Of all the recipes I made for Thiebouchef, this was the most haphazard. I had been busy with a big project for work, and I did not even take the time to go to Casino for ingredients until late in the afternoon. But I had been thinking of some little cranberry and goat cheese pastries I’d had once, and I thought that the bissap would work very well in the place of cranberries. On the strength of that, and some phyllo I had in the fridge, I decided to forge ahead.
It turned out to be a lucky day, and my experimentation led to something tasty. I would like to claim that all of my experiments are so successful, but sadly that is not the case. It just seems that way because I will never write down the recipes for the failures, like my tea smoked tuna that tasted exactly like an old ashtray. Actually, maybe I should. I could write a cookbook titled “What didn’t work.”
- 250 grams of bissap, rinsed to remove the sand
- 1 medium onion, chopped very fine
- 250 grams goat cheese
- 100 grams bacon, chopped small
- 1 package of phyllo. No, I did not try to make it myself in Dakar. There are limits.
salt and pepper to taste
- melted butter
Crook the bacon until it is crispy, and then sweat the onion over medium low heat in the bacon fat until it is translucent.Turn off the heat and return the bacon to the pan.
In a small saucepan, add the bissap and two cups of water. Try not to worry about the random mix of metric and imperial measurements. The water will not be enough to submerge the bissap. That is okay. Bring it to a boil over high heat, then let simmer until the bissap flowers soften and compress down into the liquid.
Add the cheese and 1/4 cup of the bissap liquid to the frying pan, which should be only a little warm now. Mix well. Take a a few of the bissap flowers themselves, which should be tender now, and chop them fine and add them to the mixture. Taste, and adjust as necessary with salt, pepper, and additional bissap liquid, though take care not to make the mixture too wet.
Heat the oven to something near the middle of the dial, say 200c. Take the sheets of phyllo and cut them into thirds, making long rectangles. Brush all over with melted butter, and then add a tablespoon of the filling to the middle of one end of the strip of dough. Fold like a flag, if you have ever seen that done. Here is an example with pictures.
Brush with more butter, and bake for ten minutes, or until golden and crisp.
One of the first purchases we made in Senegal was a grill, and though we did not use it as often as we expected, we did manage some really great grilled fish, with roasted bananas for dessert afterwards.
The main difficulty with the grill was the wind coming off the ocean. It was strong and constant enough that it made it very difficult to get the charcoal started. I never had enough room in my luggage to bring back a good chimney starter, though in hindsight I could probably had had one made from some rebar and old tomato paste cans. Something to remember for next time.
You can use almost any type of fish. Some of my favorites that were easily available were barracuda, capitane, and dorade. I always slike grilling whole fish, but with barracuda fillets are sometimes easier.
1 fish per person
1 lime for every two fish
1 small onion per lime
Leftover rice. We usually had some from the little restaurant down the street where I got lunch.
Bananas (for dessert)
Start your charcoal so that the grill is nice and hot by the time you have the fish ready to go.
Clean the fish (if you did not get them cleaned at the fish market – really that is much easier and I highly recommend it) and rinse them off. Pat dry and rub inside and out with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt inside and out, and pepper inside only.
Chop up one of the onions and one of the limes into 1cm pieces and put a bit of that mixture into each fish.
Slice the remaining onions into rounds and place on the grill. These will char a bit. It’s okay. Set the rice in a pan over low heat to warm up.
Grill the fish for about 5 minutes per side, depending on the distance from the coals and the size of the fish. Try to time it so you can turn them only once, as they will be fragile after they start to cook.
Serve the onions and fish over the rice, with wedges of the remaining limes. Before sitting down to eat, toss some bananas, peels still on, into the coals. By the time you have finished dinner they will be charred on the outside and lovely inside.
This is definitely a Casino recipe, as opposed to most of the others I have posted so far which could be made with things from any of the local markets. But you have to go to Casino from time to time. Where else will you randomly run into every expat you know on a Saturday afternoon? You will still need to stop by your favorite vegetable stand too. No need to pay 5000fcfa for an eggplant. Plus, it is always good to stay in touch. After being away for a few weeks the woman from my usual vegetable stand chased after me in the street one day to ask why I had stopped buying tomatoes.
