A friend who served in the Peace Corps in Senegal once told us that she thought we'd be fascinated by the food. The thought got tucked away and somewhat forgotten until we received a copy of Yolele!, chef Pierre Thiam's cookbook devoted to this West African's country's cuisine. Wow, our friend was right! As we've discovered, Senegalese food is a rich blend of fresh, local ingredients and multicultural flavors from France, Portugal, the Middle East, the Americas, and even Vietnam.According to Thiam, "In Senegal, cooking is a celebration ... of how we have gloriously melded the old with the new, the native with the global." This is evident in the country's flavorful soups, stews, rice dishes, salads, and fritters both savory and sweet, in which ingredients like seafood, peanuts, hot peppers, and tropical fruits and vegetables abound. Here are a few dishes we've learned about:
• 1 Mafe – A stew of chicken, fish, or lamb simmered in peanut butter sauce with vegetables such as yuca, yams, potatoes, carrots, or turnips. Recipe: Chicken and Vegetables Braised in Peanut Sauce (Gourmet)
• 2 Thiebou jen – The national dish of Senegal, a spicy stuffed fish simmered with vegetables in tomato paste, tamarind, and habanero pepper, and served over broken rice. Recipe: Theibou Jen (Yolele!)
• 3 Salatu niebe – A colorful salad with black-eyed peas, which are native to Africa, tomatoes, cucumbers, and parsley. Recipe: Black-Eyed Pea Salad (Yolele! via LA Times)
• 4 Yassa – A spicy dish of chicken or fish marinated in lemon/lime juice and onion and then grilled and caramelized. Recipe: Yassa Ginaar (Yolele! via Daily Traveler)
• 5 Banana fritters – A dessert of banana batter fried and sprinkled with sugar. Recipe: Banana Fritters (Yolele! via Society Hae)
If you're interested in learning more about Senegalese cuisine, we highly recommend the Yolele!
cookbook. Actually, even if you aren't interested yet, we suggest checking it out, as perhaps you soon will be! Filled with recipes and colorful photographs that take readers on a journey through the streets, markets, and multicultural influences of Senegal, it's inspiring and eye-opening.
• Yolele! Recipes from the Heart of Senegal by Pierre Thiam
Related: Five Communal Dishes from Mauritania
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(Images: Maya Lau, Bartolini Bartpłomień, Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times, Brianne Karabetsos, Shevon Gant)