ingredients.

To start, I can’t think of a better example than Mexican mole sauce. Mesoamerican chocolate and chili peppers bring the strongest and most unique flavors to this dish, but they’re used with Old World bread, sugar, spices, nuts, and seeds, and of course pork. Pork is ubiquitous in Mexican cuisine today but wasn’t around until Spanish colonists brought their pigs en masse to the New World, shaping a new cuisine in the process.

Mole has a reputation for being complicated, but it’s really not. It just has a lot of ingredients. Basically though, you just need to cover five bases for a good mole sauce: spiciness (from chilis), acidity (from chocolate, tomatoes, and citrus), sweetness (from dried fruit and cane sugar), spices, and thickeners (nuts, seeds, and bread).


To be extra authentic, pick up a cone of pilonciillo sugar from a Latin grocery store. Also, a more classic chili for this recipe would be pasilla negro chilis, but I am using the varieties I grew in my garden and dried this past summer. I’ve got chipotle, ancho, and cayenne.

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HOF Episode 20: The Columbian Exchange

For millions of years, the two main hemispheres of planet earth were separated by an impassible ocean. North/South America and Eurasia/Africa, two divergent ecosystems, food chains, and human civilizations. . . Then one day in 1492, a guy named Columbus passed that impassible ocean, and began the momentous and tumultuous process of bringing the Old World and the New World back together, into one.

Human civilization and the ecosystems of earth itself would never be the same.

AVAILABLE ON ITUNES,   SPOTIFY, and GOOGLE PLAY.
Please leave a review to help spread the word!

Theme music by Michael Levy of Ancient Lyre. This rendition of the Hurian Hymn and the whole album “An Ancient Lyre” and much more is available from all major digital music stores and streaming sites.

Continue reading “HOF Episode 20: The Columbian Exchange”