Thieboudienne: Traditional West African Fish and Rice Dish


Thieboudienne is the national dish of the West African country of Senegal. Made from scratch with fish, rice, tomato sauce and assorted veggies, it is a tasty and healthy meal that keeps a nation going. When I lived in Senegal, West Africa while I was volunteering in my early twenties, I was introduced to a local dish called Thieboudienne (pronounced “Djieboudjen”). 

Thieboudienne is considered Senegal’s “national dish,” and the people there (especially in the more rural, coastal areas like where I lived), eat a pretty steady diet of it.

It traditionally consists of fish (Grouper or Snapper usually), rice, tomato sauce and regional West African veggies such as carrots, sweet potatoes, cassava (yuca), eggplant, cabbage, okra, onion, garlic and hot peppers. 

It’s then seasoned with various other regional herbs and spices such as parsley, tamarind and a couple others that require a bit of an acquired taste. Specifically dried fish for flavouring and nététou or “sumbala”: a type of local seed that is fermented and gives off an odour and flavour that I liken to stinky feet… Not that I know what stinky feet taste like! Well, actually now I think I might.

But stinky feet aside, Thieboudienne is a hearty, healthy dish that keeps the Senegalese people going through good times and bad. And while the fermented seeds that taste like the inside of a gym bag are actually packed with nutrients, they’re not actually necessary to make this dish at home (thankfully).

Now, I don’t mean to offend anyone with the comment about nététou. Plenty of other people really enjoy it and I heard no complaints out of any of the other westerners I was with, so it could just be me. But I much prefer this dish without it, which works out because I can’t find nététou in local stores where I live anyway. Depending on where you live, you might be able to find it in specialty shops that sell African foods. But it ain’t here, so I omit it when it comes to my interpretation of the recipe.

Thieboudienne is the national dish of the West African country of Senegal. Made from scratch with fish, rice, tomato sauce and assorted veggies, it is a tasty and healthy meal that keeps a nation going. I also use jasmine rice instead of the traditional “broken rice” that is used in Senegal. 

What’s broken rice, you ask? It’s exactly what it sounds like: grains of rice that have been broken during the harvesting process and are then separated out from the long grains of rice, packaged and sold at a cheaper price to working class people in areas like West Africa and Southeast Asia. Broken rice is typically used because it is cheaper, but any non-sticky rice like jasmine or basmati will work well in this dish. 

For the fish, any white fish with firm flesh will work well, like grouper, snapper, hake, pike or tilapia. Whole fish with skin-on is the traditional way, but I use fillets and they work just fine. 

Thieboudienne is the national dish of the West African country of Senegal. Made from scratch with fish, rice, tomato sauce and assorted veggies, it is a tasty and healthy meal that keeps a nation going. The fish is stuffed with an herb mixture of parsley, garlic, salt and crushed hot pepper (I use chilli pepper flakes). Then it is fried and stewed with the vegetables in a broth seasoned with onions, garlic, tomato paste and tamarind paste (I use tamarind sauce because I couldn’t find paste where I live… Again, this is optional. If you can’t find tamarind at all just omit it).

The veggies are then removed and the rice is added and cooked in the broth. Once the rice is cooked, the fish and veggies are spooned overtop and the dish is typically served on a large, communal platter that everybody eats off of together.

It has been almost 10 years since I last ate this dish in Senegal, but when as I was writing about my time in Africa the other day, I suddenly had a hankering for some Thieboudienne. So I gathered the ingredients and made my own “westernized” version of the dish.

 

My interpretation of Thieboudienne

Thieboudienne is the national dish of the West African country of Senegal. Made from scratch with fish, rice, tomato sauce and assorted veggies, it is a tasty and healthy meal that keeps a nation going. As I said before, I used jasmine rice instead of broken rice, omitted some of the harder-to-get spices and veggies and used whatever I had on hand instead. For the veggies I used carrots, sweet potatoes, regular russet potatoes and cabbage. If you can’t get okra, you can use bell peppers although I omitted the peppers altogether because I didn’t have any on hand when I made this. And I used dried red chilli flakes instead of whole hot peppers and dried parsley instead of fresh for the same reason. 

