Make Nafy Flatley’s Vegan Mafè from the La Cocina Cookbook
A recipe for peanut stew and an Q&A with a chef who has journeyed from Senegal to Silicon Valley before finding her place as an entrepreneur
Before Nafy Flatley opened Teranga, a beverage company in San Francisco, California, she worked in Silicon Valley as a marketing and trade-show director for tech companies. That lifestyle didn’t work once she had her son, though, and that’s when she went to La Cocina, a nonprofit that provides entrepreneurial training and a kitchen incubator to women of color and immigrant women seeking to open a food business. Through their programming, Flatley has found the work-life balance she couldn’t achieve while working in the tech sector.
The nonprofit recently put out a cookbook, We Are La Cocina: Recipes in Pursuit of the American Dream, and Flately included her vegan mafè, a dish she would often eat in her home of Senegal. Here, I asked Flatley some questions about her business and the mafè.
Tenderly: Why did you want to open a food business, and how has La Cocina supported that vision?
Nafy Flatley: Because my son was born prematurely and needed my love, presence and support I could no longer work full time. I requested extra time off and to also work from home from time to time, but the company I was working for at the time denied my request. I was put in a spot to choose to either keep working full time or stay home. I chose to stay home and take care of my son, but as a parent needing to return to work, I wanted to create a family business with the hope of being able to achieve some schedule flexibility and financial well-being. The kitchens and family tables of both my childhood and presently have provided some of my most joyous life experiences. Food and nutrition seemed like an ideal centerpiece for a family business to me.
La Cocina has provided excellent coaching from the ground up for starting a food business. They have also provided many opportunities for exposure and connections in the Bay Area food community.
Do you think the food industry is more conducive than other industries to being a working mother?
Unfortunately, no industry in America is friendly for working mothers. The food industry is an industry that I enjoy and allows for start-up opportunity without too many partners.
When I wanted to go back to work, most places I applied to in my field wouldn’t accommodate my schedule, which was to request one to two hours per week to take my son to his therapies. Starting my own business in the food industry made it possible to support my son, my family, and bring in that extra income so we can keep living in a city like San Francisco.
What inspired you to include mafè in the La Cocina cookbook, and why did you include a vegan version? Is much of the Senegalese cuisine you grew up with vegan?
The vegan mafè was the last meal I had before immigrating to the United States. It’s very easy meal to make and cheap and will never break your wallet or bank, and it’s super tasty.
You can use local veggies anywhere you are in the world to make mafè. The vegan mafè also called maafè tatoo nène in Wolof (naked mafè) is my mom’s favorite. Raising five kids on her own, she always had to be creative when it was time to put food on the table. My mom would always encourage us to eat vegan, as she would say if you want to live a happy, healthy, and long life, eat vegetarian.
Also, not everyone can afford to include meat in their meals, so a lot of dishes can be made with or without meat in Senegal.
What suggestions do you have for someone who’s interested in Senegalese cuisine, as it’s at the root of so much American and Caribbean cuisine — what should they eat? Where should they eat? Any great books to read?
Senegalese cuisine is very much influenced by North Africa and France and it tends to be medium spicy to spicy. A lot of the dishes are eaten over couscous, rice, and or with baguettes. Many recipes will incorporate peanuts, sweet potatoes, lentils, black eyed peas, okras, meats marinated or stewed with onions, herbs and spices like tamarind, bay leaves, habaneros and fish sauce.
A few very well known dishes are, depending on if you would like vegetarian or nonvegetarian: mafè, yassa, thiebou yapp or djien, nambè, mboum, caldoo, thiou, domadaa, bassi saltè.
Unfortunately we no longer have a Senegalese restaurant in the Bay Area, but soon, at the first only-women-owned municipal market, managed by La Cocina, Teranga will have a stand and will be serving African and Senegalese food.
MAFÈ — Peanut Stew
serves six to ten
This is said to have originated in Senegal, but many say it’s actually from the Bambara tribe of Mali. I started cooking for my entire family at the age of eight. Mafè was one of my favorites. I loved how the vegetables came from our backyard. With just vegetables it is called mafè tatou nènn — “naked mafè.” I like to serve it with brown rice or a baguette.
- ½ cup [130 g] organic creamy peanut butter
- Three cups [720 ml] stock or water, plus more as needed
- One tablespoon vegetable oil
- One red onion, cut into one-inch [2.5-cm] dice
- One bell pepper, cut into one-inch [2.5-cm] dice
- Four garlic cloves, minced
- One heaping tablespoon tomato paste
- Two cups [400 g] diced tomatoes
- One tablespoon tamarind paste
- One teaspoon vegan fish sauce
- One bay leaf
- One orange habanero chile, whole, stem on
- One sweet potato, cut into one-inch [2.5-cm] dice, about two cups [280 g]
- Two turnips or one large russet potato, cut into one-inch [2.5-cm] dice, about one cup [140 g]
- One large carrot, cut into one-inch [2.5-cm] dice, about one cup [140 g]
- Two teaspoons sea salt, plus more for seasoning
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Five to seven whole okra pods (optional)
- One tablespoon baobab powder (such as Teranga brand) (optional)
- Four cups [80 g] spinach or baobab leaves (optional)
Combine the peanut butter with one cup stock and stir to make a smooth sauce.
In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion and bell pepper. Sauté until soft but not browned, about three minutes. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the tomato paste, stirring to evenly coat the vegetables. Allow to cook until the mixture is brick red, three to four minutes. Add the diced tomatoes with their liquid. Stir and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen any stuck bits. Bring the sauce to a simmer.
Stir in the peanut butter sauce and the remaining two cups stock. Add the tamarind paste, fish sauce, bay leaf, and habanero. Let the sauce simmer over low heat, covered, until slightly thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir frequently to keep from burning.
Add the sweet potato, turnips, and carrot. Season the sauce with the salt and pepper and allow to cook until the vegetables are just tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the habanero, being careful to keep it whole. Discard or set aside to use as garnish. Add the okra and cook until just tender, another three minutes.
Sprinkle in the baobab powder and stir in the spinach. Remove from the heat. If too thick, thin with up to one cup [240 ml] additional stock.
Remove the bay leaf, taste for salt, and serve.
Recipe excerpted from We Are La Cocina