Mafe: Tasty Peanut Sauce | Versatile Comfort Foods by Way of Senegal | Knowledge of daily life

Dara O’Brien

Peanut butter is something you spread on bread or bake into cookies or maybe brownies; you don’t cook with it. At least that’s what I thought. But then I looked at the Gastronomy and wine cooks video of Chef Pierre Thiam making Chicken Ma fé (chicken with peanut sauce). Pierre made it so appealing and fun to cook, and it looked so delicious I swear I could smell it.

But there’s this thing about me: sometimes (okay, frequently, in fact most of the time) I find it hard to try new foods or new combinations of foods. Silly, I know, but it’s been ingrained in me since childhood, and not easy to overcome. I just couldn’t imagine what a hot, flavorful peanut butter sauce would taste like.

So I hesitated before doing Pierre’s mafé. What if I didn’t like it? What if I had to throw it away? (Food waste = bad citizen of the earth.) Curiosity and envy — and the chance to shake the bars of my self-imposed culinary cage — overturned my apprehensions.

I started by looking at Pierre’s Lamb Shank Mafé recipe in “Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl”, published by Lake Isle Press. Then, inspired by his video, I modified the recipe by replacing the lamb with chicken and vegetables.

I made the sauce as directed, then brought it to a simmer over low heat and added bone-in browned chicken pieces to the pan. After about half an hour I mixed in some cabbage, onions and carrots, keeping the pan on low for another forty five minutes or so until the meat was tender and falling away from the bone. The mafé made a savory base for the chicken and vegetables, and the result was a savory stew with a subtle peanut flavor.

Since I followed the full sauce recipe but used less than half the amount of other ingredients, I had a lot of sauce left over, which I froze and thawed a few days ago to braise a pair of lamb shanks. The sauce was still smooth and so rich that I diluted it with water and was able to cover the lamb for a slow braise. I checked Pierre’s recipe for timing, but at half past one the shanks were still tough, so I continued to simmer. Two and a half hours on low heat did the trick.

Even with the same batch of sauce, each meal was a little different. The lamb shanks were rich and full of flavor; served with fonio pilaf the meal was simple and elegant. The chicken stew with lots of vegetables gave balance to the rich sauce (the cabbage was especially good), and it was a more robust experience.

The recipe is easily adaptable to other meats, or as a vegetarian or vegan meal with tofu or no protein at all. Sweet potatoes, kale, white beans, butternut squash, potatoes, and turnips would all be great additions. And it’s worth noting that since the sauce freezes well, you can cook once, eat twice – and depending on what you put in it, each meal can be a different experience.

Dara O’Brien

Click here for the printable recipe.


2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil, plus more if needed
6 lamb shanks (about 1 ¼ pounds each)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped yellow onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons of tomato puree, mixed with a few tablespoons of water
2 liters of chicken broth or water
2 dried bay leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1 cup unsweetened smooth peanut butter
1 Scotch Bonnet pepper
2 tablespoons Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce

Rof Gremolata to serve

Fonio Pilaf with Spring Vegetables to serve

For 6 persons

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Add the shanks a few at a time, without overloading them. Brown them well on all sides, about 8 minutes, and set aside on a plate. Repeat until all the shanks are golden brown, adding more oil if needed.

In the same skillet, brown the onions. Reduce the heat to low and add the minced garlic. Mix well, then add the diluted tomato concentrate. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, for 7 to 10 minutes, until a dark deep red. Add another tablespoon or two of water to prevent scalding, if necessary.

Add the broth, increase the heat and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Add the bay leaves, thyme, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Slowly add the peanut butter 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, stirring constantly to dissolve it in the liquid.

Return the shanks to the pot, pressing down on them to immerse them in the sauce. Add Scotch bonnet and fish sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook for about 1h30, until the shanks are tender.

Uncover the pan and continue cooking until the sauce is thick and coats the back of a spoon. Remove the bay leaves and degrease. Adjust seasoning.

Serve the lamb shanks and the sauce hot, on a platter. Garnish each shank with a generous pinch of gremolata and serve with a side dish of fonio pilaf.


1 bunch of parsley, leaves finely chopped
3 green onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ Scotch Bonnet pepper, seeded and finely chopped
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Makes 1 cup

Gently combine the parsley, green onions, garlic, Scotch bonnet and lemon zest in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Recipes from “Senegal, modern Senegalese recipes from source to bowl” by Pierre Thiam with Jennifer Sit, Lake Isle Press, 2015

Click here for the printable recipe.

2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large carrot, diced
½ cup vegetable or chicken broth
¼ cup fresh or frozen green peas
¼ cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 cups cooked fonio
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For 4 people

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shallot and cook until tender but not brown, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and carrots and cook for another 3 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant. Add broth and simmer, covered, until carrots are tender, about 10 minutes.

Add peas and corn and cook for about 1 minute. Stir in the fonio and green onions and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Recipe taken from “The Fonio Cookbook” by Pierre Thiam, Lake Isle Press, 2019

Note: Fonio is available at select grocers, including Whole Foods, nationwide. You can order Yolélé Fonio via Yolélé and Amazon.

Originally published at on April 21, 2022.