With its Atlantic Ocean coastline, dotted with traditional fishing villages and white-sand beaches, it’s no surprise that the food of Senegal, on the north-west coast of Africa, is based around seafood. As you move inland, the food retains the coastal influence, but generally includes more dairy and millet – an integral grain that’s used to make everything from couscous to porridge. Peanuts are the primary crop and feature in many dishes, along with lentils, black-eyed beans, sweet potatoes and citrus.
Senegal’s coastal location made it popular with slave traders in the 16th century, bringing the Portuguese, Dutch, British and French (who held the colony until 1960). They introduced ingredients such as chillies and tomatoes, which are now used in many dishes, including boulettes de poisson (fish balls in spicy tomato sauce). Prior to European arrivals, trade with the Arab world brought rice and cinnamon.
Rice, millet and sorghum are the staple grains of Senegalese cooking and are generally served with richly flavoured meat and vegetable stews, such as thiou au poulet (chicken stew) and the national dish thiéboudienne, or ceebu jën (rice cooked in a tomato-based fish stew, recipe opposite). Two common Senegalese seasonings – which are traditionally added to thiéboudienne, adding to its characteristic deep-earthy flavour – are guedge (smoked, dried fish) and yete (fermented snails). Grilled meats marinated in herbs and spices, such as chicken au yassa (grilled chicken marinated with onions and lemon or lime juice), are also popular.
Salads are often served after the main meal, with the colourful salatu niebe (with black-eyed beans, tomatoes, cucumber and parsley, recipe page 148) a particular favourite. Dinner ends with tropical fruit and rich, sweet desserts such as thiakry (fermented milk-and-millet pudding).
1. Peanuts and peanut oil
Peanuts are the main crop of Senegal and feature in a variety of dishes, including peanut soup and mafé (meat stewed in a ground peanut sauce). Peanut oil is the favoured cooking oil, and because of its high smoking point, makes it ideal for frying.
This starchy root vegetable is used in a similar way to potato in many of the traditional stews. It is available either fresh or frozen.
3. Broken rice
Cooked rice is commonly added to Senegalese soups and stews, and broken rice is preferred to long-grain. Broken rice is the same as regular rice, but it is simply cracked in the field or during the drying or milling processes.
Citrus, such as lime, is often used in marinades to help tenderise tougher parts of meat, and also served to accompany Senegal’s variety of seafood dishes.
5. Black-eyed beans
Black-eyed beans are a protein-rich, white legume with a small black dot resembling an eye. They have a creamy texture and pea-like flavour, and are used to make crisp akara (black-eyed bean fritters), considered a national snack in both Senegal and Nigeria.
Photography by Janyon.