Thiebou Dieune (pronounced “chebu jen”) is a the most popular rice and fish dish eaten in the West African country of Senegal. Using simple ingredients, it’s easy to make, (most ingredients can be bought from major supermarkets), but its richly flavored combination of fresh fish, rice, and vegetables make it truly delicious.
Eaten maybe twice a week, Thiebou Dieune may be prepared subtly different each time with tomato concentrate adding to its sometimes vibrant colour.
Food story contributor Daro Mbaye says:
“I have many fond memories of this meal as it reminds me of the quality time I have spent with my family and friends whilst growing up in Senegal and then Spain. We would often sit together talking about family matters or what we did that day”.
When Thiebou Dieune is being prepared for a family gathering, the kitchen is full of hustle and bustle as group members chip in to help – it’s a social experience, where hints and tips are swapped and stories of the day’s events are told.
Daro says: the whole experience of this meal means so much to me, more than just taste and flavor, it represents my country, family and culture. It provides me with a secure feeling of African flair and style, a definite sense of familiarity and belonging”.
4 tablespoons peanut oil
2 large onions, minced
3 -inch piece of smoked, dried fish (guedie (pronounced “gae-jee”) or yete (pronounced “yet”) if possible)
2 x 130g tubes of tomato double concentrate
9 cups slightly salted cold water
1 bunch parsley, trimmed
2 large cloves garlic
1 fresh bird chile
3lb sea bass tail, cleaned and cut into steaks 1 1/2 inches thick
1/2lb calabaza, (type of West Indian pumpkin – substitute with any pumpkin or squash if not available) peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
1/2lb sweet cassava, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
5 small purple turnips, quartered
1 small green cabbage, cut into eighths
4 sweet potatoes, quartered
2 small eggplants or aubergine, cut into 1-inch slices
5 carrots, scraped and cut into chunks
12 small okra pods, washed and topped and tailed (any hard pods discarded)
1 habanero chilli, pricked with a fork
2lb broken rice (like risotto rice – it better absorbs the sauce than long-grain rice).
Heat some oil in a large pot, lightly fry the onion and add the smoked fish, tomato concentrate and ¼ cup of salted water. While the onions are browning, place the parsley, garlic, chilli, and scallions in a food processor and blend into a paste in preparation for the sea bass steaks.
With the paste ready, score the bass steaks and add the paste into the slits.
Now add the sea bass into the large pot with the onion mixture, allowing it to cook for 5 minutes. At this point, add the remaining water. When the water comes to the boil, cover the pot and lower the heat. Add the vegetables at this point, and then add the habanero chilli – add as much as you feel is necessary. Heat for approximately 20 minutes, remove the fish steaks whole and place them on a platter for serving. Cover them in cooking liquid and keep them warm.
Continue to cook the Thiebou Deune for a further 15 minutes and then take out the vegetables, place them on a platter and keep them warm. Hold back two cups of cooking liquid so that you can prepare the sauces. With the left over cooking liquid add to the rice, which should be left to simmer and absorb.
Heat and add to a separate sauceboat – this will provide a regular sauce and an alternative spicy one.
When you are ready to serve, place the rice on one serving platter and the fish and vegetables on another. Or you can do this a different way by placing the rice in a large basin and setting the vegetables and fish on top, then eat right hand only, or with a large spoon also only with the right hand.