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Posts Tagged ‘bissap’

Bissap and Bacon Pastries

December 5, 2009  |  Recipes  |  No Comments

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.


October 19, 2009  |  Ingredients  |  4 comments

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.