Food has always been a rich source of pleasure for me; I have wide-ranging tastes and enjoy the thrill of sampling a new cuisine. I subscribe to the school of thought that believes a direct connection exists between stomach and heart: an intimate meal between characters comprising succulent, delicious food really sets the scene for romance.
Africa is the setting for my novel Burning Embers, and what a wonderful array of flavours and textures I imagined the protagonist, Coral, exploring. When she first arrives in the land of her birth, Kenya, it has been many years since she set foot in the African country, having moved to England as a child following her parents’ divorce, and all she recalls of African cuisine is Ugali. A staple in the Kenyan diet, Ugali is maize flour cooked with water to a porridge- or dough-like consistency. Delicious, simple comfort food.
One of my favourite Kenyan dishes, no doubt on the menu at Coral’s plantation home, Mpingo, is Groundnut Soup. Traditionally, this is made by pulverising the groundnuts (we call them peanuts) with a pestle and mortar, then adding water and salt and simmering until thick before adding a little milk to thin the soup. This makes for a delicious soup, but I like to use the following recipe, which has just a little more kick and flavour.
1 finely chopped onion; the sweeter the variety, the better
1 desert apple
2 tbsp tomato purée
225g peanut butter (yes, I cheat!)
1 litre stock (I prefer chicken, but you can use vegetable)
Pinch of salt
Tiny pinch of cayenne pepper
Large pot of low-fat natural yogurt
- In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, fry the onion and apple in a little oil (vegetable is best) until golden.
- Stir in the tomato paste and peanut butter, then the stock, salt and cayenne pepper.
- Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes minutes.
- Allow the soup to cool a little, then stir in the yoghurt. If you prefer a smooth soup, whiz in the blender.
Serve hot or cold. You could add in some toasted peanuts and a garnish of your choice – coriander works well. This soup is also excellent for freezing, so feel free to make up a big batch.