This became one of my default meals when cooking at home, which, when coupled daily lunches of thieboudienne, explains why I did not lose weight during my second year in Senegal like I did during my first.
- 1 large eggplant
- 2 or 3 medium red onions, sliced into half-rings.
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 package of bacon pieces. I guess about 8 ounces.
- 1 pint of heavy cream
- 1 pound of gnocchi
- Parmesan cheese
- Olive oil for frying
- Salt and pepper to taste
Set a pot of salted water to boil and put a large frying pan over high heat. Slice the eggplant into 1/2 inch (1cm) thick slabs. Fry the eggplant in a liberal amount of olive oil until they are dark brown on both sides. You can tell when they are cooked, because in the first few minutes they will soak up all the oil in the pain, and when they are ready they will release back most of it.
Remove the eggplant and set aside. Into the still-hot pan, throw the onions. Move them around a lot and let them start to cook down. When they get a bit of color on them, move them to the edges of the pan and throw the bacon in. You don’t want it to steam, so make sure the onions give it room.
While the bacon is cooking, chop the cooked eggplant into 1cm strips. When the bacon is cooked and the onion is just starting to burn, add the eggplant back and pour in the cream. Also put the gnocchi in the water.
When the cream has thickened a bit, and the gnocchi has started to float, turn off all the burners. Add the cheese and the drained gnocchi to the onion and eggplant mixture. Salt to taste, then add a lot of pepper!
If you asked me what the most interesting and unique ingredient I got to use in Senegal was, I would be hard pressed to choose between maad and bouye (monkey bread). That says something, because I only ever used bouye in a single recipe, not counting the traditional jus de bouye.
The powdery, fibrous, off-white contents of the baobob fruit, bouye has a flavor that is not easy to describe. Slightly sour, but not in a biting way like citrus; slightly sweet; and somehow slightly dry, even when made into a juice. Like the baobob tree itself, it seems to belong to some other order of things. It’s also very healthy, with as much vitamin C as citrus and as much calcium as milk. I would not be surprised at all if it started showing up in granola bars and fruit smoothies.
I must have walked past bouye for sale in the Yoff market a dozen times before I realized what it was. It looks like some kind freeze-dried root-vegetable, or maybe a type of building material. I only made the connection between the piles in the market and the drink that I loved after one of the neighbor children gave me a piece to suck on. (This was a common event that always resulted in mixed feelings on my part. On the one hand, it was almost always something good, or at least new. On the other, it was usually pre-chewed to some extent.)
Jus de bouye has a thick, creamy consistency that made me think of sorbet very first time I tried it. Like banana, it has a texture that seems to lend itself perfectly to freezing. Unfortunately for my sorbet aspirations, I had neither an ice cream churn nor a freezer, and it took me a while to come up with a plan to overcome those limitations
- 1/2 kilo bouye
- 2 cups sugar for sorbet. 1 cup with more to taste for juice
- 2 litres of water, heated to 180 degrees (80C)
- 1 wire strainer (they sell them at the market)
- 1/2 kilo salt
- 1 ice cream maker
- 1 freezer
Or, without the ice cream maker and freezer:
- 4 blocks of ice from a neighbor who has a freezer
- 2 cheap aluminum pots that nest inside each other and 1 pot lid from the market. Bargain hard for these, the quality is terrible and they will leak in a few months.
- 1 big wooden spoon
- 1 plastic laundry bucket (preferably imprinted with a tiger or a dragon)
- 1 large bath towel (ditto)
- 1 kid from the neighborhood to send out for more salt or sugar as necessary.
The first step should be done the day before. Pour the hot water over the bouye in the first pot and add the sugar. Cover and let stand. Come back and give it a stir occasionally until it cools to room temperature, then use your wire strainer to strain out the seeds and fibers. Put the strained mixture in the fridge overnight.
