Chapter 6: A Taste of Senegal

Considering November contains a holiday where the main event is eating a
meal with one’s family, I thought it is only fair I focus on the sense of
taste this month.
When brainstorming for this blog, I realized how difficult it is to capture
taste through words on a paper. If someone wants to put me in contact with
a food critic to learn from, I will happily practice and re-write the blog
for you. Until then, I thought it would be better if I simply brought the
taste to you. No, I haven’t discovered the technology for food replicators
like those in Star Trek, but I have done my best to write down the recipe
for my favorite Senegalese dish, Fearee. (spelled as it sounds)

Disclaimer: I did have to estimate the measurements, so bare with me if it
is off by a bit. The meal should be eaten with fresh Trachurus trecae fish,
but feel free to substitute chicken or another type of fish. Simply skip
the descaling part and do everything else. Furthermore, meals here are
eaten from a communal bowl (as pictured above). In the last step I refer to
preparing the bowl, but you may make individual plates as well.

Ingredients:(makes enough for 4 or 5)
1) 3 fresh fish
2) 2.5 lbs Onion
3) Fresh head of lettuce
4) Two fresh tomatoes, a cucumber, and two green peppers (1 large, 1 small)
5) ¼ cup Dijon Mustard
6) 1 tablespoon vinegar
7) ½ – ⅔ tablespoon Red pepper flakes (the hot stuff), 2 tablespoons black
pepper, 1 head garlic, 5-6 shallots
8) 3 eggs
9) 1 Baguette
10) 3-4 Large potatoes
1. Make fries: Peel the potatoes. Then slice into fry shaped sticks. In a
wide pot heat cooking oil to a simmer. There should be enough to cover the
fries. Once at a simmer add your slices potatoes and a touch of salt and
the vinegar. Cook until they turn a golden brown. Place aside for later.
Congrats you have now made fries! To all my college friends, you’re
welcome. You can now work at the local Five Guys.

2. Cook the Fish: After descaling and degutting the fish (or unwrapping
the chicken from its packaging) make deep cuts into both sides of the fish
going perpendicular to the direction of the scales (aka short ways). There
should be no more than 1.5 cm between each insertion. (Do the same with the
chicken breast.) In the same oil you just made the fries, fry the fish
(reheating the oil to a simmer). The meat should be fully cooked, crispy on
the outside, and easy to pull off the bone. Put aside.

3. Making the onion sauce:

A) Chop onions into small centimeter sized pieces. Put aside in a bowl.
B) Now, in Senegal the following is done using a “kur and guñ”.
However, a food processor will suffice. Ground a healthy 2 tablespoons of
black pepper, place in food processor, add ½ to ⅔ tablespoon of red pepper
flakes, add the cloves of garlic, add the 5-6 shallots, and a small green
pepper. Process until a paste forms. In Senegal “Kadi” seasoning would also
be added, which I believe is a dried and condensed form of the paste you
just made. We will disregard that step for lack of known substitute.
C)Add paste to the bowl of onions along with ¼ cup of dijion mustard.
D)Sauté onions.

4.Boil eggs and peel. Cut in halves

5. Cut tomatoes, cucumber, and remaining green pepper into round slices.
Sprinkle vinegar (may I suggest balsamic) over the vegetables

6. Preparing the bowl: Cut the baguette into slices, put in a bread basket.
Now wash the lettuce. Cover the bottom of the large bowl or plate with the
leafs of lettuce. Place fish in the middle, fries in piles around the edges
of the plate, and scatter raw veggies and halved eggs. Finally spread the
onion sauce over everything. Eat using the bread!

Politics of the bowl:
If you do decide to eat Senegal style from a large communal bowl, I thought
it would be best if I share with you some basic Senegalese dining manners.
1) It is impolite to reach across the bowl for food. You must stick to what
is right in front of you, but if you’d like that cassava across the way you
are allowed to ask the person to pass you some.
2) You can only eat with your right hand!
3) Now every family is different, but in traditional manners, if the man is
eating at the same bowl as the women, he should get first dibs on the meat.
He will also get the most meat.
4) As a guest, one does not typically reach into the middle for the fish or
various vegetables found there. It is typical that the guest sticks with
the rice in front of them and waits to be passed the goodies by either the
woman who cooked the meal (usually the mom) or, in my case for the first
month, my little sister.
5) When you finish, the remaining people at the bowl will be insistent that
you continue to eat. All you need to do is insist back that you are full
but the meal was delicious.

Guide to eating with your hands:
Although you will find more and more Senegalese people eating with spoons,
it is still cultural to eat food using your hands directly. I highly
recommend putting down the spoon and attempting it. It will be quite
comical at first, but I have actually found it fun in the end. For the meal
above you have the bread and lettuce instead of rice which makes it easy.
The following is directions for the typical rice dish.
1) Wash your hands thoroughly. I don’t know what you have been touching!
2) Take a good sized clump of rice, it should fill the middle of your palm.
Remember you should be using your right hand!
3) Add in any small bits of meat or veggies you’d like
4) Alternate between rolling the rice in your palm like play-dough and
squeezing it
5)You should form a nice compact oval shaped ball.
6) Move it to the edge of your fingers and pop it into your mouth!