Let the Good Times Roll, Senegal-Style
With Valentine’s Day coming up, love is on all of our minds—whether we admit it or not. But as February 14th approaches, we don’t have to limit ourselves to celebrating romantic, candlelit, strolling-under-the-moonlight love. We can love a tradition, a family, or even a cuisine.
Yolele!, Chef Pierre Thiam's book celebrating recipes from the heart of Senegal, exudes such a sense of love. Love for a country, love for a culture, and, most of all, love for food. Pierre was born and raised in Senegal, and his passion for his homeland shines through all of his recipes.
Before reading Yolélé! I would not have recognized Senegalese cuisine if it had jumped onto the plate in front of me and slapped me across the face. Leafing through the recipes, I kind of wish that it had. The dishes are unexpected and intriguing, yet each seems to make perfect sense.
Senegal is a sort of cultural crossroads due to the multitude of traders and colonizers who passed through over the ages. Therefore, its cuisine is a cross between West African, Portuguese, Vietnamese, and French, while simultaneously showcasing native ingredients such as rice, okra, and avocadoes. The produce is always fresh and seasonal. Senegalese people have also learned how to highlight the flavor of local ingredients and harmonize them to create unique dishes. Trendy locavore restaurants should take note, they just might learn a thing or two from everyday Senegalese cooking.
Fluent in Portuguese Creole, French, and Wolof (Senegal’s native language), Pierre’s own childhood was also a sort of cultural milieu. Add in influence from Tonton Jean, his uncle from Vietnam, and you’ve got a cookbook that defines “fusion” cuisine. Though you don’t have to wait in line three hours to try it.
The flavors are exotic and refined, yet also supremely familiar. Shrimp and Sweet Potato Fritters are like the best latke you’ve ever had, made better with crispy shrimp and rich sweet potato.
And Roasted Mango and Coconut Rice Pudding is a refreshing take on the classic comfort food, with the exotic addition seared mango and sweet honey.
In a town where everything has been done before, Pierre Thiam is offering something new: an authentic taste of Senegal. And you've got to try these dishes for yourself to believe them. You might just find yourself saying Yolélé!
at the dinner table...
by Catherine Lamb, intern, student, food-obsessor. Check out her blog at http://lamericainegourmande.wordpress.com/