The next day, take the bouye mixture out of the fridge and taste for sweetness and adjust as necessary. If you have an ice cream maker, at this point you can just pour the mixture in and turn it on. But I will continue just in case you too are trying to do this the hard way.
Run over to your neighbor’s to pick up the ice. Plan some time for this trip: it will probably involve thieboudienne, or at the very least a few rounds of tea. Return home and crush one of the blocks of ice into small pieces. This can be difficult. I did it by smashing it against the concrete wall, which worked wonderfully. Add a bit of water, the crushed ice, and one cup of salt to the second aluminum pot. This will create a slurry that cools down below the freezing point of water. Place the pot containing the bouye inside the pot containing the ice bath, and start to stir.
Remember to scrape the sides, and add more ice and salt as your slurry melts.
It took about 45 minutes of stirring, though I imagine that had something to do with the fact that it was in the mid 90s, both temperature and humidity. You want to the bouye mixture to achieve the texture of soft-serve ice-cream, and hopefully before the muscles in your arm do.
When it has frozen, crush the remaining ice and add most (but not all) of it to the salt slurry. Put the lid on your ice cream and nest the pot back into the slurry to harden. Wrap both pots with the towel and nestle the whole bundle into the laundry bucket. Cover the lid with the remaining ice and pull the towel up over it.
In one to two hours it will be hardened. In two to three it will have melted again. Enjoy!
One thing I did not take enough advantage of in Dakar was that the fish market was just a ten minute walk down the beach from my front door. Taking an evening stroll to pick up some sole or tuna is the kind of thing you think you will do often: take a few pictures; say hi to the neighbors; buy the fish from your friend’s mom. But somehow with work and day-to-day life you end up ordering your third pizza of the week from On The Run.
Even though I did not make the trek to the Tonghor fish market as often as I might have liked, it was by far my favorite place to buy fish, and I did get down there from time to time. As with everything in Dakar, it’s always better to know someone, and fortunately I knew one of the women who had a table set out in the middle of the market. Even when she did not have what I was looking for, she knew who did, and if it was good. I’d be hard pressed to choose a favorite fish, but my most frequent purchases were tuna, lotte, and sole. (Barracuda would be in that list if only it had been more common to find it!) This recipe is great with tuna and lotte. For the sole you can try the passion fruit recipe.
(A note on lotte: It took me a while to track down the name of this fish in English. I am fairly certain that it is monkfish.)
If you are buying lotte, it is much easier to let them clean and fillet it for you. Tuna you should just have cleaned. You can fillet it yourself and end up with much nicer pieces.
- 4 fillets of tuna or lotte
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup raw sesame seeds. Raw is important. they should be very light in color. Toasted sesame seeds will burn too quickly.
See how simple this looks? You can go crazy and add some finely chopped ginger to the soy, but it’s nice to keep it simple. You will also need peanut oil for frying.
Let the fish marinate in the soy sauce for about ten minutes, then flip and give it another ten. You don’t want to let it marinate too long or it will get too salty.
Sprinkle the sesame seeds on a plate and remove the fillets from the soy sauce one by one, shaking off excess, and lay them in the sesame seeds. Roll them over and move them around so that all surfaces are coated.
Put a frying pan over high heat with a very small amount of peanut oil in it. Let it get nice and hot, then add the fillets. The sesame seeds will pop and crackle and smell delicious. Cook for about two minutes a side, or until the fish is cooked to your liking. Lotte will need a bit more time. Tuna could do with less, depending on your tastes.
Serve with lime wedges and a nice salad. Or some lettuce and half an avocado with the lime squeezed inside.
One thing that I found very interesting about walking through my local market on Yoff was how much of what was for sale was familiar from little Mexican grocery stores in California. Obviously tomatoes and mangoes and avocados are fairly universal, but manioc and tamarind seemed like coincidences worth noting. And you can imagine my surprise when I tasted the national drink of Senegal for the first time and realized it was also served at my favorite taquería in San Jose*.
