During my freshman year of college, I took a fascinating literature course on the French in West Africa (ironically enough that same semester I took a history course on Africa in the 20th century-needless to say I became quite the “expert” on Africa by the end of term). It was in the literature course that I first became introduced to wonderful writers like the great Senegalese writer Ousmane Sembène and reading his work “God’s Bits of Wood” which I just loved.
While obviously I’m most interested in going on a safari in Africa, visiting countries like South Africa and Tanzania, I’m not going to lie when I say that I also would love to visit a country like Senegal, a former French colony. I loved seeing the traces of French influence when I visited the Moroccan city of Tangier and can only imagine it being even more so in a place like West Africa as Senegal and its capital city of Dakar were once its crown jewels.
I don’t remember when I first heard about the cookbook Senegal by Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam but I finally requested it from the library earlier this month to “try it out.” The pictures featured in it are gorgeous as they’re not only of the food but also of the people which I think are just as important since people are what make a country’s cuisine. The recipes are also not overly challenging but as I’ve said before, ethnic cooking doesn’t have to mean difficult or time consuming. The only downside is that some of the ingredients called for are definitely more on the unique side and depending on where you live, you may or may not be able to procure them although if there’s something you have your heart on making, I’m never opposed to ordering it from an online grocer either.
When my parents visited this month, as we typically do, my mom and I made a dish together for our dinner. I ended up going with something I normally wouldn’t have thought of (I’m typically more a meat and poultry kind of person) and yet they turned out great-quinoa crusted crab cakes.
I can only imagine these eating in Dakar under its bright sun with its waves crashing off in the distance, while enjoying a lovely tropical drink (perhaps something with hibiscus) while African tunes play in the background.
The Red Headed Traveler’s cooking tips
-The recipe originally calls for fonio, a type of grain found in West Africa. If you can find it, I’d say go for it.
-Splurge on good quality crab meat, not the kind found in tins next to the tuna fish. It will make all the difference taste wise.
-Be careful when cooking and flipping the crab cakes as they’re quite fragile and cam crumble. Use a spatula or a very deep spoon to do this.
Quinoa-Crusted Crab Cakes
Recipe courtesy of Pierre Thaim’s Senegal
1 large green plantain, peeled and cut into small chunks
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large egg, beaten
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon cooked quinoa
1 tablespoon finely chopped yellow onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 pound fresh lump crabmeat, picked over
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Vegetable oil for frying
Lime wedges for serving
-Place the plantain pieces in a pot and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until the plantain is very soft and easily pierced with a fork, 15-20 minutes. Drain well. Place in a large bowl, add the oil, and mash with a fork until smooth. Set aside to cool.
-Add the egg, 1 tablespoon quinoa, the onion, cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper to the mashed plantain and mix well. Gently fold in the crab. Using your hands, shape into 12 cakes.
-On a wide plate, combine the flour and 2/3 cup quinoa. Dredge the crab cakes in the quinoa-flour mixture and set on a baking sheet or platter. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-3 hours to set.
-Line a platter with several layers of paper towels. Pour vegetable oil into a large frying pan to a depth of 1/4 inch, and heat to 375 degrees F over medium-high heat. Gently fry a few crab cakes at a time until golden brown, 2-3 minutes each side. Set aside on the paper towels to drain. Repeat until all the cakes are fried.
-Serve hot with lime wedges and salsa or ginger dressing on the side if desired.