Friday, October 31, 2014

Ceebu jen and kunde

Ceebu jen (rice and fish)

During the class discussion of Francophone Africa on October 3, our class picked on the countries of Cameroon, Senegal and Mali. As we usually do, we researched on recipes from these countries, and during the week we discussed the menu on whatsapp before we brought the dishes to class on Friday.

Ceebu jen, which comes from the Wolof words for rice and fish (Wolof is the widest spoken language in Senegal), is spelled in French as thieboudienne. It is kind of like pilau - it is an elaborate rice, fish and vegetable dish that is prepared in three stages. You have to first cook the fish, set aside, then cook the vegetables, set aside, and finally add the rice. Then combine all three. gives an interesting story about the origin of ceebu jen:

According to oral tradition, Thieboudienne is the creation of one woman from Saint Louis, Senegal.  Penda Mbaye, a cook at the colonial governor’s residence, created the dish of fish and vegetables first using barley. Amid a barley shortage, she decided to use rice, at the time still a luxury good having just arrived in Senegal by way of Asia in the 19th century.  Eventually Thieb became a favored dish throughout Senegal and was elevated to national dish status. 
It was kind of exciting to be cooking a dish linked to a woman in the 19th century.

Ingredients in the different recipes of ceebu jen vary. For example, some recipes ask for plantains, while others say that sweet potatoes can be a substitute. I badly wanted plantains because I love them, but I couldn't find plantains anywhere! I knew that Uchumi sometimes stocks them, but when I went to several stores, I didn't get any.

The other interesting thing about this dish was that the vegetables are cooked almost whole, unlike us Kenyans who cut and slice up everything. The entire cabbage and eggplant are cut into quarters, and the carrots are cooked whole. I found that visually interesting, but it didn't quite work on the table because no one wanted to eat a whole quarter cabbage.

Now the fish...that part was a disaster. I went to City Market because my Nigerian colleague told me that that's where I could get palm oil. So I decided to buy fish there as well. I wasn't too sure about the fresh fish, so I decided to get some smoked fish as well. So the fish was wrapped for me. By the time I got home three hours later, the fresh fish had gone bad. So we still ended up not eating fish, although the small smoked fish added the flavor to the rice.

When we were sharing our adventures in class, Bonaventure told me that fresh fish is not supposed to be wrapped for long. Lesson learned.

Kunde in peanut sauce

Final lap of cooking the kunde in peanut sauce
Since we needed a vegetable dish, I decided to cook cassava leaves in peanut sauce. I found this passionate Guinean lady, Oumou Bah, who has a website (Kadi recipes) and a youtube channel of African cuisine. She's so charming, and I had a lot of fun just watching her.

As expected, there was no way I was going to find cassava leaves on a Thursday afternoon, so I substituted the cassava leaves with kunde.
And just as well, because I discovered from the comments and further research that cassava is poisonous if it is not thoroughly cooked.

Personally, I think this kunde was the best I've ever made, and the best I've ever tasted. It was tasty, fragrant and just plain nice. And yes, I say so myself.

Enjoying cooking

Cooking for this class has made me excited about cooking in general, because now I feel I'm connected with the world through food, I'm not just cooking to eat or to prove I'm an African woman. Maya keeps saying in our classes that we Kenyans need to be more adventurous with our food, experimenting using local ingredients and not just cooking the same dishes in the same old way. This kunde dish proves her right.

That said, West African dishes take a longer time to cook than I'm used to ...

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