Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Peace is a Full Belly

In my ongoing efforts to become a true Malian woman, I have been taking cooking classes.

Every Monday, I walk over to Adama's compound after I've finished with my laundry. I find Sitan starting the fire, a fan in her hand and Mamy, her four-month-old baby on her back. Sitan is a good cook, eager to try new recipes and create elaborate dishes. While most of the women in my village cycle through a never-ending routine of cooking the same dishes day after day (breakfast: millet porridge; lunch: to; dinner: millet rice), Sitan has both the interest and the means to prepare something a little different.

Adama allows Sitan full range in deciding what she'll cook. He includes her in his finances and while other women make meager sauces without nutrients or proteins due to husbands who refuse to hand over any cash, Adama's money -- for the most part -- is Sitan's money. Her mother taught her many of the elaborate dishes she whips up without consulting a recipe, but on Sundays, at 11am, Sitan tunes in to Mali's national radio station. Each Sunday morning, there's a cooking show, and Sitan has been known to try out the recipes she hears broadcast on the radio.

Sitan cuts the meat and I grind peppers and garlic. We make jaba ji (onion sauce), saga saga (sweat potato leaf sauce), basi (couscous-like millet), malo foyo (couscous-like rice), and faqoi (green-leaf sauce from the North).

When we started our lessons, Fatou, Sitan's three year-old daughter and I had about the same level of responsibility. But these days, not only am I wearing more complets, but I'm cooking a bit more like a Malian woman too. Mamy gets hungry and Sitan sits down to feed her, and it's just me, adding salt to the sauce and checking the rice.

When we're done, Sitan partitions the meal into three bowls: a medium-size bowl for Adama, a large bowl that Sitan will share with the four children in the compound, and a medium bowl for me to take home to share with Banta.

Banta looks forward to my cooking lessons: the food we cook is a treat -- a sauce she hasn't tasted since the days when she lived with the rich Army man -- or a dish she has never even heard of. Banta never tires of talking of food. When I accuse her of never thinking of anything else, she says, Well, when you have food and your belly's full, are you not at peace? Ah Banta, how wise you are.

Peanut butter sauce, or tigadegana, is a classic and one of my favorites. Here's the recipe if you'd like to try it out!


Meat (goat or sheep's meat, preferably)
Peanut Butter (1.5 Cups)
4 Tomatoes
2 TBSP Tomato Paste
Ground Pepper (several tsps)
4 large hot red chili peppers
6 onions
Cabbage, carrots, or other veggies if you have them
Salt (1 TBSP)
2 Maggi Cubes (similar to bouillon cubes)
3 Cloves Garlic
Okra Powder (1/8 cup)
White Rice (as desired)

1. Steam or boil rice as desired.
2. On medium heat, add oil to a large saucepan. Slice meat as desired and add to pot.
3. Once meat has browned a bit, add 1/2 Liter water and peanut butter to pot.
4. Once meat is well cooked, squeeze juice out of tomato skins and add juice and tomato paste to pot.
5. Add 3 of the 4 peppers to the pot.
6. Once oil has started to separate from the peanut butter, add 3/4 Liter water and stir.
7. Grind (or finely chop) 6 large onions and add to the sauce.
8. If you have extra veggies -- like cabbage or carrots -- you can add them to your sauce.
9. Stir in salt and Maggi cubes.
10. Pound/grind garlic and pepper together and stir into the sauce.
11. Once oil begins to emerge from the sauce again, you can add okra powder to thicken the sauce (it makes it a bit slimy).
12. Once sauce is well cooked, remove from heat and serve over a bed of rice. If you're eating Malian style, you'll serve the dish in a big bowl or platter. Now, wash your hands -- with soap -- and dig in. Remember not to use your left hand!


  1. i'm glad to have this for when I go home Samouhan, thanks for sharing! where's the recipe for zame??

  2. samouhan/nabou,

    i want recipes for namty. and the ginger drink.


    mame/a diarra