The Mother Africa (Peanut) Sauce

February 12, 2018
6 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten
  • Serves 6-8
Author Notes

From the cookbook From Harlem to Heaven, by JJ Johnson and Alexander Smalls.

"In cooking school, we were taught the five French “mother sauces” as defined by French cuisine. The foundational sauce to the Afro-Asian flavor profile is what we call 'the Mother Africa Sauce,' a riff on West African peanut sauce.

You can pour it over a bowl of rice. You can dice up a sweet potato and mix it in as a stew. It tastes delicious with the meat of the chicken thigh crumbled into the mix. This sauce will keep for five days in the fridge and you can eat it every day, in a different way. It’s an easy back-pocket sauce that you can’t mess up. It’s both comfort food and comforting to cook. So give it a try." —JJ Johnson

Featured In: A Spicy Peanut "Mother Sauce" From Harlem, Headed to Your Back PocketJJ Johnson

What You'll Need
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup large-diced carrots (1 medium carrot)
  • 1 plum tomato, chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely diced celery (1 rib)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (1 teaspoon)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (1⁄4 bunch)
  • 1 bird’s-eye chile, seeded and minced (1 teaspoon)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup unsweetened, creamy peanut butter
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  1. Heat the oil in a 4-quart pot over medium heat, add the cumin, and fry for 1 minute, stirring constantly. The cumin will become very aromatic and a few shades darker.
  2. Add the onion, carrots, tomato, celery, garlic, bay leaf, cilantro, chile, salt, and lemon juice, stirring to coat the vegetables in the toasted cumin oil. Sauté until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Once the tomato paste is incorporated, add the peanut butter and cook until the oil separates from the peanut butter, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the stock and stir, making sure to bring up all of the tomato paste and peanut butter from the bottom of the pot so it is well blended. Increase the heat to medium-high to bring the sauce to a simmer. Cook, stirring, for 45 minutes.
  5. Remove bay leaf. Using an immersion blender, puree the sauce in the pot until smooth. Season with salt to taste.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

JJ Johnson

Recipe by: JJ Johnson

James Beard-nominated chef, cookbook author, and co-founder of InGrained Hospitality

5 Reviews

Dave December 28, 2020
I didn't get very technical with the instructions... I basically threw in the ingredients, softened everything up, added the tomato paste, peanut butter, and stock in order and simmered for close to an hour. It came out amazing!
[email protected] July 18, 2020
Fabulous sauce and is a family fav!
Cory U. February 15, 2018
Will this sauce keep well? Refrigerated?
rebecca February 15, 2018
I was even wondering if you could freeze it ... I bet you can!
Nikkitha B. February 16, 2018
It'll keep for about 5 days in the fridge, and freezing is a good option too!