The queen of West African one-pot recipes has entered the chat The Denver Post

By Yewande Komolafe, The New York Times

Thieboudienne holds a special place among the cuisines of West Africa. This one-pot rice masterpiece is often referred to as the national dish of Senegal, yet its presence and popularity extend beyond any national borders. Its influence is powerful.

So many of West Africa’s other great one-pot rice dishes — Ghanaian waakye, Gambian benachin and Nigerian jollof, to name just a few — are direct descendants of thieboudienne (pronounced CHE-boo-JEN), named for the Wolof words for rice (ceeb or thiebb) and fish (jën).

Jollof rice’s popularity, especially in the diaspora, can be attributed to how quickly it comes together, essentially a sped-up version of thieboudienne. A great thieboudienne, however, resists all shortcuts. A great thieboudienne is practically an all-day affair.

“This is the diva of rice cooked in a tomato broth,” said Nafy Ba Flatley, a Senegalese cook and small-business owner in San Francisco.

Thieboudienne is what I like to call a “process” recipe because each step is essential to the finished dish. To my palate, a great rice dish, with its flavors layered upon one another, is like a puzzle to be solved. It is not enough to scarf down heaped spoonfuls, although I do plenty of that. I try to piece together the herbs, spices, stocks and pantry staples that went into its creation. I love decoding the process of a dish — how it goes from simple ingredients to a subtle riot of my senses — and this is why I love thieboudienne.

Originally developed in Saint-Louis, in the northwest coastal region of Senegal, where seafood is abundant, thieboudienne celebrates each ingredient in the pot.

Herb-heavy rof perfumes and seasons the fish (chioff or thiof, an Atlantic white grouper); nokoss — a blend of onions, bell peppers, chiles and fresh tomatoes — thickens the rich tomato broth. The end result is tender vegetables and fish layered over fluffy rice. It’s all garnished with xoñe, those bits of crunchy rice grains that, by proximity to heat, stick to the bottom of the pot. “We don’t let it go,” Flatley said. “It has to be scraped, all the way!”

To achieve sophisticated complexity, thieboudienne requires a confident hand in the technique of flavor development. It’s an approach that can be used with many other great West African dishes. Shortcuts cannot be made.

“They take their time,” said Flatley of the cooks who’ve made particularly memorable thieboudienne in Saint-Louis. “They start cooking at 9 a.m., and we won’t sit down to eat until about 1 p.m. That’s what makes it so special.”

In her San Francisco kitchen, it takes her a full two hours. She will make substitutions up to a point: Cauliflower can stand in for cabbage, but cassava and okra are required for her pot.

The experience of cooking thieboudienne can also be collaborative. Many cooks will barter with neighbors for ingredients and enjoy the dish together as a celebratory meal.

Late in my recipe testing process, I collaborated with my colleague Mia Leimkuhler in her kitchen in Montreal. She found some brilliantly fresh red snapper chunks from her local fishmonger, a bag of broken rice and a jar of tomato paste from the local grocery store. I brought a late-summer market selection of carrots, green beans, cabbage and chiles. We chopped, pulsed and cooked while a grueling tennis match played on the television in the background. The game cast a lively urgency over our preparations, and we eventually sat down to a deeply satisfying family-style meal.

“Thieboudienne is the queen,” Flatley said, adding, “It’s soul food.”

RECIPE: Thieboudienne

By Yewande Komolafe

Thieboudienne holds a special place within the cuisines of West Africa. This elegant one-pot rice masterpiece is often referred to as the national dish of Senegal, yet its presence and popularity extend beyond any national borders. Rof, an herb-heavy marinade, perfumes and seasons fish steaks; nokoss — a blend of onions, bell peppers, chiles and fresh tomatoes — thickens a rich tomato broth. The end result is one pot of tender vegetables and fish layered over fluffed broken rice. Your choice of vegetables can be flexible; cabbage, okra and cassava are traditional, but squash, pumpkin, cauliflower or eggplants will all make adequate substitutes. Use what’s in season and freshest. Serve this warm, family style from a large platter, garnished with xońe or xoñe, those bits of crunchy rice grains that, by proximity to the heat, stick to the bottom of the pot.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Total time: 2 hours


