I taught this recipe at a recent webinar on digestive health because it is packed with gut-friendly fibers and starches: prebiotic-rich leafy vegetables from the cruciferous family, more prebiotics from onions and garlic, prebiotic-rich sweet potato, plantains that are packed with microbiome-nourishing resistant starch (yes, another prebiotic), olive oil with its anti-inflammatory and prebiotic properties, sesame seeds — both whole and ground into tahini — supplying prebiotic lignans and antioxidants, and prebiotic herbs & spices. Phew; that’s a whole lotta prebiotics!

At this point. you may be wondering: What the heck are prebiotics, and why should I care? I’m glad you asked.

Prebiotics are dietary fibers, starches, and plant chemicals like polyphenols that serve as a food source for the beneficial bacteria that live in our guts. While probiotics are live microorganisms that confer health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts, prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that promote the growth and activity of these beneficial bacteria already present in the gut.

Despite all the hype about probiotics (esp. in supplement form), some folks argue that prebiotics may actually be more important for a healthy gut and overall health. Here are just some health benefits associated with regular consumption of prebiotics:

  • Promoting gut health: Prebiotics selectively stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli in the gut. By nourishing these microbes, prebiotics help maintain a healthy balance of gut flora, which is essential for proper digestion, nutrient absorption, and overall gut health.
  • Enhancing digestive function: Prebiotics increase the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) in the gut through fermentation by beneficial bacteria. SCFAs play a vital role in promoting gut health by providing energy for the cells lining the colon, regulating bowel movements, and supporting a healthy gut barrier function.
  • Strengthening immune function: A healthy gut microbiome is closely linked to a robust immune system. Prebiotics help support immune function by fostering the growth of beneficial bacteria that interact with the immune cells in the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), promoting immune tolerance and defense against pathogens.
  • Reducing inflammation: Prebiotics have been shown to modulate the gut microbiota composition in a way that reduces intestinal inflammation. By promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria and inhibiting the growth of harmful pathogens, prebiotics contribute to a balanced gut microbiome and help mitigate inflammation in the gut.
  • Supporting metabolic health: Emerging research suggests that prebiotics may play a role in improving metabolic health by influencing factors such as blood sugar control, lipid metabolism, and appetite regulation. A healthy gut microbiome, fostered by prebiotics, may help reduce the risk of metabolic disorders such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Common food sources of prebiotics include certain types of fiber-rich foods such as onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, bananas, chicory root, and Jerusalem artichokes.

Enter: Resistant starch

Potatoes, pasta, whole grains, parboiled rice (Ben’s Original), and legumes are rich in a prebiotic called resistant starch (especially when they have been cooked and then chilled). Resistant starch is thus called as it resists digestion in the small intestine. Instead of being broken down and absorbed like most starches, it passes through to the large intestine where they are broken down by bacterial fermentation, thus behaving similarly to dietary fiber in the body. This has multiple benefits:

  • The starch doesn’t enter the bloodstream (and thus can’t raise blood glucose, helping improve blood sugar control)
  • Like other fibers, resistant starch promotes feelings of fullness and reduces hunger, thus increasing satiety
  • It acts as a prebiotic, feeding beneficial gut bacteria and promoting a healthy gut microbiome

The highest concentration of resistant starch is found in potato starch, an inexpensive thickener you can buy at any supermarket. It’s a little challenging to enjoy on its own, but quite palatable when stirred into smoothies, yogurt, or overnight oats. In a recent study, supplementing with 20 grams (approx. 2 tbsp) a day of potato starch led to a significant increase in butyric acid production by the bacteria in the participants’ intestines and a reduction in certain cancer treatment side effects (read about this study here).  (Butyric acid is a short-chain fatty acid that has many important functions, including providing feeding and maintaining the gut lining, promoting healthy immune function, and improving insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism.)

Caveat: When potato starch ferments in the large intestine, gases such as hydrogen, methane, and carbon dioxide are created by the gut bacteria during the fermentation process. When these gases accumulate in the digestive tract, they can cause bloating, discomfort, and flatulence. Some individuals may experience more pronounced symptoms of flatulence after consuming foods high in resistant starch, like potato starch, especially if they are not accustomed to a high-fiber diet or if they have certain digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

To minimize flatulence associated with potato starch consumption, it may be helpful to

  • Start with a small amount (1/2 to 1 tsp) and gradually increase consumption to allow your digestive system to adjust
  • Drink plenty of water, which can aid in digestion, potentially reducing the likelihood of flatulence
  • Cook potato starch and allow it to cool before consumption (this increases its resistant starch content, but it may also reduce its potential to cause flatulence due to a process called retrogradation)

Finally: The recipe

This recipe is based on a traditional West African stew made with peanuts and peanut butter (rather than sesame seeds and tahini). Known as groundnut stew or peanut soup, is a flavorful and hearty dish that is popular in countries like Nigeria, Ghana, and Senegal. It typically consists of a rich, creamy base made with peanuts or peanut butter.

