The author, Wilbert Jones, traveled to Senegal as part of a Nando’s Chickenland Inc.-sponsored humanitarian mission to distribute mosquito netting in Africa. Jones explored the local cuisine, including working with the Senegalese in preparing native dishes.--Eds.

The West African country, Senegal, has a style of cooking (a.k.a. Senegalese cuisine) that is as diverse as the 12 million people who live in this former, French-colonized, Atlantic-coastal country.

The French, Portuguese and several African tribal groups have played an important role in defining Senegalese cuisine. Many signature recipes and food products use much fish, seafood and groundnuts (peanuts) to make stews and soups. Fruits are used not only for desserts, but also for beverages, which are locally produced by manufacturers and street vendors.

More than 90% of Senegal’s population is Muslim. Therefore, pork is not eaten, and alcohol is forbidden.  A typical Senegalese breakfast consists of porridge with milk, mild tea and some French bread (baguettes) with butter. Lunch is usually a rice dish, served with fish, seafood or an assortment of stewed vegetables. Fruit beverages are consumed during lunch and dinner. Three popular ones are mangos, watermelon and monkey bread, a fruit that comes from the Baobab tree. This tree is grown in hot, dry areas of western and southern Africa and Madagascar. It is considered one of the most fascinating and unusual trees in the world. It can grow up to 60ft tall and 50ft around and can live up to 3,000 years; many of the trees in western Africa have been alive since the Roman Empire ruled Europe.

The monkey bread fruit has pods on the inside and is filled with seeds that grow into cotton candy-like pulp. This pulp tastes like melon and is used to flavor beverages. The fruit also has one of the highest concentrations of vitamin C of any plant on earth. The leaves of the Baobab tree are eaten as a vegetable (fresh, or in the form of a dried powder). The seeds of the pods are used as a thickener for soups, similar to theegusiseeds (melon seeds) used in many African stews and soups. The fruit pulp from the Baobab tree also can be dried out and coated with sugar and red food coloring to create a sweet and slight tangy candy that is packaged and sold in local Senegalese grocery markets and street vendors.

Recently, the E.U. moved one step closer to obtaining approval to use the Baobab tree fruit pulp as a food ingredient among its 27 countries. Soon, manufacturers within the E.U. may start producing cereal bars and shelf-stable smoothies containing the highly concentrated vitamin C pulp.

Stews of Senegal

Stews (one-pot meals) are very popular throughout Senegal. They are usually served over rice or eaten withfufu, which has a porridge-like texture and is made of ground rice, milk, water, butter and salt.Fufuis cooked in a pan over a fire. Vegetable flours, such as black-eyed pea flour, can be substituted for the ground rice used to makefufu.

For over 100 years, the Raymond-Hadley Corp. has supplied the world with many West African and Caribbean food products. The Pride of Africa brand of Black Eye Pea Flour (packaged in 24oz bags) is one of the company’s leading products; it is made in West Africa and packaged in America. The flour is also a great alternative to wheat flour--especially for making savory fritter batters and seafood or fish batters.

In Senegal, groundnut stew is very popular. In most households, it is not uncommon to have this dish several times a week. Groundnut stew is made of chopped chicken, onions, tomatoes, tomato paste (or a tomato powder concentrate), dried ground shrimp, garlic, okra and unsweetened peanut butter.

Four years ago, Madieye and Awa Gueye opened the first Senegalese restaurant in Chicago, Yassa African Restaurant. The couple are members of the Wolof tribe (Senegal’s largest), and this has influenced the ingredients and cooking techniques employed at the restaurant, as well as the menu. Some of the signature dishes includemaffe(cubes of lamb, cooked in creamy peanut butter, tomato sauce, potatoes, carrots and yams--served over cooked rice). Also, Yassa Fish (whole tilapia, marinated in the refrigerator overnight in lemon and the chefs’ signature mixture of spices). After marinating overnight, the fish is grilled, then placed in a saucepan and cooked with onions, carrots, cabbage and a mustard sauce; it is served over cooked rice.Thiebu djeunis the national dish of Senegal. It consists of fried fish that is stuffed with a mixture of herbs, then cooked in a tomato sauce and served over cooked rice.

Esther Ovbiebo-Tongo is the owner of Esther’s Authentic Foods and manufacturer of the Original Authentic African Stews brands. There is an original flavor (packaged in 16oz and 8oz jars) and a mild flavor, containing less hot pepper (also in 16oz and 8oz jars). Both products are made with West African-influenced ingredients—tomatoes, peppers, onions and a mixture of spices. They can be used as bases for beans and potato dishes or as a condiment for appetizers such as bread sticks, fried chicken wings or crab cakes.

Street vendors can be found on almost every corner in Senegal’s capital city of Dakar; they sell practically everything consumers use daily. However, the food vendors draw the largest crowds, especially during lunchtime. Popular food items are fried plantains, yam balls (shredded white yams, minced onions, tomatoes, thyme, green onions, garlic, eggs, salt and black pepper, rolled into small balls and deep fried in peanut oil),akkras(cooked, mashed black-eyed peas, chopped onions and red chili peppers, rolled into small balls and deep fried in peanut oil) and grilled seafood or chicken kabobs (marinated in a peanut sauce, overnight, before grilling).

1: Senegal, located on the west coast of Africa and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, features seafood in a number of dishes.

Like most African countries (especially in rural areas), dessert is not a part of most meals, but reserved for special occasions, such as weddings and holidays. Although fruits are eaten at the end of most Senegalese lunches and dinners, they are not considered desserts. Fruits are fresh, plentiful and cheap in Senegal. Watermelon, mangos and guavas are popular. In most large African towns and cities, the European country that originally colonized the area has strongly influenced traditional local cuisine. For example, in Dakar, there are many French-inclined bakeries and cafes that sell the same foods (including desserts) found in Paris or Lyon, France. These include banana crepes, fruit tarts, chocolate croissants, coconut puddings and other items.