I also used cod in this recipe because I love cod and I got a really good deal on it, but while it tasted really good, the flesh was too flaky to stew it the proper way without it falling apart. So I just added the fish to the dish once the rest was cooked and it still came out really nice.

I’m all about making do with what you have on hand, and this dish traditionally makes use of what the Senegalese people have on hand themselves. So don’t hesitate to add or omit certain ingredients depending on what you have easy access to. In general, any white fish will do along with some rice (or even couscous or quinoa), tomato paste, parsley, garlic, onion, cabbage and assorted root vegetables, plus some diced peppers if you’ve got ‘em.

Thieboudienne is the national dish of the West African country of Senegal. Made from scratch with fish, rice, tomato sauce and assorted veggies, it is a tasty and healthy meal that keeps a nation going. Start by blending or mashing up a mixture of parsley (fresh or dried), fresh garlic (or powdered if you don’t have fresh), salt and a few chilli flakes depending on how spicy you like it. If you use dry ingredients like dried parsley or garlic powder, add a little oil or water to the mixture for moisture. I use a mortar and pestle to mix my paste up but you can use a food processor if you like.

Then, either stuff the centre of your whole fish or cut a hole into the end of one of the fish fillets and then stuff each piece of fish with some of the parsley mixture. 

Thieboudienne is the national dish of the West African country of Senegal. Made from scratch with fish, rice, tomato sauce and assorted veggies, it is a tasty and healthy meal that keeps a nation going. Fry the fish to cook it (I use peanut oil in a cast iron skillet as peanut oil is traditionally used in West African cuisine do to its availability in the region). But any cooking oil will do fine.

Transfer the cooked fish to a plate and cover. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft. Then, add the tomato paste, dried chilli flakes and tamarind paste (if using) and stir over medium heat until well mixed.

Thieboudienne is the national dish of the West African country of Senegal. Made from scratch with fish, rice, tomato sauce and assorted veggies, it is a tasty and healthy meal that keeps a nation going. Transfer tomato paste mixture to a large pot and add 2 litres of water. Add veggies and fish and simmer on medium-high heat with the lid on for roughly 35-40 minutes (or until veggies are tender).

Thieboudienne is the national dish of the West African country of Senegal. Made from scratch with fish, rice, tomato sauce and assorted veggies, it is a tasty and healthy meal that keeps a nation going. Remove the veggies and fish with a slotted spoon and reserve them in a bowl or container. Measure out 4 cups of broth and pour remaining broth over veggies if desired (or discard). Transfer the 4 cups of broth back to the pot and add 2 cups of rice. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low and cover for 20 minutes.

Once rice is cooked, transfer to a large serving platter (or individual plates or bowls work fine;), top with fish and veggies, serve and enjoy!

Thieboudienne is the national dish of the West African country of Senegal. Made from scratch with fish, rice, tomato sauce and assorted veggies, it is a tasty and healthy meal that keeps a nation going. I was actually amazed at how easy it was to make this dish at home with familiar ingredients and how much it resembled the traditional dish in both look and taste. Feel free to play around with the ingredients to suit your own individual tastes. 

What about you? Have you ever tried West African cuisine before? What exotic recipes have you adapted to cook at home? I’m always looking for inspiration when it comes to food and there s so much inspiration to be found in other cultures. I’m always eager to learn more so don’t hesitate to share!

As-Salaam Alaikum:)

 

Thieboudienne: Traditional West African Fish and Rice Dish

Thieboudienne: Traditional West African Fish and Rice Dish

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 whole fish (gutted) or 2 medium fillets (any white fish with firm flesh will work, like grouper, snapper, pike, hake or tilapia. Flaky white fish like cod, bass or halibut work if needed but should be added at the end instead of stewed as it will break up).
  • 2 cups rice (broken rice, jasmine rice or basmati work best)
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • Tamarind paste or sauce (optional)
  • 1/4 cup Chopped fresh parsley (or 2 Tbsp. dried)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped and divided in two equal piles
  • 1 onion, diced
  • Half of a small green cabbage, cored and quartered
  • 2 large Carrots, cut in half lengthwise and then in half across the middle
  • Assorted root vegetable and other starchy veggies like potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, squash and/or eggplant, chopped into large chunks
  • Okra or bell peppers, roughly chopped
  • Whole hot peppers like scotch bonnets or habaneros or dried red chilli flakes (optional)
  • Salt
  • Cooking oil (peanut oil is traditional but any cooking oil will do)

