When it comes to Afro centric cooking, especially in West African kitchens, there is one basic recipe which is absolutely essential in laying the foundation for most dishes. It is a tomato based sauce which I call the tomato stew base. This sauce is essentially what makes the centre of most stews, sauces and even jollof rice. It can make cooking a much quicker task if you have made a large batch; it keeps well in the freezer and can be available on demand.
Use the following ingredients. I like to use fresh tomatoes for their natural sweetness instead of the canned ones which can sometimes have a sour taste.
1 large onion
Scotch bonnet peppers
1 tbsp tomato puree
4 large fresh tomatoes/1 canned tomato
Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan. You may be tempted to use double or even three times that amount but remember the oil is not going anywhere but onto your hips, so use it sparingly and count to cost of each tablespoon of oil you add.
Fry the onions until golden brown. If you are like me, then you like them with a hint of rawness. Add the garlic and ginger a few seconds before adding your tomato puree. My mom always told me that I need to make sure the tomato puree fries for a good amount of time to reduce the acidic taste. Add the tomatoes and scotch bonnet peppers. (If your kitchen is equipped with a blender, you would have simply added the pepper and ginger to the tomatoes and blitzed them all together). Now allow the stew base to simmer and reduce. Make sure you have a pot cover handy, as it often becomes very hot and messy whilst simmering the stew base. Do this for about 15 to 20minutes, stir continuously to make sure it is not burning.
Another thing Mama tells me, “Once you notice a little of the oil settling to the top, your stew base is done.” Don’t worry too much about this detail, I don’t.