Bissap is the dried outer leaves of the hibiscus flower, and when brewed into a tea it has a tart, almost cranberry-like flavor. (And like cranberry juice, a lot of sugar is added to make it palatable!) In both California and Dakar you can find the spidery, dark red flowers in big bins at most local markets, though the ones you get in Dakar are likely to have quite a bit more sand in them**, so be sure to rinse well.
In addition to brewing them into tea with mint and sugar (to be served cold), the Senegalese use fresh bissap flowers in thieboudienne. Other than that, I did not come across very many local preparations. There was a very nice bissap jam at the Shell Station, but it was pretty clearly an item for tourists.
So what do you do with a kilo of bissap? Well for starters, you can do like the Senegalese and most of Latin America and make yourself a great summer drink just by adding hot water and sugar. Experiment to find the proportions you like best. But you can also do almost anything you would do with cranberries: I had very good results mixing the hydrated flowers with cream cheese to make a savory pastry filling. I am sorry I never thought to make a bissap jelly for one of our Yoff thanksgivings.
Perhaps my favorite preparation of bissap was pancake syrup. I think I liked it even better than maple. Just fill a small pot with rinsed flowers and add enough water to fill the pot half way. Bring it all to a boil for about ten minutes, then remove the flowers and add sugar equal to the volume of remaining liquid. Cook again until the sugar is entirely dissolved and let it cool. Or if it is ten am on a Saturday and the pancakes are ready, just pour it on hot.
*Under the name agua de flor de Jamaica
**This is true of almost everything in Dakar.
So bagels are obviously not a Senegalese staple. And in fact, none of the ingredients in bagels are typically Senegalese either. So why provide a recipe for them here? In this case, it was simply the context of making them in Senegal that made them notable. The hunt for high gluten flour (unsuccessful), the little tin-box oven (well-loved), and the friends running into the kitchen to add toppings as they came out of the boiling water. I like to think they were the first bagels made in Ngaparou.
I had made bagels enough times before moving to Senegal that I had my own recipe, but I had not thought to try making them there until a friend downtown made some. Then I needed to prove that the Yoff contingent could make bagels too. Even if they accidentally bought flour with seeds and nuts in it.
- 5 cups bread flour. Or farine pour pain multi-céréales from the shell station, whatever you can manage
- 1 tbsp yeast. Or some near-random number of European yeast packets.
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp molasses. Good luck finding it. Maybe some brown sugar? Or gray sugar from the boutique!
- 2 tsp salt
- 1tbsp Ninal. (okay, actually I used olive oil. But Ninal would work!)
- 1.5 cups warm water. Thanks to a friend for providing an electric kettle.
- At least two additional people to help decide on toppings and make their own flavors.
Add the yeast to the warm water in a big bowl or pot, whatever you have available. Give it a few minutes to dissolve and hopefully start to bubble at least a little. Look doubtfully at it, and try to decipher an expiration date on the package you bought at the gas station, then decide you’re going to go ahead anyway.
Add all the rest of the ingredients, except for the flour, and mix. Now add all the flour. The dough will be pretty tough, but don’t worry, you only have to knead it for about 20 minutes. As long as it is not October, you will almost definitely survive. And if it is October, why on earth would you consider using an oven in Senegal? Cover the dough and let it sit for 15 minutes, then cut it into 10 equal portions and give it another 15 minute rest.
Now it is time to shape the bagels! Roll each piece until it is about ten inches long, then curl it into a loop and roll the ends together. Once again, these are going to need to rest, but this time you can keep yourself busy by preheating the oven as high as it will go, and putting a big pot of salted water on the stove to boil. That is, if your stove can manage both the oven and a burner at the same time. Ours could! (Though barely.)
After the bagels have rested (and hopefully risen, if the yeast was inded alive) for 30 minutes, it is time for a quick bath. But before htey go into the water, you will want to set up a plate covered with the toppings you want (sesame seeds, salt, pepper, mutton, etc). This is where you can get some friends involved.