Instructions

  1. Using a food processor or a mortar and pestle, blend or mash together parsley, 2 cloves of chopped garlic, ¼ tsp salt and ¼ tsp dried red chilli flakes if using. If using dried parsley, add a little oil or water to the mixture to add moisture
  2. Stuff each piece of fish with some of the parsley mixture and heat cooking oil in a pan over high heat. Fry the fish until cooked thoroughly and slightly browned not the outside. Transfer fish to a plate, cover and set aside.
  3. Add diced onion and remaining chopped garlic to the oil in the pan and cook on medium high until both are soft and translucent.
  4. Add tomato paste and tamarind paste/sauce if using. Cook, stirring non-stop, until well combined.
  5. Transfer tomato paste mixture to a large pot and add 2 litres of water. Stir well to combine.
  6. Add all chopped, prepared veggies plus whole hot peppers or more dried red chilli flakes if you want to add heat (add hot peppers at your discretion depending on how spicy you like it).
  7. Add fish to veggie/broth mixture and let stew on medium-high heat with the lid on for 35-40 minutes.
  8. Once veggies are tender, remove them from the broth with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl or container. Measure out 4 cups pf broth and discard remaining broth or pour over fish and veggies if desired. Transfer 4 cups of broth back to pot and add rice. Bring broth to a boil and then turn heat to low and let simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes.
  9. Once rice is cooked, transfer to a large platter or to individual plates or bowls, top with fish and veggies and serve immediately.

 

 

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HOMESTEADING
REAL FOOD
NATURAL LIVING

12 Comments

  1. Allie

    Are ya’ll really complaining about pronunciation and taking ingredients out? Lmao. Get a life Faye and Sam. Your hate is disgusting and you should be ashamed. This was GREAT Anna. thank you. I have a friend from Senegal and he loves this. Thank you for your recipe!

    Reply
  2. Tina

    Not Judging but I don’t know which region in Senegal did u go to but some of the ingredients Do NOT go with the recipe. Overall not bad.

    Reply
  3. tristin and malynda :)

    thanks hon, we have to bring a traditional sengal meal in for class and we’re really excited to make your recipe!!!

    Reply
    • tristin and malynda :0

      also, how many servings does this make? thanks!

      Reply
      • Anna Sakawsky

        Hi there,

        I’m trying to remember how many servings this makes! I believe we each got dinner and leftovers so I would say this particular recipe serves 4. Hope that helps!

        Reply
    • Abolaji Ibrahim

      Great Recipe from West Africa. I will surely try it out.

      Reply
  4. Sam

    Did you really think that your repeated mentions (and denigration) of nététou actually made your writing better? Wow. Talk about ignorance.

    Reply
    • Anna Sakawsky

      Hi Sam! Nope, I definitely didn’t mention nététou to make my writing better. Just to give my honest opinion of it. Like I said, many people really enjoy it. I personally prefer this dish without it, but that’s just what works for my palate. Feel free to add it or not:)

      Reply
      • Faye

        I agree with Sam.
        In addition to what Sam pointed out, you stated that to omit certain ingredients is okay because it tastes the same. This is a complete lie! You are also pronouncing it wrong.
        You should write about what you know about.

        Reply
        • Anna Sakawsky

          Hi Faye,

          Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure how it is a lie to say you can omit certain ingredients if you’d prefer not to have them or are unable to find them where you live. Obviously it’s preferable to always use authentic ingredients in cultural dishes, but it’s not always possible. I get a lot of heat for my family’s perogy recipe too (and we are Ukrainian, so this very much is my heritage), because I use cheddar cheese and some people say that is not authentic because it’s not what they use in the Ukraine. However, where I live in Canada, and where any of my readers live across rural America, it’s difficult if not impossible to source all of the authentic ingredients that would traditionally go in a cultural dish, so I’ve tried to make this approachable and accommodating for anyone who needs to find substitutes, since I myself had to find substitutes and do a lot of research to figure out what would work instead of certain traditional ingredients that I wouldn’t find where I live.

