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I go to a fair share of potlucks. The luck factor is usually absent, as most people tend to bring the same dishes every time. A few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised.

As I was waiting my turn in the chow line, an intriguing aroma wafted my way. When I finally reached the slow cooker from which the pleasant smell emanated, I found it almost empty. I took the last spoonful, and with one taste, I knew my nose had not deceived me. My fellow diners must have shared my enthusiasm.

I tracked down the person who had prepared the dish, and she shared with me her recipe for a dish called Creamy African Stew. It comes from the “PlantPure Nation Cookbook.” As the title of the cookbook implies, the recipes contain no animal products.

If you hear the word vegan and want to run in the other direction, you are not alone. Most people think of v-word diets as unappetizing and cultish. In an effort to change this prejudice, restaurants and food companies are making an attempt at rebranding. Vegetarian and vegan dishes are now labeled “plant based” to emphasize the foods they include rather than what they lack.

In Creamy African Stew, sweet potatoes are combined with carrots and other vegetables and cooked in a base flavored with coconut milk and a soupçon of curry powder. The resulting combination of flavors is anything but bland.

When I got home from the potluck, I found the recipe online. I couldn’t resist the impulse to doctor it up, as my mother would say. Rather than just throwing everything in the pot, I sauteed the onions and garlic first. I also added a little hot pepper and ginger to rev up the flavors. Served with a side of noodles, it was the perfect dish for the beginning of fall.

Creamy African Stew

2 onions, sliced into half rings

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons curry powder

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 carrots, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

2 large sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 cup vegetable broth or water

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

11/2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)

A few grindings of black pepper

1/3 cup all-natural peanut butter (I like Smuckers)

1 13.5-ounce can coconut milk (the Goya brand has no additives or fillers)

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained or 2/3 cup dried chickpeas, cooked and drained

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

5 ounces fresh baby spinach, washed and drained

Heat the oil over a medium flame in a large pot. Add the onions. Cook about 10 minutes or until the onions are softened. Add the garlic and curry powder and cook 2 minutes more.

Add the remaining ingredients except for the spinach and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, and cook for about 25 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are done.

Stir in the spinach and cook for a few minutes until the spinach is wilted.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.

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