The modest legume has much in common with more pedigreed tree nuts.
The modest legume has much in common with more pedigreed tree nuts.
Image: amarosy/123RF

Peanut butter is yet another one of those dividing foods, like Bovril, okra and anchovies. Actually, it creates an extra division: there are those who love it, those who hate it and those who it kills when it induces anaphylaxis because they are allergic to it.

While we tend to laugh off status-symbol “allergies”, for those who have a real condition, it’s real scary. You can hardly blame the moms who park (very sheepishly) outside a hospital trauma unit, with offspring in car, before administering the first smudge of peanut butter to their toddler. Just in case. It’s a famously common occurrence.

Of course, peanuts are not actually nuts. All of us clever gastronauts know this now. As their other name, groundnuts, tells us, they don’t grow on trees, which is what “real” nuts, in their more expensive and haughty way, do. But peanuts confuse us because they share many traits with more pedigreed nuts. With their high fat content, they don’t appear to have much in common with the legume family to which they belong. Almond butter yes, peanut butter, yes. Lentil butter? Not so sure. 

What lies below — a slight adaptation of the best Zimbabwean-style version I’ve been shown — is one of my favourite ways with the modest legume. As the recipe states, you can use bought peanut butter instead of grinding your own paste but don’t buy the ones with the added sugar, stabilisers and such. They often don’t behave the same way, and you want a nice, tame peanut butter that doesn’t act up in your sauce.  

Almost-Zimbabwean chicken in peanut sauce.
Almost-Zimbabwean chicken in peanut sauce.
Image: Supplied


Serves: Four


1 free-range chicken, jointed (or the equivalent in pieces)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (cold-pressed if possible)

2 onions, thinly sliced (or about 6 shallots, which are often used in Zim) 

3 large tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped 

1 litre water 

1 cup finely ground, roasted peanuts or (less authentic but also good) unsweetened peanut butter

3 mild chillies — optional

Salt, to taste (more than you think; fatty likes salt)


  1. Salt chicken pieces liberally. Heat oil in heavy based pot or deep pan, then fry chicken in single layer until brown on both sides.
  2. Remove from the pot. Add the onions, and saute on low heat until transparent, then add tomato, water, peanut paste or butter and chillies and mix up. The sauce will look lumpy and dodgy at this point. Don’t stress, it fixes itself.
  3. Return chicken to pot and simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes, with lid askance, or till chicken is tender. Stir now and then (the breast meat should be taken out midway and only returned to heat before eating). Add salt to taste.
  4. If the sauce is too watery, crank up heat and remove lid but watch for burning on the pot base. Peanuts burn like there’s no tomorrow. Once sauce is thickened a little — still loose but not watery — check the salt again. Serve post-haste with mielie pap, rice or soaky-up bread.

PS. If you can’t find free-range chicken, this is excellent with brinjal and potato.