International Cooking: Food from Djibouti

Djibouti is a small country located in Northeast Africa, across the sea from Yemen. It has likely been inhabited since the Stone Age, and the region is thought to have been a primary crossing point for early humans traveling between East Africa and South/Southeast Asia.

Together with neighboring countries Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia, Djibouti was once a part of the Land of Punt. This kingdom is known from Ancient Egyptian trade records, and it produced and exported gold, aromatic resins, blackwood, ebony, ivory, and wild animals.

The territory was colonized by the French in 1883, and underwent a few structural and name changes before Djibouti became independent in 1977. French is still one of the country’s official languages, along with Arabic.

Today, Djibouti serves as a key refueling and transshipment center due to its location near some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. It is also the site of various foreign military bases.

What Do People Eat in Djibouti?

Upon researching the food of Djibouti, it seems to me that there are some Middle Eastern and Indian influences, mostly apparent in the wide range of spices that appear in many dishes. Dishes are quite often spicy.

Popular meats include lamb and beef, and I saw a few dishes made with goat too. Unsurprisingly given the country’s location, fish is common.

Rice is usually served with meat, and the traditional flatbread called laxoox is common with soups and stews, but can also be enjoyed for breakfast. Pasta shows up mostly in stew rather than a typical Italian pasta sauce, but is often also served with meat.

What I Made

Sambusas (Meat-Filled Pastries)

Sambusas (Meat-Filled Pastries)

These sambusas are very similar to samosas. I did some research and found the main difference is that sambusas are usually filled with meat, while samosas are usually vegetarian. Sambusas are common in some parts of Africa, while samosas are popular in India and the Middle East.

The filling for these sambusas is made with ground beef, leek, and onions, seasoned with cumin, salt, and pepper. I made the dough from scratch with just flour, water, and salt. The sambusas were supposed to be deep-fried, but in an effort to make them a little healthier I baked them in the oven instead. I had the idea of spraying the parchment on the baking sheet with oil, and also spraying some on the sambusas before baking. I think I put them in the oven at 400°F or a little higher for about 25 minutes, and they turned out really crispy! Probably not quite as crispy as if I had deep-fried them, but I was really pleased with the result. The leftovers were even crisp the next day, even though I microwaved them rather than warming them in the oven (the latter usually gives better results).

In Djibouti, sambusas are often served with a spicy tomato sauce. To make it, I cooked a mixture of garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, Aleppo chili flakes, apple cider vinegar, and cumin, until the tomatoes broke down. I was meant to use crushed Arbol chilies but didn’t have any, and I’m not sure how spicy they would have been, but I know my regular chili flakes would have made the sauce far too hot in the amount listed. Rather than just use less, I chose to use Aleppo chili flakes, which are milder and add a flavor I really like.

I really liked these sambusas and I will probably make them again some day! I used the recipe from International Cuisine.

Harira (Chickpea, Lentil, and Chicken Stew)

Harira (Chickpea, Lentil, and Chicken Stew)

Harira is not just eaten in Djibouti; it’s also popular in Morocco. I think the spices vary a bit depending on where you eat it, but otherwise the core ingredients seem to be the same. Harira is made with lentils and chickpeas, with optional meat, and can also have pasta or rice added.

To make this, I sauteed chicken thigh pieces, cumin, saffron, onion, and celery in olive oil. Then I added water. It was actually meant to be sparkling water, but I forgot to add it to my shopping list. I’m not exactly sure what the sparkling water is supposed to do and neither is the person who posted the recipe I used. But some research suggests that it helps the vegetables keep their color while cooking.

After bringing the liquid to a boil, I added the lentils and chickpeas, then added canned diced tomatoes and tomato paste after they were cooked. Next, I added a rather large amount of flour mixed with water. I was a little concerned about this, but I did it anyway and it worked out just fine, bringing the stew to a nice thickness. Finally, I added some Middle Eastern vermicelli, and when that was cooked I stirred in fresh cilantro and parsley and a little lemon juice.

This ended up tasting really good, and it’s healthy too! I ate it with laxoox, next.

The recipe I used is from What’s Cooking In Your World but as you can see from the procedure I outlined above, I made a few changes, mostly regarding when I added certain ingredients.

Laxoox (Sorghum Flatbread)

Laxoox (Sorghum Flatbread)

Laxoox, also spelled lahooh or lahoh, is a popular pancake-like flatbread in a few African countries, including Djibouti. It’s commonly enjoyed for breakfast with butter and honey, and it’s also frequently served with soups or other saucy dishes. It’s traditionally made using sorghum flour, but it’s common nowadays for wheat to be used. The recipe I followed used a mixture.

These were very easy to make. First, I mixed flour, yeast, salt, sugar, and water and let it sit for a couple of hours at room temperature (you can also refrigerate it overnight). You know it’s ready when it looks bubbly. Then you cook the laxoox in a lightly oiled pan. You only cook one side; it’s ready when the surface is full of bubbles and dry. It took a while to get the right temperature and I didn’t get as many bubbles as expected. But it didn’t matter because these were pretty good! I ate one with my harira, and also found them to be delicious with honey.

I used the recipe from Globe Table Adventure, using sorghum flour for both the millet and wheat flour.

Skoudehkaris (Lamb and Rice Pilaf)

Skoudehkaris (Lamb and Rice Pilaf)

It’s been a while since I’ve got to include a lamb dish, so I was excited to see that this was Djibouti’s national dish. It’s made with onion, tomato, lamb, and rice, and seasoned with garlic, cumin, cloves, cardamom, cayenne, and cinnamon. I added a little cilantro on top which may or may not be traditional; I just thought it needed some color for the photo. Obviously, if you are not trying to take pretty photos of your food, you can just leave it without a garnish. This may not be the nicest-looking dish but it was delicious! It was easy to make, too.

I followed the recipe from Amira’s Pantry.

Final Thoughts

This was a short week, but a good one. I liked everything but the sambusas and skoudehkaris were my favorites.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Dominica.

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