I was confident in my ability to do so, because I'd received a few cookbooks for Christmas, and I'd mastered homemade mayonnaise a mere 2 days before our nuptials. Every man I've ever cooked for is still in my life. I made one of my first boyfriends a pair of hotdogs and some potato chips nearly 13 years ago and we're still good friends to this day.
You know the classic story of the housewife being told the boss "is coming to dinner" a frustrating 15 minutes before he (or she, these days) is to arrive? All you planned was a pair of flatiron steaks, ranch beans, and a simple side salad with chantilly dressing made from the homemade mayonnaise made 2 weeks ago?
So, this was me a month after we were married. My husband's boss at the time was Senegalese, too and since this was the first visit to our house, steak and beans weren't going to cut it.
Our steak dinner got put in the refrigerator and wifey went to work.
I decided that I'd combine what I knew with the flavors of my husband's favorite foods. In my limited experience (at that point) of Senegalese food, everything I'd tasted was not just spicy, not just hot...it was BLAZING. I couldn't taste the food for the capsicum! Rice, fufu, crackers, milk, nothing could save my mouth. Lots of dishes had peanuts (groundnuts, as they're called, are the #1 export of Senegal). I'm allergic, so those recipes were a no-go. No, no beautiful husband, you will not be getting spicy, peanutty food from this kitchen. Sorry.
Husband and bossman were coming in the door, and I had to think very quickly...
The following recipe is my first-ever fusion creation. It combines the original recipe with techniques and ingredients I know well. Today I served it with some leftover whole wheat linguni tossed with some butter and chopped garlic. Usually I fluff up couscous with the same accoutrements. This is a staple on the Miller-Ka family menu. Maybe it will make an appearance on yours.
Stuffed Chicken Yassa Serves 6 to 8
The mustard accentuates the lemon, making the stuffing bright and flavorful.
2 Tbsp butter or margarine
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 leek, thinly sliced
10 slices Hormel Turkey pepperoni, sliced in thin strips
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 preserved lemon, rinsed
1/4 cup sliced pimiento-stuffed olives
1 1/2 tsp dijon or spicy mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/8 teaspoon fresh habanero pepper, finely minced or 1 tsp red pepper flakes
3 cups day-old bread, cubed or fresh croutons
8 to 10 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded thin
1 cup Fiber One, pulverized or seasoned bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large skillet, melt butter/margarine and add minced garlic. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add leeks, turn heat to low and cook until leeks get soft and creamy. Add pepperoni, preserved lemon, lemon juice, and mustard, Stir to combine. Cook for an additional 1 to 2 minutes. Add olives, habanero or pepper flakes. Stir to combine. Add cubed bread and just enough water to slightly moisten the bread. Take skillet from heat, fold to incorporate all ingredients, moistening and coating bread with the skillet's contents. Let cool. Prepare chicken for stuffing.
Sprinkle chicken breasts with salt and pepper; Spread stuffing over chicken breast. Fill with even portions of the filling mixture. Roll up and secure with toothpicks or keep breasts seam-side down. Coat roll ups on all sides with Fiber One/breadcrumbs. Place chicken on a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick spray. Spray a light mist of nonstick spray on top of chicken and place in oven. Cook for 20 minutes.
Serve over cool, crisp salad or lettuce and hot couscous or white rice.
Original Chicken Yassa adapted from The Congo Cookbook
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 large onions, thinly sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/8 teaspoon minced fresh habanero chile, or to taste
5 tablespoons peanut oil
1 frying chicken (2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds), cut into serving pieces
1 habanero chile, pricked with a fork
1/2 cup pimento-stuffed olives
4 carrots, scraped and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
1/2 cup water
In a large nonreactive bowl, prepare a marinade by mixing the lemon juice, onions, salt, pepper, minced chile, and 4 tablespoons of the peanut oil in a large bowl. Place the chicken pieces in the marinade, making sure that they are all well covered. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the chicken to marinate for at least 3 hours in the refrigerator.
Preheat the broiler. Remove the chicken pieces, reserving the marinade and onions, and place the chicken in a shallow pan. Broil the the chicken until it is lightly browned on both sides. Remove the onions from the marinade. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a flameproof 5-quart casserole or Dutch oven and cook the onions slowly until tender and translucent. Add the reserved marinade. When the liquid is thoroughly heated, add the chicken pieces, pricked chile, olives, carrots, mustard, and water. When the dish has reached the desired degree of hotness, remove the chile and reserve. Stir to mix well, then bring the yassa slowly to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Serve hot over white rice.
In Senegalese households, the food is served from one communal plate and there is no cutlery except maybe spoons. Rice is scooped up with the hands and everyone has his or her own place around the platter of food. Also, seating is usually arranged on the floor.photo courtesy of kariborders.blogspot.com
We have a beautiful dining room table, but most nights, spread out on newspaper or an old bedsheet, we sit on the floor to enjoy our food. We don't eat African food every night either. My husband loves American food, so I'm off the hook about 300 nights a year or so.
Well, we all know I'm off the hook every night, but you know... :)