Who’s the best cook? My Senegalese host mom, my UWC school’s Norwegian cook, or me as a Palestinian? – Some recipes included!

Abdallah Salha - Senegal


December 11, 2019

Menu

Starters to think about:

  1. Eating with your hand or a spoon is equally nice to eating with a fork and a knife!
  2. Eating foreign food for the first time is weird, but you get to the point of appreciating and missing it!
  3. Different cultures have their own creative ways of cooking and serving different foods!

 

Entrées and recipes:

Some Americans from my Senegal Cohort tend to crave for pizza and burgers a lot, which is understandable by knowing the fact that they like to seek refuge back to their culture and comfort zone. I also do the same because of the variations of rice and fish that are there for lunch almost every day. This makes me remember happy meals in Palestine where you could never predict what is for lunch with such high certainty. Thankfully, I’m not going through the same experiences as other friends who have Ceeb bu Jin (the national Senegalese dish) every day for lunch.

Ceeb bu jin bu weex (White rice and fish) is cooked in two stages. First, the rice is cooked and then left to cool down as the fish is being cooked with other vegetables like eggplant (aubergine), carrots, pumpkin, cabbage and a garlic-looking eggplant-tasting plant.

Unlike ceeb bu jin bu weex, ceeb bu jin bu xonq (red rice and fish) is the same dish but the rice is cooked in tomato sauce. Both are delicious! I just tend to like the white one more; they tend to serve it with bisap “hibiscus” sauce. Nice and a little bit sour. The sauce is cooked in a closed plastic bag inside the pot where fish is being cooked with other vegetables. The Bisap is usually cooked with Kanya (okra) and they form a nice flavor as they’re smashed together with lemon juice and salt!

Ceeb bu jin bu xonq

As good as Ceeb bu Jin is, something else beats it! The dish that I really like and don’t mind having for lunch or dinner is Dexeen; sautéed beef pieces cooked with rice in a mixed sauce of peanuts and tomatoes. Smashed peanuts and chili powder are also added for the flavor. A dish that is relatively similar is Mbaxal (same concept but without peanuts), good for those who are allergic to peanuts.

Stages of cooking Dexeen:

  • Sauté 2 cube-chopped onions, add beef pieces to them, and stir together.
  • Add the peanut sauce, the tomato sauce, salt, pepper, and chili powder.
  • Add the rice.
  • Add boiling water, stir together and let them cook on low fire/heat.
  • Serve with extra chili powder on the side!

This is what Dexeen looks like!

And this is what Mbaxal looks like!

For Norway, I’ll only talk about the food I ate at UWC. Sadly, it wasn’t a nice idea to fit everyone from all over the world to the lowest level of spice-handling people – usually it is the Europeans who suffocate over only pepper. My Palestinian mother and Senegalese host mother every time I told them about UWC food, they and the two countries and continents they come from have agreed that you can NEVER fix food by sprinkling spices on it after it’s already cooked and served. I always remembered my grandmother in Palestine (RIP) saying, “If you don’t like the food, hold your nose and EAT!” I did this most of the time at UWC, but I vividly remember doing it while eating the white-looking, fluffy, un-spiced boiled cod that was served once every two weeks.

I wouldn’t go further because I wouldn’t do any better if I was a cook, but I’d like to show off some of my dishes. It took me more than a few hours to cook a meal, but it was definitely worth it every time I had something from back home for dinner! I’ll give the credit to my sister who shared her recipes with me – Thanks, Amany! However, it’s uncommon in Senegal to have an oven at home, only stoves. That’s why I couldn’t cook the baked chicken served with basmati rice, sadly. However, I’ll share the recipe with you!

  • (SECRET) MARINATE the chicken in salt, pepper, sumac, olive oil, vinegar, and Palestinian/Levantine chicken and shawarma spice mixes for a minimum of three hours (unlike in Norway 😊).
  • Chop 2 onions into cubes, add salt and pepper, and squeeze them with your hand for a minute so they’d cook faster.
  • Stuff the chicken with the onion mix, cover with aluminum foil and bake them on 90 degrees for 1.5 hours.
  • Boil almonds for five minutes, peel them, fry them until color changes to dark golden, and leave to cool down.
  • Use the chicken broth to cook the rice and then grill the chicken for another 3-5 minutes with the oven fan on.
  • Serve the chicken with the rice on the side, sprinkle the fried almonds on the top. Goes well with Greek yogurt to kill the heat of the spices!


I cooked this recipe for grilled chicken on the last day I was staying with my host mom in Norway, but I cooked my sister’s version of Chicken Biryani more often as it was my favorite foreign dish while in Palestine.

Recipe for my Chicken Biryani:

  • Boil the chicken in water and add salt, pepper, ginger, and cardamom for half an hour.
  • In a separate pot, Chop 4 onions and 2 jalapeños into cubes and sauté them in olive oil
  • Add ginger, cardamom, pepper, salt, biryani spices, tomato puree, chili powder, and yogurt.
  • Take 3 scoops of the chicken broth and add them to the spice mix.
  • Place the chicken face down on the spice mix and let them cook together without stirring.
  • Cook the rice with the rest of the chicken broth. Add salt, pepper, and biryani spices.
  • Meanwhile, boil, peel and fry almonds.
  • In the pot where the chicken is placed facedown, scoop the rice over the chicken mix and leave them for five minutes on low heat.
  • Flip the whole mix as you mix maklouba!
  • Sprinkle the almonds on the top like a pro and serve hot with yogurt!

Enjoy, Bon appétit, Na rees ak jamm (Wolof for digest with peace), Sahhah w afyah (Palestinian Arabic for Health and verdure)!

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Abdallah Salha