          You’re right to assume that this definitely is not in my wheelhouse, as you’ve probably noticed from the other recipes I publish here! But I wanted to include it here as this is also where I store and share the recipes I make for my own reference and for family and friends who want to try them out. I shared this recipe many years ago now, but I don’t feel I should have to delete it simply because a few strangers don’t like that I published it.

          As for the pronunciation, this is how it was pronounced where I lived in Joal-Fadiouth. Not sure if there’s a different pronunciation elsewhere in Senegal, but I’d be happy for you to share what you know to be the correct pronunciation! I also get a lot of heat for my perogies recipe because I call the perogies and that’s the Polish way to say it, but Im Ukrainian and we say “perogies” in my family and in our local Ukrainian community. All of this to say, at the end of the day, I’m just trying to make and share good food:)

          Reply
      • Lianne

        Hi Anna,
        I agree with others. It’s really ridiculous to are when we as foreigners in America constantly come up with variations of our native dishes when living abroad due to lack of resources. Sometimes even on our own countries their are variations based on personal/regional preferences. That being said you can use Asian fish sauce as a replacement for sambala.

        Wa alaikum salam

        Reply
    • tristin and malynda >:/

      leave anna alone! she’s trying her best to make you good food m8.

      Reply

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But on the other hand, it marks the end of an era, and of this publication that I’ve absolutely had the pleasure of creating and sharing with you.

If you’re a digital subscriber, you will not be charged a renewal fee going forward, and will continue to have access to the digital library until your subscription runs out. As part of your subscription, you’re able to download and/or print each issue of you like, so that you never lose access to the hundreds of articles and vast amount of information in each issue.

Rather than subscribing, you can now purchase an all-access pass for a one-time fee of just $20, which gives you access to our entire digital library of issues.

Plus, for a limited time, when you purchase an all-access pass you’ll also get a gift certificate for a second all-access pass to gift to someone else.

I’m also still taking preorders for the print version of this special edition issue, but only for a few more weeks!

When you preorder the print issue, you’ll also get a digital copy of the special edition issue (this issue only), and will receive a print copy in the mail later this year (hopefully by Christmas so long as there are no shipping delays!)

Click the link in my profile or visit modernhomesteadingmagazine.com to check out the latest issue, purchase an all-access pass to the digital library and/or preorder the print issue today!

Thanks to everyone who has read the magazine over the past 4 years. I’m humbled and grateful for your support, and can’t wait to share whatever comes next:)

#modernhomesteading #homesteading #homesteadersofinstagram
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It’s easy to romanticize homesteading, but the truth is that those homegrown vegetables, those freshly laid eggs, that loaf of bread rising on the counter, and that pantry full of home-canned food takes time, effort and dedication. It doesn’t “just happen” overnight!

But if you work on learning one new skill at a time and gain confidence in it before moving onto the next, one day you’ll be looking back and marvelling at how far you’ve come.

That’s where I’m at now. Life today looks a lot different than it did 10 years ago, when our homesteading and self-reliance journey was just beginning.

Back then we still lived in our city condo and were just beginning to dabble in all of this stuff. But my husband Ryan and I felt a sense urgency to start pursuing a more self-reliant lifestyle, and we committed to taking small steps, one day at a time to make that vision a reality.

Over the years we’ve continued to put one foot in front of the other, adding new skills and tackling new projects along the way that have helped us get to where we are today.

While there’s always more we want to learn and do, as I look around me right now, I’m so grateful that we took those first steps, especially considering what’s happened in the world over the past few years!

If you’re also feeling the urgency to take the first (or next) steps toward a more self-reliant life, this is your final reminder that today is the last day to join The Society of Self-Reliance and start levelling up your homesteading and self-sufficiency skills so that you’ve got what it takes to:

• Grow your own groceries
• Stock your pantry
• Create a natural home
• Get prepared
• Learn other important life skills like time management for homesteaders, goal setting and how to become your own handyman

And more!

If you’ve been feeling called to level up your self-reliance skills (because let’s be honest, we’re in for a wild ride these next few years with everything going on in the world), now is the time to heed that call.

Link in profile to enroll before midnight tonight, or go to thehouseandhomestead.com/society

#homesteading #selfreliance #selfsufficiency #homesteadingskills #preparedness
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