There are dozens (hundreds?) of versions of this stew, and they’re all delicious. Some use chicken, others beef, and others are vegan, using chickpeas or tofu as their protein source. This stew is low in carbohydrates but if you want more starch, it’s delicious with a side of brown rice (cooked, chilled, and reheated for extra prebiotic power!) and fried plantain slices on the side.

If you don’t tolerate peanuts, tahini makes a delicious nutty alternative (esp. if you can find tahini made with roasted sesame seeds, like Soom’s – BTW, check out their fabulous tahini recipes!).  This dish is wonderfully flexible and keeps well, getting even better after a day or two in the fridge.

West-African-Inspired Chicken, Chickpea & Tahini Stew

Keyword: 30 Minutes Max., Dairy-Free (or can be), Gluten-Free (or can be), Instant Pot, Legumes, Meat & Chicken, Soups & Stews, Vegan (or can be), Vegetarian (or can be)
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 6
Calories: 455kcal
This delicious Instant Pot meal is packed with gut-friendly prebiotics
Print Recipe

Equipment

  • 1 Instant Pot or stovetop pressure cooker

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup sesame seeds raw; if making this dish with peanut butter, replace sesame seeds with dry-roasted, lightly salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion chopped
  • 2-inch piece of fresh ginger root finely minced or grated (I use a Microplane zester)
  • 1 tbsp fresh garlic about 5 cloves' worth
  • lbs chicken thighs skinless, boneless, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • 3 large bell peppers cored & diced; use different colors
  • 10 oz sweet potato equivalent to a medium sweet potato; peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes (low-carbers can replace this with butternut squash)
  • cups cooked chickpeas equivalent to 1 can; drained and rinsed
  • 10 oz leafy green vegetables e.g., baby kale or baby spinach, or "grown-up" kale, mustard or collard greens - stripped and coarsely chopped)
  • 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup chicken bone broth
  • ½ cup tahini or unsweetened peanut butter)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup cilantro coarsely chopped
  • 4 green onions sliced

Instructions

  • In a small, dry skillet over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds until they start to turn golden and emit a delicious, toasty aroma; Tip onto a plate and set aside to cool.
  • Heat the oil in the Instant Pot (or a large Dutch oven, if you're not using a pressure cooker) over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion, stirring regularly, until translucent (5-6 minutes). Add garlic and ginger and sauté for another minute, stirring.
  • Pat the chicken cubes dry with paper towel, salt & pepper, add them to the pot, and sauté, stirring, for 4-5 minutes. Once the chicken has browned all around, add coriander, cumin, cinnamon stick, ground cloves, and pepper flakes, and cook for another minute.
  • Add the cubed peppers, sweet potato or winter squash (whichever you're using), and chickpeas, and stir well to combine.
  • Add the chicken broth and diced tomatoes and stir well to combine. If using collard greens or kale (tougher "grown-up" greens), add them now.
  • Lock the lid and program the pot to cook on HIGH PRESSURE for 10 minutes; once the cooking time is up, let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes, then shift the pressure valve to VENTING to release the remaining pressure. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, bake in the oven for 45 minutes at 350F, or until the sweet potatoes/squash are soft.
  • Stir in the tahini or peanut butter (whichever using) and drained chickpeas. If using "baby" greens, stir them in now. Simmer on SAUTE, MEDIUM (or on the stovetop) until the greens have wilted but retain their bright green color – about three minutes. Season to taste with salt and black pepper and, if desired, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
  • Stir in half the chopped cilantro; serve the rest as garnish along with the toasted sesame seeds (or peanuts, if using) and green onions.
  • In a tightly sealed container, this keeps in the fridge for 4-5 days; freezes well.

Nutrition

Calories: 455kcal | Carbohydrates: 40g | Protein: 29g | Fat: 22g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 8g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9g | Trans Fat: 0.01g | Cholesterol: 75mg | Sodium: 547mg | Potassium: 1054mg | Fiber: 12g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 14353IU | Vitamin C: 156mg | Calcium: 292mg | Iron: 6mg