There are about as many variations for spelling ceebu jenn (thieboudienne, thiep bu dinenne, ceebujenn…) as there are to making it. This rice (ceeb) and fish (jenn) recipe is the national dish of Senegal and can also be made with beef (ceebu yapp). If the dish looks familiar, it’s because it’s a descendent of paella.
2/3 to 1 cup oil
3 cups broken or small round rice
3-6 Tbsp tomato paste
4 wedges of cabbage, about 2 inches at thickest point
2 potatoes, sweet potatoes or other tubers, peeled (opt)
1-2 small eggplants (opt)
1-2 zucchini (opt – not authentic, but we like it)
1-2 onions sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 bunch fresh parsley
dried red pepper flakes
Scotch Bonnet hot sauce, or the hottest you have
fresh lemon wedges
A word about the fish. I used four filets of smoked herring that worked really well for flavor. You can also use fresh fish, whole or filets. (If you live near an African market that sells dried, smoked fish – that’s the jackpot. Add just a small handful along with the veggies.) For quantity, that’s up to you. Traditionally the Senegalese would use less fish than the average American meal because of high prices and over-fished waters.
Moving on…Below are two cooking methods. The Pro version is more authentic if you’re using whole fish, but the Amateur version is the way I’ve modified it.
Pro version: Crush together garlic, parsley, pinch of salt and pepper and dried hot pepper. Rinse the fish. Make 3-4 holes in the fish and stuff with seasoning mixture. Heat oil in large saucepan. Add sliced onions and pinch of salt. Cook for five minutes.
Amateur version: Heat oil in large saucepan. Fry fish filets until golden. Add onions and garlic, chopped parsley, dried hot pepper and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for five minutes.
Dilute tomato paste with 1/2 cup water and add to pot. Add 6 cups water and largely chopped vegetables. (I put the cabbage wedges on top to keep them from breaking up too much.) Let simmer over medium heat until veggies are tender. Remove veggies and fish and 1/2 cup liquid.
Use the remaining broth to cook the rice. Add rice and cover. Reduce heat and cook until all liquid is absorbed and you begin to smell the rice on the bottom of the pan toasting.
Once cooked, Spread the rice out on a large platter. Arrange the fish and veggies in the center, then sprinkle the remaining 1/2 broth over top. Sprinkle with lemon juice.
Normally you eat from this common bowl, not from individual plates, with your right hand. The hostess will divide up the fish and veggies on to each person’s rice portion in front of them. Take a piece of fish or veggies and some rice in your right hand. Squeeze to make a ball and pop it into your mouth.
Attaya, Senegalese tea
Attaya is the Senegalese tea ceremony. It’s served in three rounds, using two or three small glasses. The first round is strong and bitter, the second more sweet with a little mint, and the third is very sweet with more mint. It symbolizes friendship: The longer we’re together the sweeter it grows.
Round one (called Lewel)
In a small tea pot (brada) put one cup water, 1 small glass (kas) of sugar, and 1 small glass (kas) of tea leaves (warga). Set the pot on the fuurnu (small grill or gas burner) and bring the mix to a boil. Remove from heat and pour some of the content into each of the small glasses. Begin pouring the liquid back and forth between the glasses until each glass has foam on it. Keeping the foam in the glasses, pour the liquid back into the brada and bring to a boil again. Remove from heat and pour into the glasses. Mix again until foam is even bigger then serve round one.
Round two (called Naarel)
Add water to the barada (warga should still be in the pot). Add mint leaves (nana) and/or pastilles (a mint candy similar to gum drops) to the pot. Bring to a boil. Add two generous kas of sugar, bring to a boil again. Remove from heat and pour some of the content into each of the the small glasses. Begin pouring the liquid back and forth between the glasses until each glass has foam on it. Keeping the foam in the glasses, pour the liquid back into the brada and bring to a boil again. Remove from heat and pour into the glasses. Mix again until foam is even bigger then serve round two.