Boil the bagels, two or three at a time, for one minute, then flip them over and give them another 40 seconds. Plop them out, still wet, onto the plates of toppings, which will stick to the wet surface. Then pick them back up and put them on the baking sheet, topping side up.
Turn your oven back down to something reasonable, like 450 Fahrenheit (20 deciliters in metric. I’m kidding of course, but it’s not so important. Our oven had a very loose interpretation of temperatures. Just set it to the highest setting that is actually labeled.) and bake for about 18 minutes, or until golden brown.
Peanuts are one of the most important crops in Senegal, amounting to more than ten percent of export earnings. But of course they are not all exported. If you are ever a little hungry in Dakar, you are probably within 50 meters of a woman with a little wooden table selling bags of peanuts for 25 francs. I must have eaten a kilogram a week for the first few months I was there.
This is another recipe born of Thiebouchef (peanut, naturally). It’s a little complicated because it involves making everything from scratch, but for a somewhat quicker version you can use canned stock, boneless chicken thighs, and store-bought flatbread. (I think naan would be very good.)
- 6 chicken leg quarters
- 18 bamboo skewers
Ingredients for marinade
- 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
- 3 cloves finely chopped garlic
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- Syrup from one can of diced pineapple (reserve the pineapple for later)
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3 tbsp peanut oil
Ingredients for satay sauce
- 3 tbsp unsweetened peanut butter (If you are in senegal you can buy three tablespoons of pâte d’arachide in a little plastic bag from your nearest market.)
- 1 small onion diced very fine (Once again, I prefer the local senegalese red onions, but any will do.)
- Juice of 1 lime
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 1/2 cup chicken stock (See Recipe Below)
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp coriander
- 2 tbsp peanut oil
Ingredients for pineapple relish
- 1/2 cup raw peanuts
- 2 cans of pineapple chunks in light syrup
- 2 onions, diced medium
- 1 habanero chili
- 1 tsp raz el hanout
- 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
- 4 tbsp peanut oil
Ingredients for peanut chapati
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tbsp unsweetened peanut butter
- 2 tsp salt
- Peanut oil for frying
Ingredients for simple chicken stock
- Bones from 6 leg quarters
- 6 cups water
- 1 medium onion
- A few peppercorns
The first step is to make the marinade for the chicken. Combine all the ingredients in a wide flat dish large enough to allow the skewers to lie flat with the chicken submerged.
Now it is time for the messy part: debone the chicken and slice it into strips. I’d never done this before, and it turns out to be a huge amount of work, especially with the fairly scrawny senegalese chickens. Be careful when deboning the drumsticks to remove the tough tendons. Each leg quarter should provide enough meat for three skewers. Try to use both thigh and drumstick meat in every skewer. As you finish each skewer, add it to the dish with the marinade.
Once the skewers are finished, put the dish in the fridge and place the chicken bones into a medium sized pot along with the other stock ingredients. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low for 45 minutes. Don’t let it boil! This is a very simple stock, but feel free to add some carroy and celery if you have it handy.
While the stock is simmering you have some time to make the chapati dough. Mix the flour, salt, and peanut butter together, and add just enough water to let it come together into a very stiff dough. Knead for 15 minutes and set aside to rest for 1 to 2 hours.
Meanwhile heat the oven to 240C with a metal baking pan inside. Mix the pineapple, onion, ginger, and 2 tbsp of peanut oil in a bowl, and transfer to the hot baking pan. Roast until the onion has just begun to burn, about 45 minutes. While the pineapple and onion are roasting, roast the habanero over the burner on a fork until it has completely blackened. Be careful, the steam can make your eyes hurt! Set the pepper aside to cool and combine the raw peanuts with the raz el hanout and remaining peanut oil in a small frying pan. Cook over high heat until the peanuts start to crackle and pop, then set aside in a bowl to cool.
