Senegal: One man's fish is another man's poisson
The inevitable has finally happened. After blissfully ignoring it as we enjoyed Christmas parties, cozy moments with our loved ones, and getting distracted by the glittering streetlamps and alluring store windows, winter crept insidiously up on us and announced its arrival with a fanfare of snowstorms and 1000 mph winds. In all fairness, while it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel (or even past your multiple layers of scarves and hats), winter doesn’t always totally suck. It does, after all, provide the perfect excuse to stay in, cuddle up, and binge-watch documentaries about serial killers (or maybe that’s just us…). In any case, it even provides the prime opportunity for you to finally test out all those new “adulty” kitchen tools you got for Christmas, on some epic new recipes from faraway (and far sunnier) places!
Our latest Kryddhyllan guest Pepe, hails from the sunny, coastal, West African country of Senegal, or should we say “Sunu gaal” – which translates roughly to “our boats”! The country’s bustling port city of Dakar is one of Africa’s most cosmopolitan, and with its stunning beaches, vibrant culture and love of sheep, the city attracts hordes of visitors from all walks of life. Sheep? Yep – on Sundays, shepherds bring their sheep down to the beaches for a fun-filled day of TLC, including manis, pedis and a swim. Did we mention that Akon spent his childhood years here? If that isn’t enough to get you to book a trip, well, hold on one sec! We haven’t gotten to the food yet! Senegalese cuisine takes inspiration from North African, Portuguese, and French cuisines. Because of its geographic proximity AKA it being right next to the Atlantic Ocean, fish is an important staple in Senegalese cooking, so when Pepe greeted us at the local Hemköp, we headed straight for the seafood section to pick out the catch of the day. The rest is, as you say, history! So without further ado, we present to you: THE dish you need to make this weekend, if you’re looking to immediately transport yourself to the dazzling, sheep-filled beaches of Dakar.
Yassa (aka fish cooked with garlic, onion, and rice)
Enjoy with: Fruit juice, such as bissap, ginger, bouye or mango
Listen to: Amadou & Miriam or Youssou N’Dour. Akon is also from Senegal, but might not evoke quite the same Senegalese vibes for your cooking session!
Serves 4-5 people
500 g basmati rice
Water (twice as much as volume of rice)
A whole perch (cleaned out) - about 1 kg
2 whole garlics
1 red bell pepper
2 red habaneros
5 yellow onions
3 bouillon cubes (2 chicken, 1 vegetable) - preferably Maggi (for the true African experience)
1,5 tsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
About 1 dl vegetable oil
300g of fresh shrimps (with shell left on)
Heat oven to 180 degrees celsius (grill setting)
Pour rice into a pot and cover with twice as much water and set aside (this will make the rice easier to cook later)
Rinse the fish and make sure to scrape of any leftover scales. Cut off the fins.
Cut a few large lines on each side of the fish
Peel the garlic and press all the cloves into a bowl
Rinse the bell pepper and slice lengthwise into half-moon shapes
Rince habaneros and split down the middle. Remove some of the seeds (the more seeds you remove the less spicy it will be - adjust accordingly!
Peel the onions and cut down the middle, then slice thinly into semi-circles.
Use your hands to pulverize one of the bouillon cubes into the pressed garlic. Mix together and press some of it into the slices in the fish
Drizzle some olive oil over the fish and put in on a foiled oven tray. Put into the oven.
Put all the onions into a large bowl together with the leftover garlic mix. Add salt and pepper.
Cut one of the lemons and squeeze the juice into the onion mixture. Add mustard and mix.
Add some vinegar to the onions as well.
In a large skillet, start frying the onion mixture on high heat (in some oil). Cook for a few minutes while stirring
Pour some water into the bowl you had the onions in for later use
Add another bouillon cube into the pan (crumble using your hands) and mix together.
Add some garlic powder and paprika. As soon as the onion turns translucent, add in half of the habaneros.
Increase the oven temperature to 200 for the fish to cook faster
Add the water from the bowl you used for the onions into the pan and let simmer
Take out the habaneros (in order for it not to get too spicy)
Take out the fish once it has cooked for a total of about 15-20 minutes.
Pour over the onion blend and habaneros on the fish. Pour some water into the frying pan and mix and then pour over the fish as well (to really preserve all the flavours).
Spread shrimps over the over tray as well and put back into oven.
Rinse the rise a few times, until the water runs more clear.
Put the rice pot on medium-high heat with a lid.
After about 5 minutes lower the oven temperature to 50 degrees (if not possible, the lowest temperature will do)
Add 2 tbsp of olive oil and boil the rice for about 5 minutes with a lid on.
After another 5-10 minutes (you need to taste when the rice is done), lower the heat and serve the rice in a large serving dish
Put the fish and onion over the rice. Ready to serve and enjoy, preferably without cutlery!
Kryddhyllan: What is your favorite food from Senegal?
Pepe: Rice with meat. Jollof rice. That’s my favorite, my mom makes it for me whenever I’m feeling down, she knows it will make me feel better.
Kryddhyllan: So it’s food that’s good for the heart and soul. And tummy!
Pepe: And the tummy too!
Kryddhyllan: Why is it your favorite food?
Pepe: It’s just the way the rice is cooked, all the flavors in the one.
Kryddhyllan: What brought you to Sweden?
Pepe: I came to Sweden when I was five or six. My mom came here first, she came here because of her sister who lived here who had complications during her pregnancy. She didn’t have a babysitter, so my mom decided to come here and help out. So she came here and liked it and decided to stay, and went back to Senegal to pick us up. The initial plan wasn’t that I would come too, because my father and her were divorced. So she had to sort of negotiate for me to join her. I’m the first born.
