International Cooking: Food from the Gambia

The Gambia is located in West Africa, and it is the smallest country in mainland Africa. It is named after the Gambia river, which flows through the center of the country.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to enter the region, but it wasn’t until 1765 that the country was colonized by the British Empire. The country did not regain independence until 1965.

English is the official language due to the long British occupation, though many native languages are still spoken today.

What Do People Eat in the Gambia?

Like many African countries with a high level of poverty, meat isn’t always present in meals since it’s expensive. However, fish is quite common, and can be found prepared many ways including grilled, smoked, or in stews. Oysters are harvested from the Gambia River, and much of the fish Gambians consume also comes from there.

Other common ingredients include African staples such as rice, peanuts, tomato, cassava, onion, chili, and various legumes such as black-eyed peas. Lemon is also a common ingredient.

What I Made

Domoda (Chicken and Peanut Butter Stew)

Domoda (Chicken and Peanut Butter Stew)

This is another African dish featuring peanuts! I don’t mind, since I love them, particularly peanut butter which is what gives the peanut flavor in this dish. Domoda can be made with beef, chicken, or fish, but I chose to use chicken thighs.

First I sautéed some onions, before adding the chicken and garlic and cooking for a few minutes more. I added some diced tomato, then a few minutes later added tomato paste, diced habanero, peanut butter, water, and bouillon (the recipe called for tomato but I used some chicken Better Than Bouillon).

I brought everything to a boil and cooked for about 10 minutes, then added some diced sweet potato (you could also use pumpkin).

About 20 minutes later, everything was cooked through and it was delicious! Very peanut buttery, but I like peanut butter so that worked for me. I didn’t really taste the chilies, but I was chatting to someone from the Gambia on Reddit and they said it’s not really meant to be a spicy dish so I guess that’s okay!

This recipe was from The Daring Gourmet.

Tapalapa (West African Bread)

Tapalapa (West African Bread)

This is a popular West African bread that is traditionally made from a mixture of wheat, corn, millet, and cowpea flours. I thought I could get millet from the grocery store but they didn’t have it, so I substituted with sorghum, which is another gluten-free flour so I thought it would be a fair substitute. The cowpea flour can be made by grinding up black-eyed beans. I used my spice grinder and sifted out any large bits; I feel this worked pretty well. I only had cornmeal rather than the yellow cornflour called for in the recipe, so I put that through my spice grinder too in an effort to make it finer. It seemed to work.

At least, that is, until I baked the bread! Everything seemed to be going fine, (it was just a regular bread-making process) though the dough wasn’t as soft as regular bread dough, and it did not rise as much as I’m used to. After baking, the bread also didn’t rise much in the oven, and it wasn’t browning. I think I overbaked it a bit in my efforts to get some color on it.

This resulted in a super dense loaf of bread which really wasn’t too enjoyable to eat. I read that it’s meant to be denser than regular bread but I don’t think mine was right. I’ll try again some day but next time I’ll make sure I have the right flour. I’m pretty sure my ground cornmeal was the culprit.

If you want to try this, the recipe I used is from 196 Flavors.

Afra (Steak and Onions)

Afra (Steak and Onions)

Afra, also known as dibi, is a popular street food in the Gambia and other parts of West Africa. It can be made from a variety of different kinds of meat, such as lamb, bushmeat, chicken, and beef, but I used the latter.

I cut some sirloin steak into strips and seasoned it with salt and pepper, then sautéed in a hot cast iron skillet until brown. I dissolved some beef Better Than Bouillon in a little water mixed with mustard and a tiny dash of liquid smoke and stirred that into the beef mixture. Then I transferred the beef to a bowl and sautéed the onions until they were starting to soften. I added the beef and a little cayenne pepper and mixed well, and that was it.

This is often served with mustard and a sliced baguette. I used Dijon mustard and some of my sad tapalapa. This was a great dish; I think the mustard used when cooking the beef worked really well.

This recipe is from The Foreign Fork.

Benachin (Rice with Meat and Vegetables)

Benachin (Rice with Meat and Vegetables)

This is a type of jollof rice, a popular West African dish. Benachin is popular in both Senegal and The Gambia, and it can consist of a variety of different vegetables and meat, including seafood. The flavor is based on tomatoes, onions, and chili.

To make this, I cut up some chicken and beef. I realized later that I think the pieces were meant to be large, but I took ‘cut into pieces’ to mean ‘cut into bite-sized pieces’, especially since it was only 1/2 a pound of meat as opposed to like, a whole chicken. I feel like this only really affected the presentation though.

I marinated the meat with salt, pepper, garlic, and vinegar for 30 minutes, then browned the beef and set aside, before browning the chicken. I was using chicken thighs and sirloin (the recipe doesn’t specify which cuts to use, something I don’t like), so my process was a little different from the recipe’s, which would have had me overcooking my beef (but at the same time, it wouldn’t have been cooked enough if I’d used something like chuck).

So I left the chicken in the pan and added the onion, which I cooked for a few minutes before adding the garlic, tomatoes, and chili. I cooked for another minute or so before adding some tomato paste. I cooked this for about 15 minutes. Then I added some water and brought it to a boil, before adding bay leaves and shredded cabbage. There was meant to be eggplant here too, but I omitted it.

At this point I had to remove the vegetables and chicken pieces, which was kind of annoying. I’m also curious how the eggplant would have cooked if it had only just been placed in the pot and then removed, but since I didn’t use it, I didn’t have to worry about it, and the cabbage was shredded finely so I knew that would be enough to take the crunch out of it.

Next I added the rice and some chopped bell peppers to the remaining liquid and let the rice cook.

Once the rice is done, you’re meant to place it on a platter and top with the vegetables and meat you removed from the pot. I just did individual plates, and mine didn’t look that impressive with my small pieces of meat, compared to most of the photos online.

This tasted alright but it was a little boring in my opinion. Maybe it would taste better if I’d used bone-in chicken thighs, or chicken broth instead of the water.

If you’d like to make this, the recipe I used is from African Food Network

Final Thoughts

This week was alright. My favorite recipe was definitely the afra, even though it was super simple.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Georgia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Flavor Vortex © Copyright 2021. All rights reserved.