Sunday is International Women’s Day, a global celebration of women and a reminder to keep pushing for equality. That’s what La Cocina, the Bay Area culinary incubator, does every day. This nonprofit empowers immigrant and underserved women, enabling them to go from home cooks to small business owners.
Nafy Flatley was born in Senegal, but, she says, “I was looking for my American dream.” She came to America for college, settled here, married and raised a family here, and thanks to La Cocina, has her own business here.
La Cocina, the Bay Area incubator kitchen, empowers low income home cooks to launch women-owned businesses preparing the beloved dishes of home. Launched in 2005, it provides low-cost commercial kitchen space, business consulting, helps its entrepreneurs scale up production, and connects them to potential financing sources. It’s become its own community, providing women like Flatley with a powerful support network. The program has given Bay Area locals and immigrants from all over the world financial independence, greater self-value, greater voice, and a way to bridge cultures and community through food.
Nafy Flatley runs Teranga, where she makes and sells juices and ice pops bright with the flavors of home, like hibiscus and baobob. That’s what the American dream tastes. It also tastes like Maria Carmen del Flores’ pupusas (puffy Salvadoran corn cakes), Reem Asil’s fattoush (Arabic bread salad), and all the delicious, diverse flavors of the world. They’re gathered together in We Are La Cocina Cookbook: Recipes in Pursuit of the American Dream. Compiled by La Cocina co-founders Caleb Zigas and Letitia Landa, the book provides recipes and the stories of the hardworking women who’ve developed them. It reminds us that at a time when immigrants have become the focus of violence and vilification, they’re a precious ingredient in the melting pot of America.
MAFÈ - Peanut Stew
- ½ cup [130 g] organic creamy peanut butter
- 3 cups [720 ml] stock or water plus more as needed
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 red onion cut into 1-inch [2.5-cm] dice
- 1 bell pepper cut into 1-inch [2.5-cm] dice
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 cups [400 g] diced tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tamarind paste
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 orange habanero chile whole, stem on
- 1 sweet potato cut into 1-inch [2.5-cm] dice, about 2 cups [280 g]
- 2 turnips or 1 large russet potato cut into 1-inch [2.5-cm] dice, about 1 cup [140 g]
- 1 large carrot cut into 1-inch [2.5-cm] dice, about 1 cup [140 g]
- 2 teaspoons sea salt plus more for seasoning
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 5 to 7 whole okra pods optional
- 1 tablespoon baobab powder such as Teranga brand (optional)
- 4 cups [80 g] spinach or baobab leaves optional
- Combine the peanut butter with 1 cup [240 ml] 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 3 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, 3 to 4 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 2 cups [480 ml] 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 3 minutes.
- Sprinkle in the baobab powder and stir in the spinach. Remove from the heat. If too thick, thin with up to 1 cup [240 ml] additional stock.
- Remove the bay leaf, taste for salt, and serve.