Thursday, February 12, 2015

Africa Brings a Zing to Things

Traveling to Senegal has been on my bucket list since I was a little kid. My cousin Stephanie lives there, and I always dreamed of one day joining her in her work. Her husband is helping introduce a new species of sweet potato that has higher nutrition and is better for the soil. She facilitates adoptions and works as a psychologist. All my life everyone has called me Stephanie and told me that I look, dress, and act just like her. I have a lot to live up to if I ever want to be like my role model.


I really want to go visit Stephanie in Senegal now after tasting their delicious food and learning a little more about their unique and rich culture. Senegal gained its independence from France in 1960, and the French culture left a lasting impact. French is the official language still and is used by the government and in the school system. Wolof and several other regional languages are used by the people traditionally. Most of the population comes from the Wolof and Fula tribes. The Wolofs used to actually have their own country which makes up modern day Senegal and The Gambia. My little cousins Atticus and Ophelia's (Stephanie's kids) nanny is from the Wolof tribe. She speaks Wolof fluently as well as a couple of other languages other than French and English if I remember correctly. Atticus (and I'm sure Ophelia now too since she is 2) speaks French fluently.


Now let's talk about some good food! Over 92% of the country practices Islam, so the Senegalese people are not really pork eaters. Chicken and beef are popular, though, as well as fresh fish found along the coast. Yassa is a dish from Senegal that for obvious reasons is popular all over West Africa. (The obvious reasons being that it is absolutely delicious!) Poulet au Yassa is from the Casamance region of Senegal south of Dakar, and I decided to go with this version for my meal. Yassa itself is a dish made from onions and meat that are marinated in chilies and lemon juice. The onions are then cooked down into a rich sauce and then simmered in the marinade and the meat. Everything is then served over lots and lots of rice. Fish or beef can be used to make yassa, but chicken, or poulet, is the most traditional.

Poulet au Yassa
2 chicken leg and thigh quarters
3 onions, thinly sliced
½ cup lemon juice
1 tsp cayenne pepper powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 habanero or fresno chili pepper, chopped
1 bay leaf
4 tbsp oil
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
cooked rice, to serve

Mix together the chicken, onions, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, garlic, chili, and bay leaf in a large plastic bag. Toss to coat everything evenly in the marinade. Refrigerate overnight. Heat the oil over medium low heat in a large pot. Remove the onions from the marinade to the pot and cook for about an hour, stirring often to make sure they do not burn. Add the rest of the marinade, chicken, and carrot to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for an hour, or until the chicken registers 165 degrees on a thermometer. Serve the sauce and chicken over a plate of cooked rice.


Chicken + onion sauce= AMAZING!! Marinating the chicken in lemon juice allows it to be tender and moist. It practically falls off the bone. I thought the 1/2 cup of lemon juice would be too overpowering, but it was absolutely delicious. The rich onion sauce was not as spicy as I thought, but had enough of a kick to keep it flavorful. Served over a bed of rice to soak up all the juices, this meal left me licking the plate and craving more. Way to go Senegal! I now officially know I like the food all over Africa. From the north to the south to the east to the west and everything in between!


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