Kryddhyllan: Wow, what a journey! And since living here, what’s become your absolute favorite Swedish food?
Pepe: Hmm….korv stroganoff.
Kryddhyllan: Oh man, seriously?
Pepe: Yes, I love it! I remember when I was little and we would get korv stroganoff for lunch. It didn’t matter if I was sick, I would come to school. Just like “no, no I’m fine!”, then I’d stay home the next day. That and lasagna. *laughs
Kryddhyllan: Now you were pretty young when you came to Sweden, but had your mom told you anything about Swedish food before you moved? Did you know anything about it?
Pepe: Nope, not a thing.
Kryddhyllan: What did you think was the best and worst things about Swedish food?
Pepe: Hmmm, the best thing… what could that be? Is there any ‘best’ thing about Swedish food?
Kryddhyllan: Come on! What about the least bad thing?
Pepe: I mean I wouldn’t say that Swedish has such a “rich” food culture, but I’d say that this is a good thing in that they’re influenced by other food cultures, and take certain things from here and there.
Kryddhyllan: Like kebab pizza.
Pepe: Exactly! But I will say that I really like blood pudding and kroppkakor.
Kryddhyllan: Blood pudding, does that come from having it at school a lot?
Pepe: That and it’s made from blood, I was like “I have to try this!”
Goncalo: Then you have to try blood sausages from Spain!
Pepe: If they’re like blood pudding then yes.
Kryddhyllan: And if you had to pick one type of food to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
Pepe: Hmmm, sushi.
Kryddhyllan: That’s so surprising, we were expecting jollof or – but sushi, why’s that?
Pepe: I mean, it’s a dish that I can – well say that it’s Christmastime from the 24th to the 1st, there’s so much food and you just feel bleh. But with sushi, you feel pretty full, but not gross and tired. You always feel good after sushi, it feels healthy.
Kryddhyllan: It’s true. In sushi you can rely. And a bit of a spicier question (pun intended). If you had to pick a spice or a mineral, to flavor your food for the rest of your life, which would it be?
Pepe: Wait, it has to be a spice?
Kryddhyllan: Well some people have said lemons, basically just a flavor-enhancer.
Pepe: Then it would be something spicy. I need to have chili. I’m sorry but I need it!
Kryddhyllan: No need to apologize! What’s the best meal you’ve ever had? In your whole life?
Pepe: Hm… I’d say a steak. A big plank steak with potato wedges and béarnaise sauce. Agh, it’s heavenly.
Kryddhyllan: Any particular place?
Pepe: Nope, as long as the steak is medium-rare. I last had it at TGIF, it was so good.
Kryddhyllan: Yum. And what would you say is your favorite restaurant at the moment?
Pepe: Vapiano *laughs. No, I mean I eat almost everything, but I do really like Vapiano.
Goncalo: But I mean… what if you were to move from Stockholm and you were about to have your “last meal” so to speak, what would you choose?
Pepe: Well in that case, I’d choose a Chinese buffet. Or an Asian buffet. Something with sushi and everything. Like Pong. You can just gorge on everything and then just leave. The funny thing is is that you’re always hungry an hour later. Doesn’t matter how much you ate, have you ever noticed that? I don’t know if it’s something in the food.
Kryddhyllan: MSG? No we kid. It’s true, you’re dying a few seconds afterwards, but then you’re ready to eat an hour later.
Pepe: No, you’re not doing too well right afterwards, but give it an hour and you’re all set.
Kryddhyllan: Buffets always result in some really weird combinations.
Pepe: It’s true, but always delicious.
Kryddhyllan: Well, those were all the questions!
Pepe: That’s it?!
Kryddhyllan: Well, you had some great answers, short and concise.
Pepe: What can I say, I love food and food loves me.
Kryddhyllan: It’s a shared passion!
Pepe: Just like cooking. And I love cooking together with my partner, it gives so much. My mom used to always say that.
Kryddhyllan: Do you guys have an easy time cooking together? Sometimes it’s easy for one person to get a little bit control freak in the kitchen, like “you’re doing it wrong!”
Pepe: That’s what’s so nice! You learn to cooperate and collaborate. I mean think about it: one day you’ll leave this guy alone with your kids. So it’s important that you learn to trust one another and believe in one another’s abilities. You build trust and confidence in one another, and love. I once asked my grandma “how do you know that grandpa loves you?” and she replied “it’s when he gives the last piece of food to me, that’s love”. So I always try not to take the last piece! *laughs.
Kryddhyllan: It’s true, you’re truly creating something together when you cook.
Pepe: Absolutely, think about how much more boring it is to cook something just by yourself, for yourself.
Kryddhyllan: Then you usually just end up having cereal or something.
Pepe: 100%. Another important thing is that you fail in the kitchen sometimes, because you live and learn from those mistakes. I remember when I first cooked a meal for my mom, I’ll never forget how she sat next to me the entire time at the kitchen table. And the kitchen was absolute chaos when I was finished. And when I presented her with the food she said “I can’t eat this. I’ve been watching you cook for an hour and the way you prepare food is so disgusting that I’ve lost my appetite!”. I was so sad, but at the same time, it really helped me to realize that I need to keep the space around clean as I prepare the food. I’ll never forget that life lesson, it’s not just how to present the food, it’s how you maintain the kitchen as you’re preparing the meal.
Kryddhyllan: She was all about tidiness!
Pepe: Absolutely, she told me that nobody will want to eat my food if I didn’t keep things clean. It was total chaos, but I learned my lesson!
Kryddhyllan: What had you cooked?
Pepe: I think it was chicken. It was an African chicken dish. In Senegal I usually joke around that I see so many dogs walking around free, but never chickens. We love chicken in Africa.