What is mafé?
Mafé (or Maafé) is a traditional stew or sauce (depending on the water content) eaten in Senegal, West Africa. It is a simple peanut and tomato based stew made with beef or lamb that is served with rice. Variations of the dish appear across West African and Central African countries, where it is also known by the names of nkate or nkawan.
Senegal is located in West Africa and borders on the Atlantic Ocean with The Gambia to the South. The Northern border, formed by the Senegal River and the Cap-Vert peninsula is continental Africa’s most western point. The landscape of Senegal is mainly made up of rolling sandy plains with foothills in the South. Senegal has a tropical climate with distinct dry and wet seasons.
The main industries in Senegal are food processing, mining, textiles and tourism, with the main exports being fish, chemicals, cotton and groundnuts. It has a population of around 15.4 million and 42% of the Senegalese live in rural areas. The official language in Senegal is French, although a lot of ethnic languages are also used across the country. The capital of Senegal is Dakar and it has over 2 million residents.
The typical Senegalese diet consists of food that is readily available and farmed locally. Fish is plentiful, and chicken, lamb and beef are the main proteins that are used in cooking. Senegal is mainly a Muslim country, so pork is rare. Peanuts are the primary crop in Senegal, along with rice, sweet potatoes, lentils and peas. Senegalese meals generally consist of meat and vegetables being stewed or marinated and served with rice or couscous.
Groundnuts are not native to the continent, but were first brought there in the 1560s by the Spanish and Portuguese when they started to colonize African countries. It was after this date that mafé, and its many variations, started appearing across West Africa.
What is the origin of mafé?
Mafé originates from the Mandinka and Bambara people of Mali, but quickly became popular in Senegal and the Gambia. Due to the growth of the groundnut industry during colonization in the 19th century, variations of the dish started to appear across West and Central Africa.
In Ghana, mafé is cooked with boiled eggs and in Ivory Coast, the meat is replaced with various greens. Other variations include adding cinnamon, okra, cumin, black pepper, hot peppers and other spices to the sauce.
When enslaved Africans were taken to North America, they took maafé with them and it became known as Virginia peanut soup. Now, maafé is a favorite dish among several Senegal and Gambian ethnic groups and is also popular in countries outside of West Africa, such as Cameroon and France.
How to make mafé
Mafé is a relatively simple Senegalese recipe to prepare with small number of inexpensive and readily available ingredients. It is a one pot meal that requires very little preparation. It is best to prepare the peanut and tomato sauces before you start to make the dish, so as soon as the meat is seared they are on hand to mix straight in. Mafé is also a great dish to prepare ahead of time for easy and quick meals. Once cooked, let the stew cool completely and then put it in an airtight container and store in the fridge – it should keep fresh for 3 days. Just reheat and serve with rice.
Maafé has a deep and earthy flavor thanks to the peanut sauce and the beef and carrots give it substance. The tomato sauce brings a freshness and lifts the dish. When served with rice (or couscous if you prefer) it makes for a hearty protein-packed main meal that is satisfying and filling.
We really enjoyed the flavors of this Senegalese stew and it definitely gets bonus points for being an easy one pot dinner and stress free to cook!
- 2 lb lamb meat (or beef stew), cut into 1-inch dice
- 1 onion , finely chopped
- ½ cup creamy peanut butter
- 5 tablespoons tomato paste
- 4 carrots , peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil
- Black pepper
Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan, add the onion, and cook over medium heat until it is translucent.
Add the meat and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until it is lightly browned on all sides.
In a small bowl, mix the peanut butter with 1-½ cup of cold water and pour it over the meat.
Dilute the tomato paste with 2 cups of hot water, and pour over the stew. Stir well.
Add the remaining ingredients and lower the heat. Cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour, or until the meat is tender.
Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Serve hot over white rice.