Now it’s time for the satay sauce. Turn off the chicken stock and strain into a bowl. In the small frying pan you used a moment ago to roast the peanuts, combine the peanut oil and onion, and fry over medium heat until the onion just starts to change color. Add all the remaining satay ingredients except for the lime juice and stir over low heat until smooth. Remove from heat and add the lime juice.
Divide the chapati dough into 18 portions and place a large frying pan over high heat. Roll out the dough very thin, and fry for 1 minute a side (or until golden brown) in a small amount of peanut oil. If they do not puff up, you may need to raise the heat. Wrap the finished chapati in a clean cloth to stay warm.
Remove the onion and pineapple from the oven and combine with the roasted habanero chili. Chop the mixture until it is quite fine. Add the toasted peanuts.
Remove the skewers of chicken from the marinade and grill (preferable) or fry (also very good) until cooked through and golden brown on the outside. Place in the large frying pan over high heat and toss with the satay sauce until they are thoroughly coated.
Serve! Eat by wrapping the chicken in one of the chapatis and removing the skewer. Then add a spoonfull of the pineapple relish and enjoy!
This recipe was part my entry for Thiebouchef: Beer. (Thiebouchef is Dakar’s premier competitive potluck.) A number of the recipes I will post here have their origins in that august competition.
I had always wanted to make a chutney, and best of all I was able to get all the ingredients (except the curry powder) at my local market in Yoff.
- 2 pounds red onions diced to 1/2 inch
- 4 large mangoes diced small
- 2 red bell peppers
- 1 habanero (One should really be enough, but use two if you feel like you have to.)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 bottle beer – I used a Flag, a West African lager and it came out great, but I think that a Belgian golden ale would be great here.
- 2 tbsp white vinegar
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp yellow curry powder
Fry the onions in a small amount of olive oil over medium high heat for 30 minutes, or until they turn a dark red brown. This will require a lot of stirring to make sure they do not burn. While you are preventing the onions from burning, go ahead and char the bell peppers and habanero over open flame until their skins are completely black, then set them aside to cool.
When the peppers are cool, peel away the burned skins, remove stems and seeds, and dice. Be very careful not to touch your eyes after working with the habanero. Also, you might want to go ahead and wash that cutting board and knife right now.
Add the peppers to the onions and continue to fry over medium heat. Add 3 of mangoes and continue to cook until the mango disintegrates.
Add the beer, vinegar, and sugar and reduce heat to a simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. At this point, you can do a few taste tests and adjust the recipe a bit. I ended up adding a bit more beer, but Flag is pretty mild. If you are using a hoppier beer, you may need to add some more vinegar to balance the bitter.
That’s it! Remove from heat and add the remaining diced mango. Serve at room temperature with nearly anything. Pork comes to mind. Or shrimp. Or a sharp cheese and toast.
I thought I should write up a full recipe for the sole I mentioned in the maad post. This is actually the very last thing I cooked in Senegal, if you don’t count chopping up an avocado for a salad. A friend and I had been planning to get together for lunches since we both worked at home, but it never seemed to work out until the day before I left the country.
We went to the supermarket together to see what looked good for cooking, and the passion fruit caught my eye. Working from there and making our way to some nice looking sole in the fish section, this recipe was born.
- 4 sole fillets
- 2 passion fruit
- 2 limes
- 1 small onion
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Butter for frying
Empty the passion fruit into a shallow dish (I left the seeds in, but you can strain the pulp if you like) and add the juice of the limes, 1 tsp salt, and a bit of pepper. Add the sole to marinate for about ten minutes.
While the sole is marinating, dice the onion fine, and start heating up a frying pan over a medium high flame. Fry the sole in 1 tablespoon of butter per fillet. Do them one or two at a time, don’t crowd the pan. It will be quick, only a couple of minutes per side. After the first flip, throw in a bit of the onion.
When all the fish is cooked, add any remaining onion and let cook for a minute, then add in the marinade. Bring it to a rapid simmer and turn off the heat. Add one more tablespoon of butter and pour the sauce over the fillets.
Serve with bread and an avocado salad.