International Cooking: Food from Mauritania

This was another difficult country. It was hard to find food from Mauritania that I could make and that I could find a recipe for. Then there were some dishes that I had already made for other countries (since there is a lot of overlap in some parts of Africa). Still, I did manage to make some interesting dishes this week!

Mauritania is situated on the coast of Northwest Africa, with most of its territory in the Sahara desert.

From around the third century AD, the region was inhabited by the Berber people, who lived in many of the surrounding countries too. In the late seventh century, Arabs conquered the area and introduced Islam, Arab culture, and the Arabic language, which is still the official language today.

Mauritania was colonized by France during the early 20th century and achieved independence in 1960. Since then, there have been frequent coups and periods of military dictatorship. The 2019 presidential election was considered Mauritania’s first peaceful transition of power since independence.

Mauritania is rich in natural resources such as iron and petroleum, but remains a poor country with a poor human rights record, particularly because of ongoing slavery.

What Do People Eat in Mauritania?

Mauritanian cuisine is influenced by the people who lived in the region throughout the centuries and the many traders who passed through. Dishes use a mix of traditional ingredients popular across the continent and a range of spices found in North African countries and the Middle East.

Since Mauritania is on the coast, fish is a common ingredient. It can be cooked many ways, or dried for preservation. Meat such as goat, lamb, and chicken are also widespread, and camel will sometimes make an appearance.

Popular starches include rice and couscous, and most dishes will incorporate a range of vegetables, with tomato, sweet potato, and onion being some of the most popular.

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Mauritanian dishes I didn’t make!

Thieboudienne (Fish and Rice)

Thieboudienne (Fish and Rice)

Thieboudienne is Mauritania’s national dish, but it is also Senegal’s. It’s a dish traditionally made by stuffing a whole fish with a herb mixture and cooking it in a spicy tomato sauce with vegetables. Rice is also cooked in the sauce and served with the fish.

I found a few recipes that called for fish fillets instead of a whole fish, so I followed one of those since it felt more approachable. I used mahi mahi since I already had it. When using fish fillets, most recipes say to top the fish with the stuffing rather than trying to stuff it.

I started with the stuffing/topping. I finely chopped some parsley, onion, chili, and garlic, and added salt and pepper. The recipe called for bouillon cubes but I omitted those and added the salt instead. The recipe said to top the fish with the stuffing right away but the images looked like it was added a bit later and I didn’t want it to all end up in the pan so I held off.

I cooked the fish briefly on both sides and set it aside. Then I cooked some chopped onion and added tomato paste and tomato sauce. I added cabbage, carrot, sweet potato, and chili; I was also meant to include eggplant and cauliflower but I omitted them. I added just enough water to cover everything and cooked until the vegetables were nearly tender. Then I took some of the liquid out of the pot and used it to cook the rice. Finally, I added the fish to the pot with the vegetables and topped it with the parsley mixture I made earlier. I let it finish cooking with the lid on.

I served the rice with the vegetables and fish on top. I thought this tasted pretty good, though I’m pretty sure I had more liquid than I was meant to.

The recipe I used is from Where in the World is Lianna.

Leksour (Lamb Stew with Savory Pancakes)

Leksour (Lamb Stew with Savory Pancakes)

This is the dish I was most looking forward to this week—leksour, consisting of a meat and vegetable stew served over savory pancakes. Someone from the Mauritanian subreddit suggested a YouTube recipe for this one so that’s what I followed. It was in Arabic, so I may have lost a few things along the way, but it was pretty easy to follow just by watching. I only needed clarification on the spices used, but I did guess them correctly!

First, I made the pancake batter out of whole wheat flour, sorghum flour, salt, oil, and water. Millet would be more traditional than sorghum, but I didn’t have it and it’s difficult to get, so I decided to use what I had instead. I let the batter rest while I started my stew.

I cooked some lamb leg chunks in oil until they browned, then added onion and carrot. After a few minutes of sautéing, I covered the pot for a few minutes more. Then I added tomato and cooked for a little longer before adding black pepper, cumin, salt, and turmeric. After another 10 minutes or so, I added water and potatoes and let everything cook, covered, until the lamb and vegetables were tender.

Meanwhile, I cooked my pancakes. I cooked them in a little oil, and served the stew over the top.

I found this to be delicious! I thought the seasonings seemed too simple but the combination worked very well. I did have a little trouble making nice pancakes—these were actually more like crepes—but that didn’t affect the flavor.

The recipe I used can be found on YouTube here (I don’t have an English translation of the channel name, which is in Arabic).

Green Tea and Biscuits/Cookies

Green Tea and Biscuits/Cookies

Someone on the Mauritania subreddit advised that green tea is very popular over there and often consumed as part of a snack with biscuits and/or nuts. Since I didn’t have a lot to choose from for Mauritania, I decided to go with this as one of my dishes. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a recipe for a biscuit/cookie from Mauritania, so I went with a popular North African shortbread cookie instead: ghribiya, also spelled ghorabieh.

These cookies were very simple to make. I mixed canola oil with powdered sugar in my electric mixer, then added vanilla, salt, baking powder, flour, and a little cinnamon. I’d never made shortbread with oil instead of butter so I was a bit apprehensive. The recipe called for vanilla powder, but I used extract instead.

I let the dough chill for about half an hour, then formed it into balls and made a little indent in each one. This shaping step wasn’t in the directions but it was in the video and that’s how the cookies in the photos look, so that’s what I did! Finally, I sprinkled the dough with a little cinnamon before baking.

I thought these came out great! They had a lovely vanilla flavor and the cinnamon amount was perfect too. They were crumbly just like shortbread but without the buttery taste—though I actually didn’t miss it, and I love butter.

I drink green tea pretty often already but I don’t generally drink it with cookies. I think this was a great combination.

The recipe I used for the cookies is from The Teal Tajine.

  • Yassa poulet – chicken with vegetables served over French fries or rice; this is originally from Senegal though has gained popularity in Mauritania.
  • Lakh – sweet millet porridge topped with grated coconut and cheese curds or yogurt.
  • Mahfe – a goat or camel stew cooked with peanuts, okra, and tomato, served over rice. There are also vegetarian versions.

Final Thoughts

I didn’t make much this week but it was still pretty good. The leksour was my favorite but I enjoyed everything.

Next week, I will be taking another break (hopefully the last for a while!) before posting about food from Mauritius.

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