Thieboudienne Recipe: The “National Dish of Senegal”
When I was a freshman in college, I traveled to Africa for the first time. Senegal was an explosion of sensory newness. Women strolled by gracefully clad in vibrant batik clothing with babies on backs and baskets on their heads. Drums, clucking chickens, and Islamic prayer crackling over loudspeakers assaulted my ears. Thick heavy humid air embraced my dry Colorado skin, and aromas of bodies, animals, fish and food filled my nose. It was world-opening for me.
Nothing can bring back the experience of my first trip to the developing world more than food. Every afternoon in Senegal, I would walk back from my classes on West African culture, history, economy and language to my host families house--a mile long trek in sweltering heat. My efforts were rewarded by a delicious meal of Thieboudienne (pronounced “Ceebu Jen), the “national dish” of Senegal. Senegalese families gather around one large dish on the floor and artfully scoop up handfuls of the delicious rice and fish. Somehow I always ended up a mess! Eating gracefully with your hands is certainly a learned behavior. Everyone has their own recipe, so I've included the one that I found to make at home. The recipe is from the cookbook “New Recipes From Moosewood Restaurant.” It is an Americanized version— some ingredients used commonly in Senegal are just too hard to find here. I love to get my family and friends together and whenever I make it, I make sure we all eat on the floor with our fingers! Enjoy!
Palm oil (or peanut or vegetable oil, if you can't find Palm Oil)
1 cup chopped onions
1 green pepper, chopped
1/3 cup tomato juice
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 large sweet potato, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 cup shredded cabbage
¼ cup pimento slices
2 lbs firm fish fillets (I have used flounder, Mahi Mahi, cod, halibut...just about anything will work!)
salt and pepper
juice of 1 lemon
couscous or rice
1. Brown the onions in some oil, then add the chopped pepper. Puree the vegetables in a food processor or blender with the tomato juice and paste to make a smooth, thick sauce.
2. Saute the sweet potato in the oil for 10 minutes, then add the cabbage. Cover and cook over low heat until just tender, then mix in the pimento, tomato sauce, salt and pepper.
3. Place the fish in an oiled baking pan. Sprinkle with salt, black pepper, and lemon juice. Spoon over the sweet potato-tomato sauce, and bake covered at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.
4. Cook couscous or rice, and spread over a large dish. Arrange the fish and sauce over the top, sit down and enjoy! (And don't burn your hands!)