  • 1 3/4 to 2 pounds firm white fish, such as red snapper or striped bass, bone-in, skin-on, cut crosswise into 1 1/2- to 1 3/4-inch steaks
  • Coarse kosher salt (such as Morton) and ground black pepper
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, scrubbed
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 8 to 10 fresh parsley sprigs, roughly chopped
  • 5 to 6 fresh dill sprigs, roughly chopped
  • 1 whole lemon
  • 8 to 9 tablespoons peanut oil or neutral oil, such as grapeseed
  • 3 large ripe, firm tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon dawadawa powder (see tip)
  • 3 fresh or dried bay leaves
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 to 3 medium carrots, tops trimmed and scrubbed, 1 medium sweet potato, 1/4 piece pumpkin or butternut squash, or 1 medium cassava, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 piece small green cabbage, outer leaves removed, sliced along the length into 1-inch thick slices
  • 4 ounces green okra or green beans, tops trimmed
  • 3 cups broken rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1 to 2 red or green Scotch bonnet chiles


1. Pat the fish steaks dry with a paper towel. Use a sharp knife to cut 1/2-inch deep slits into the skin side of the fish. Season each piece lightly with salt and pepper.

2. Make the marinade: Add 1/4 of the onion, the ginger and 3 garlic cloves to a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Add the scallions, parsley and dill, and pulse until mixture is a coarse paste. Transfer the paste to a large bowl and zest the lemon directly into it. Stir in 2 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. (Alternatively, finely chop the onion, ginger, garlic, scallions, parsley and dill into a coarse paste by hand. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the lemon zest, oil, salt and pepper.)

3. Rub the marinade all over and into the fish, including into any cavities. Set aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients, or, if cooking later, refrigerate until ready to use.

4. Rinse out the food processor and add 1/2 the onion, remaining 3 garlic cloves, tomatoes and red bell pepper. Pulse until chopped into a coarse purée.

5. In a medium nonstick skillet, heat a tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Working in two batches if necessary, wipe off any excess marinade, place the fish pieces in the skillet and sear each side until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Drizzle in another tablespoon of oil if working in batches or as needed.

6. Use a knife to thinly slice the remaining 1/4 piece of onion. In a large, lidded Dutch oven or a large, wide skillet, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently until just softened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, scraping down the sides and bottom as it cooks to prevent it from sticking, until deepened in color, 4 minutes. Add the spices, dawadawa powder and bay leaves, and stir.

7. Add the red pepper purée and stir to combine with the tomato paste. Bring up to a simmer, cover and continue to cook on medium-low, stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens slightly and the oil begins to rise to the surface, 10 to 12 minutes.

8. Stir in the vegetable stock, increase heat to medium-high, cover and bring up to high to a rolling boil. Season with salt to taste.

9. Cook the vegetables until tender enough to just pierce with a fork: Drop in the hardiest vegetables with the longest cooking times in the boiling liquid first. Carrots, squash, potatoes and cassava will take about 12 to 15 minutes. Tender vegetables with shorter cooking times can go in later. Cabbage will take about 10 minutes, and okra and green beans will take 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a baking sheet or large plate as they cook.

10. Once all of the vegetables have been cooked and moved to a plate, gently drop the fish into the broth. Lower the heat to medium-low and allow the fish to simmer until just barely cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to the plate or the baking sheet. Add the rice and whole chiles, stir to coat the grains and cover the skillet with the lid. Cook until the rice is just tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 to 17 minutes. The rice may scorch on the bottom of the pan, and that’s OK. Return the fish and vegetables to the skillet, arrange directly over the top of the rice and pour in any liquid on the baking sheet or plate. Cover and allow to continue cooking until the rice is softened, vegetables are warmed and fish is cooked through, about 4 to 6 minutes.

11. To serve, remove the whole chiles or leave in depending on taste. Move the pot to the table and spoon out portions of the rice, fish and vegetables onto individual plates.


Dawadawa, also known as iru, is a fermented locust bean product frequently used in West African cooking to add deep, robust flavor to soups and stews. It can be found as a ground powder or whole beans in the spice aisles of any African grocer. Possible alternatives are fish sauce or fermented black beans.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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