Yolele! Senegalese Cuisine

Foodies who love testing their taste buds can introduce some West African specialties to their palates.

Yolele! Recipes from the Heart of Senegal is a debut cookbook highlighting the country’s contemporary and traditional cooking. Author Pierre Thiam bases his work on his mother’s cooking as well as numerous conversations with grandmothers, aunts, uncles and cousins in his homeland. Formerly, recipes were an oral tradition, passed amongst female family members. Thiam is now a chef and restaurateur in Brooklyn, New York.

In an interview with the New York Daily News, Thiam says, “It is a celebration of how we’ve melded the old with the new and the native with the global, and arrived at what’s arguably Africa’s most sophisticated cuisine.” He adds that Senegalese food is also extremely healthy, one of the most flavourful and doesn’t cost much to make.

It is a mélange of African, French, Portuguese, Creole and Vietnamese flavours with a dash of the Middle East. The chapters cover appetizers, main dishes, vegetables, desserts and drinks. Since the country is on the coast, seafood is featured prominently amongst the entrées. For example, thiebou jen, a spicy stuffed fish with red rice and stewed vegetables, is considered Senegal’s official national dish. Beef and chicken, especially grilled, along with lamb stew, are also presented. Vegetarian dishes can be found in fresh spring rolls, black-eyed peas with rice and avocado-mango salad.

There are also some unusual recipes found under “street foods”, chronicling simple tasty treats previously only found by the roadside. Pastels are fish fillets wrapped in pastry, fried up and topped with a spicy salsa. Accara are black-eyed pea fritters which are now found all over the world, wherever West Africans live.

A section called ‘The Middle Passage’ focuses on dishes that crossed the Atlantic with enslaved Africans to form the basis of American Southern specialties like gumbo and jambalaya.

The cookbook is well laid out and easy to follow. Full-colour photographs are shown throughout, many depicting Senegalese women cooking in the traditional manner: outside, with large pots over single-flame stoves. All the recipes are introduced with personal anecdotes from Thiam – family stories, what part of the country dishes are from, who cooks it – giving the reader a snapshot of life in West Africa.

Thiam says in his introduction that the expression “Yolele!” reminds him of the Louisiana Creole’s “Laissez les bons temps roulez!” translated as “Let the good times roll.” Food lovers everywhere are definitely in for a good time while cooking and eating Senegalese style.

About Kerry Hall

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