Round three (called Nettel)
Add water and a little more warga to the pot. Add mint leaves (nana) and/or pastilles to the pot (be generous, this is the yummy round!). Bring to a boil. Add three generous kas of sugar and bring again to a boil. Remove from heat and pour some of the content into each of the small glasses. Begin pouring the liquid back and forth between the glasses until each glass has foam on it. Keeping the foam in the glasses, pour the liquid back into the brada and bring to a boil again. Remove from heat and pour into the glasses. Mix again until foam is even bigger then serve round three.
Poulet Yassa, Senegal’s best-known dish
Poulet Yassa is a spicy, lemon dish with chicken (poulet, in French) and carmelized onions served over rice. Originally Senegambian, Yassa has become popular throughout West Africa. Visitors to Senegal love Yassa – can’t get enough Yassa! It’s so good that we actually served this at our wedding rehearsal dinner!
Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces carefully. Cook until browned and juices run clear, about 15-20 minutes. Flip occasionally to keep from overcooking.
As chicken cooks, slice onions into thin “smiley faces”.
Once chicken is cooked, put it aside on a plate lined with paper towels.
Save 1/2 of the oil. Reduce heat to lowest setting. Add onions and sauté very slowly (2 hours absolute minimum) until caramelized and light yellow in color. Stir the onions every 15 minutes or so. If after 30 minutes they don’t look very different, you’ve probably got the heat on just right. At an hour they should just begin to be translucent. At two hours they should be floppy. Keep going! But don’t turn up the heat. The slower, the better. Really good Yassa needs at least six hours!
Once the onions are completely carmelized, add Dijon, lemon juice, bouillon, hot pepper, salt, and pepper. (This is where we add cooked, sliced carrots.) Turn up the heat to med-low. Let simmer for about an hour, stirring and tasting every 15 minutes until just how you want it.
Here’s a tasting guide:
- If too bland, add bouillon and Dijon
- If not too lemony, add just a bit more
- If not quite spicy enough, slowly add more pepper and hot pepper sauce
- If you have sauce Maggi, use it!
- some people add a few Tbsp vinegar and/or soy sauce
Add chicken 15 minutes before serving, or sooner if you want the meat to fall off the bones.
Serve over white rice and top with freshly sliced veggies.
Mafé, or sauce arachide
This recipe was inspired by three things:
1. Sauce arachide, a spicy peanut-based sauce made with chicken from Côte d’Ivoire, the country where I grew up. On special occasions it is served with a variety of toppings.
2. Mafé, a peanut-based sauce made with beef and carrots from Sénégal.
3. Our vegetarian friends coming for dinner.
In many African countries you may be served a variation of mafé or sauce arachide made without meat, sometimes adding greens in its place. I’m not a big fan of greens (but will happily accept recipe ideas to try) so decided to make a meatless version combining the best of both sauces, the delicious carrots from the mafé and the spiciness and toppings of the sauce arachide.
1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small can tomato paste
2-3 cups peanut butter
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
5 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp paprika
2-3 tsp Scotch bonnet hot sauce (to taste)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp oil
* If possible, use all-natural peanut butter without added sugar. Otherwose, you can certainly use ‘regular’ store-bought peanut butter. If you use crunchy, skip the additional peanuts.
These are optional. You don’t have to have all of them, but I really recommend the first five or six.
tart apple, chopped
red onion, chopped
green onion, chopped
green pepper, chopped
First, cook the carrots. Place them in a microwave-safe bowl and cover with water. Microwave on high for 4-5 minutes or until just tender. Set aside. Do not pour off the water.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook until onion is translucent and soft, stirring frequently. Lower heat to medium. Mix in tomato paste, then stir in 2 cups peanut butter. Add seasonings and carrots with the water. Add more water if needed to make a soup consistency. Let simmer on low, uncovered, 10 minutes. Taste and adjust if needed.
If too peanut buttery, add more tomato paste – and v.v.
If not enough flavor, add more ginger and hot sauce, maybe a little salt..
Serve over hot, white rice and add toppings. Get creative! Be sure to have more hot sauce on hand for people who like it with a kick.