That title! So seductive! The thought of wilted collards bathing in a spicy peanut broth with the occasional chunk of tender chicken — how can you not want to make this recipe? My suggestion: don’t.
I make an effort to bring lunch to work every day of the week. To avoid falling into the boring sandwich routine, I sometimes try and make a large amount of one dish then eat it throughout the week. Sunday becomes weekday lunch prep day. Soup makes for a great winter workday lunch. It’s easy to transport and it’s easy to make a large batch and have it last all week. The only risk you take is if you end up not liking the soup and then you’re stuck with it all week. Which was the case with this recipe.
I love peanut sauces and I love collard greens. Bittman said peanuts and collards have a natural affinity. But there were a few things about this recipe I would change if I ever do try it again.
Problem #1 – chicken thighs. I’m a meat eater but I still get squeamish when it comes to prepping raw meat. I grew up cooking with skinless, boneless chicken breasts. When I opened the 2lb package of chicken thighs to cut into cubes, I couldn’t resist picking them apart to cut off as much fat and vein-like-red-bits as I could. When I was through I had only about a pound of meat remaining and my back hurt from standing for so long. What happended to fast, Bittman?This is probably my own fault for not knowing how to work with chicken thighs. Next time I would just use breasts and forgo the lenghy prep work. Also, whenever I spend too long with the raw meat, I am turned off by eating the final product because I can remember what I went through to make it edible.
Problem #2 – peanut butter. As soon as I started mixing a whole cup of peanut butter with the 1/2 cup of water, I sensed this soup would be too peanut-buttery. I like a peanut flavored soup, but not a peanut butter flavored soup. I would have liked for this to have more spice in it, or curry, or coconut milk, to offset some of the peanut butter flavor. Or you could try reducing the amount of peanut butter to 1/2 a cup. I tried adding another half-inch of shredded ginger, but even that didn’t do the trick. I found the overpowering peanut butter flavor is what turned me off most to this soup. By day 2 lunch I tried adding a bunch of chulula hot sauce to see if that helped – and it did. But I barely made it to day 5 lunch with this soup.
I also didn’t weigh how many collards I put in this dish. I just used a large bunch from Market Basket – which was a lot of collards. The soup mostly comprised of collards, and I’m not sure if that was intentional. Bittman is not a photograph recipe book guy, but I’d be curious to see what his collard greens peanut soup came out like, to compare how full of collards his was. I love collard greens, but after eating them coated in peanut butter with the occasional squish of fatty chicken thigh (minus the bloody-vein-like-bits), I am happy it’s Friday and another work week is through.
Below is the recipe if you are so inclined. But I was Googling and found this other Bittman recipe for Senegalese Peanut Soup that sounds like a much better variation on this soup.
- 2 Tb vegetable oil
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- 1 large red onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 inch fresh ginger, minced
- 1 fresh hot green chile (like jalepeño), minced
- 1 cup peanut butter
- 1 Tb tomato paste
- 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- salt and pepper
- 1 large or 2 small bunches (1 lb) collard greens, stems trimmed off, and cut into thin ribbons
- 1/4 cup roasted peanuts for garnish [I skipped this]
- Put 2 Tb vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once the oil is hot add the chicken to the pot and cook, undisturbed, until the pieces brown and release easily, 2 or 3 minutes. Then cook, stirring occasionally until the meat is no longer pink, 2 or 3 minutes more.
- Add the onion to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally until softened, 2 or 3 minutes
- Whisk 1 cup of peanut butter and 1/2 cup of water in a small bowl until smooth.
- Add the garlic, ginger, chile, and 1 Tb tomato paste to pot. Cook, stirring until the mixture darkens and becomes fragrant, 1 or 2 minutes.
- Add 6 cups stock. Stir in the peanut butter mixture and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil.
- When the liquid boils, stir in the collards and lower the heat so the soup bubbles gently. Cover and cook, undisturbed, until the green soften and the chicken cooks through, 5 to 10 minutes.
- Taste and adjust seasoning. If desired, garnish in bowl with peanuts.