Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Let me just start out by saying that I hope everyone reading this that celebrates Thanksgiving had a wondrous meal! Ours was complete with two turkeys, some Milwaukee's Best and Tom catching his face on fire. Don't worry, he's alright. Just lost a few eyelashes while smoking the turkey on the grill.

Speaking of which, I apologize for the tardiness of the Senegal post. Thanksgiving took over our cooking interests for the week. But we are back at full force to bring you Senegal.

Senegal hails from western Africa. It was a former French possession, then it formed with Gambia to make up Senegambia for a whole seven years before it was it's own nation. A whopping 90%+ of the population practices Islam. During the 19th century, following Islamic practices was seen as a way to resist French colonialism.

The food of Senegal is similar to that of many other west African and Caribbean dishes. It is also apparent that this region had an impact on Cajun cuisine. What we prepared was very similar to the classic dish we all know as Jambalaya.


This meal was for a much smaller crowd, but that didn't stop us from making way too much. We could have easily fed a house of ten with this one pot meal. And much like our Guatemalan feast, this meal was absurdly cheap. This made us very happy because we really appreciate when food manages to be excellent and cheap Any type of white and firm flesh fish will do in this recipe and the vegetables can be changed according to your preferences. The only part of the meal that cannot be changed is the rice and the sauce. You absolutely need to use a medium grained rice to give the meal the right amount of gooey starchiness. And the sauce is the dominant flavor in each part of the meal. So don't be too intimidated by the length of the ingredients, because a lot of it can be substituted with whatever you have on hand. That seems to keep in the spirit of this giant pot of a meal.

4 tbsp corn oil
2 large onions chopped
1/4 pound some sort of smoked fish (we used herring)
6 tbsp tomato paste
2.5 liters of water set aside in a large bowl
1 bunch parsley stems trimmed off
4 cloves garlic
1 bunch scallions
1 small red chile
1 habanero left whole
3 pounds catfish steaks
1/2 pound pumpkin diced
1/2 pound yuca or cassava root cubed
2 parsley roots peeled and cubed
1/2 head green cabbage trimmed and cut into wedges
1/2 pound eggplant cubed
5 carrots peeled and cut into thin strips
2 lbs medium grain rice
Salt to taste

1. In a large and deep pot heat the oil over medium and add the chopped onion. Cook until browned. Add the smoked fish, tomato paste and 1/4 cup of the water. Simmer this for ten minutes.
2. While thats simmering puree the parsley, garlic, chile, and scallions into a thick paste with either a blender or processor. Our blender died so I used the processor. Cover the fish with this paste and let sit for at least five minutes.
3. Place the fish in the pot with simmering sauce and cook for five minutes. Add the rest of the water, salt it, and bring it to a boil and cook for a further ten minutes. Remove the fish steaks and set on a platter with 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. This renders a simple stock from the fish that the rest of the food will be cooked in. Cover the fish and set in the oven to keep warm while everything else cooks.
5. Add the vegetables to the boiling broth. Before adding the habanero cut a small opening into the top of the chile and add it to the vegetables. Allow the vegetables to boil for about 40 minutes to make sure everything cooks through. Taste the sauce as it boils and remove the habanero and set aside when the you feel the sauce is spicy enough. For Amy this had to be done after about ten minutes. But for the true taste give it about 20 minutes.
6. When the vegetables are cooked remove them from the broth with slotted spoon and put them on yet another platter. Cover these with a bit of the sauce and put into the oven to keep warm.
7. Reserve two cups of the broth and distribute this into two bowls. In one bowl pulverize the habanero and use this as a hot sauce for the meal. The other bowl you can hand to the weaker palates as a mild sauce.
8. Add the rice to the broth. Raise to boil, cover, and reduce the heat. Continue cooking until the rice is done (30 minutes). Check on the rice as it cooks stirring occasionally and add more water if it needs it.
9. When the rice is done remove it to a very large platter. Remove the fish and vegetable from the oven and set everything on the table. You're now ready to eat.

Traditionally this meal would be eaten off of one enormous platter with the fish in the middle of the rice and the vegetables around the sides. This is optimal if everybody plans to be extra traditional and eat everything with their hands. But nobody seemed up for that and we didn't have any plates with a 3 foot diameter, so we dished everything onto plates and used forks. This didn't stop the meal from being delicious.

Sesame Cookies

The most important part of this recipe, as silly is it sounds, is to remember to grease the wax paper. I failed to do so, and it ended up with us clawing bits of cookie with our hands off the pan. Although this provides something to laugh at, I think we can all agree that cookies are best enjoyed when you can actually hold one in your hands. They were, however, delightful. So do yourself a favor and grease up that wax paper. The other important part is the sesame seeds. None of the supermarkets around us seem to understand that sesame seeds are best when sold cheaply and in large quantities. I'm not sure who thought a tiny vile of seed should cost six bucks, but in Senegal I'm sure you'd be legally killed for such a transgression. I would recommend visiting an Asian grocer for procuring large amounts of the seeds. We bought a five pound bag a while back and are already halfway through it.

1/2 cup plus two tablespoons of all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 stick butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup toasted sesame seeds

1. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
2. Cream the butter and and sugar with a hand mixer until it is light and fluffy.
3. Add the egg vanilla and lemon and continue mixing for another minute.
4. Add the flour and sesame seeds. Mix gently and allow the mixture 1 hour to sit.
5. Preheat the oven to 350. Place greased wax paper on two large baking sheets. Add heaping tablespoons of the sesame dough leaving enough space between cookies for expanding.
6. Bake them for 7 minutes making sure to turn the baking sheets halfway through.
7. Remove the cookies allow to cool and set aside on a wire rack for whenever you're ready to eat them.


The simplicity of this meal was wonderful. The cost was perfect. And the flavors were strong and tasty. The crowd this time was much smaller. We only had one friend over for the feasting and two stragglers arrived to eat leftovers. All agreed the food was good and mourned the fact that they couldn't actually hold the cookies. Amy and I are both pleased to find that we are enjoying all of the african dishes we've eaten. Which is a great attitude to have because there's a greater than 25 percent chance that whatever country we draw will be an African one. Thats not to say that its all gonna be the same food. Not surprisingly, Africa has just as much diversity of of food as Europe or Asia it just takes a bit more research for the lesser known cuisines. We look forward to pulling our next African country. Up next Bolivia! Until then, à la vôtre!


  1. Super excellent posting. I especially like the self-referential "Amy and I." Illinois may not have it on the books but I'm pretty sure you're stoned to death in Iowa when you try to sell small containers of sesame seeds.

  2. Ah yes, that would be Tom editing my post and sorely overlooking details. Good eye, sir, good eye.