What’s cooking in Senegal?
Fish and rice, Thiep Bou Diene
Aissatou is one of my neighbors and our children are friends. She lives here with her husband and their four children. When they arrived in Switzerland in 2008 they were already living in Europe, as they had been living in Portugal for 6 years. Aissatou’s two eldest children were born in Portugal and her two youngest in Switzerland. Our son had been invited to eat a Senegalese dish at their home before we did, and he loved it. It made us curious to find out how this dish was cooked.
Aissatou is from a southern Senegalese region called Kolda. She sometimes misses Senegal, and of course her family who still lives there. When she travels to Senegal, she brings back some typical cooking utensils or plates, for instance the ones used to serve this dish. Sometimes the bigger cooking equipment do not fit into her suitcase and so she brings it as carry on luggage, which makes her laugh when she thinks of some big things she has brought carrying under her arm while boarding a plane.
What Aissatou says about the food culture in Senegal:
Aissatou cooks Senegalese food every weekend. She says most recipes contain fish and rice and the Thiep Bou Diene we’re making is really the national dish. You can make it with any vegetables that you have, and she says in Senegal it is also common to put pumpkin in this dish. Thiep Bou Diene is served on one big plate, and everyone eats from the same plate. When there are a lot of people, they make 1 big plate for the children, and 1 big plate for the adults. Aissatou remembers that when she was little, the children would often share their plate with their grandmothers, who would take care of educating the children on how to share the plate. A sort of common rule is that you eat what is in front of you. What you don’t like you just push aside a bit, but they try to teach the children not to necessarily reach for the food on the opposite side of the plate.
Fish and rice, Thiep Bou Diene
Cooking time: about two hours
Ingredients, serves a family of 5-6:
- 1 Eggplant
- 1 zucchini
- Half of a white cabbage
- Half of a cassava
- Carrots (4 or so, depending on size)
- Possible to add pumpkin as well, in Senegal pumpkin is very common and available for about 3 months a year during the rain season.
- Guédj + Yet, small portions. These are difficult ingredients to find and not available in our local supermarkets but you can find it in the special food stores. If you cannot find it, you can leave it out, but it is a bit of the secret ingredient to this Senegalese dish. Guédj is a typical fish from Senegal which is salted and dried. It is often used in Senegalese cuisine as it gives taste to the dish. Aissatou has both Guédj and Yet in small portions in her freezer, so that she can take it out whenever she needs it. Yet is a shellfish which is used for the same purpose, to give taste. Aissatou doesn’t eat the Yet in the end. The Guédj is eaten however, as that falls apart in small pieces during the cooking process. In Geneva Aissatou buys these ingredients in a small specialized supermarket which sells exotic foods.
- Aissatou uses 2 sorts of fish, but she says you can basically use any fish you personally like, as long as it is with its skin. The fish Aissatou uses is tuna, and a fish sort called ‘captain fish’. The quantity for 1 family would be 3 big pieces of fish. You could also use Barracuda fish.
- 2 vegetable stock cubes
- 4 table spoons of Tomato concentrate
- 4 table spoons of chunky tomato sauce
- Sunflower oil
To make the seasoning, which will be to stuff the fish a bit, and for the sauce later on:
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 cloves of garlic
- Half of a green bell pepper
- Half of a green pepper
- Small red pepper
- 2-3 small onions
- Half a bunch of parsley
How to prepare:
- Wash the vegetables, and cut them, but in big pieces.
- Wash the fish and grate the skin a bit with a knife but while keeping the skin intact. The fish needs to stay in whole pieces in this dish.
- If you have a whole fish, you can take the nerves out a bit with a knife.
- Start making a mixture which starts with the same ingredients for the stuffing and the sauce later on. Mix pepper to your liking with the bay leaves, and then the garlic, green pepper, red pepper and green bell pepper. Aissatou uses an African pestle to crush it all, but you can of course mix it in your mixer.
- Separate this mixture into two bowls. ¼ of the quantity will be used to ‘stuff the fish’ a bit. This part you either keep in your mixer, as the parsley will still be added, or in your African pestle if you have one. ¾ will be used for the sauce later on. In our case, we had approximately 4 tablespoons in quantity of this mixture.
- Put a large quantity of sunflower oil in a big pot and start to heat it. Look at the size of your pieces of fish. And put enough oil to half the height of the fish so that you could fry it on both sides, when turning once.
- While the oil warms up, you add parsley and a bit of salt to the part of the mixture to stuff the fish and you mix that all together. Aissatou used half a bunch of parsley.
- To stuff the fish with this mixture you just push one finger into the fish and add the mixture. If you have big pieces of fish you could do this twice in one piece.
- When you are done doing this, you add salt around your pieces of fish and let them rest while you prepare the sauce.
- Put the ¾ of the mixture in your mixer or African pestle and add 2-3 small onions cut in half, 1 vegetable stock cube and mix that all up.
- When the oil is hot, you leave the pot on high heat and start frying your pieces of fish. Please note: tuna does not need to be fried. When you put the fish in the oil, avoid to turn it around too quickly otherwise it could fall into pieces later on in the recipe. First you let it brown on one side, and then you turn it around.
- When your fish is nicely fried, you take it out of the pot and put it on a plate, and start to make the sauce in the pot, while keeping the sunflower oil.
- Add the tomato concentrate and the Yet (piece of shellfish).
- Stir well as the heat is still on high temperature and you would not want it to burn.
- Add the sauce with the onions that you just made in your mixer or pestle and keep stirring.
- Aissatou adds a bit of Maggi sauce to taste
- You then add the tuna which has not been fried and let it cook for a few minutes.
- Then you add water until approximately ¾ of the height of your pot and add the vegetables.
- You then add the piece of Guédj (if you have found it) which will totally dissolve in the sauce.
- Add about 4 table spoons of chunky tomato sauce and let it all cook for 15-20 minutes. Do not cook it longer, since you would want the vegetables to stay in 1 piece. (otherwise you would have a soup says Aissatou).
- In the meanwhile, Aissatou washes the rice (quantity adapted to your family) until the water that comes off it is clear, and not white. She puts the wet rice in the microwave for 15 minutes which will make the cooking of the rice easier and quicker later on.
- You then add the fried fish in the pot, on top of everything, but without changing the initial 15-20 minutes cooking time for the whole dish, as this fish is already fried before. If the sauce doesn’t cover the fish, you use a spoon to add some sauce on the fried fish every now and then. You cover up the pot half, but not completely.
- When the rice is finished in the microwave, you start taking the fish and vegetables out, while keeping the sauce inside the pot.
- Put the pieces of fish on one plate, and the veggies on another to assemble the big plate later on.
- Add 1 more cube of vegetable stock and add the rice. There should not be too much liquid left. It is difficult to estimate the amount of rice you need with the liquid left in the pot, but if you have too much liquid, you just add some more rice.
- Cook the rice until tender and while stirring so that it doesn’t burn the pot.
- When the rice is cooked you start to assemble your family’s plate of Thiep Bou Dien. You first put the rice on the big plate, and then the fish and the vegetables. Aissatou had some home made mixture of peppers on the side which she made by just mixing spicy peppers with a bit of olive oil.
We had a wonderful time eating this traditional Thiep together with Aissatou’s family. After this delicious meal, Aissatou’s husband made us some tea in a traditional way. The sugary tea is poured from the teapot into small glasses and then poured back and forth several times from high up until it has the right taste. Thank you Aissatou for sharing your delicious dish from Senegal with us!