7 Tips for Enjoying a Communal Meal
For many of us, sitting around a table with friends or family is as close as we will come to communal eating. Often, as I carve out family mealtime, I think about how much I appreciated the chance to eat with my community of friends and family in Mali, West Africa, and what I learned from the rather intimate experience.
In Mali eating together is an important part of building relationships—and goes well beyond simply sharing a table! Once gathered around the food, people share stories and laughs—and some germs as well. As one Malian woman told me after I saw her pass pre-chewed food to her baby like a mama bird, “We share everything.”
Enjoying the benefits of communal eating requires an understanding of some basic rules. Here is a simple guide to help you next time you are invited to share a meal in West Africa or with your African friends. Or, if you are feeling adventurous, you might even try this in your own home. Ko barika!
Next time you gather your friends and family around a table to eat, why not try communal eating? Nothing tastes better and forges a relationship than a shared meal—eaten with your (right) hands.
Here is my favorite recipe for West African Peanut Stew to get you started!
RECIPE: Peanut Sauce/Groundnut Stew
Mix together in a mortar and pestle, in this order until a rough paste forms:
1 tbsp black peppercorns
2 large cloves garlic
1 small bunch parsley
1/4 green bell pepper
Tip: Start with a teaspoon of ground pepper and pulse all in food processor until coarsely ground)
1 1/2–2 lbs chicken breast or thighs, chopped into 1″ pieces
2 tbsp canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp ginger, fresh and grated or powdered
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes or 5 medium romas, chopped
1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
8 oz creamy peanut butter (unsweetened; salted is okay, just reduce salt elsewhere)
6–8 cups chicken stock, (or water with bouillon)
2 large yellow potato peeled and cubed
1/2 lb broccoli cut small
2–3 WHOLE habanero peppers
Salt to taste
1 tbsp hot sauce, or to taste
Heat oil in large cooking pot. Sauté onions and chicken over medium heat until chicken is mostly cooked. Add the garlic, black pepper, parsley and green bell pepper mixture and stir about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, habaneros*, stock or water, peanut butter and stir. Let simmer over medium heat for a few minutes (10–12) until peanut butter disperses evenly. Add potatoes and other vegetables that need longer cooking times, and broccoli if you like it well-cooked (my son will eat it if it disintegrates into the sauce), otherwise add it later. Add other ingredients except for salt. Simmer on low with lid mostly on. Stir occasionally. Cook sauce for a total of about 60 minutes, adding water/stock if it becomes too thick. It should be the consistency of pancake batter. Add salt to taste. Serve over hot rice. Enjoy!
* Do not chop or cut habaneros. Cook them whole in the sauce—they do not add significant spice. If you like your food hot, remove one pepper from the pot when the sauce is cooked and pass it around on a plate. You just tap the side of the pepper with your spoon and then take a bite of your food. Habaneros are VERY hot, so only a drop of juice is needed, unless you like it HOT!