Formerly known as French Guinea, Guinea is a West African country that is rich in culture, and offering a cuisine that is close to its neighbors, but which also features some typical dishes like yétissé.
These countries have all been named after the Guinea region. This name has traditionally been used to describe the region of Africa that stretches along the Gulf of Guinea. This term comes directly from the Portuguese word Guiné, a word that emerged in the fifteenth century to describe the lands inhabited by the Guineus, a generic term for black African people living south of the Senegal River, and in opposition to ‘tawny’ Zenaga Berbers, north of the river, which were called Azenegues or Moors.
The country stretches from the Atlantic coast before forming a crescent on the land. It shares borders with Guinea-Bissau, Senegal and Mali in the north, as well as Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cote d’Ivoire to the south. The rivers Niger, Gambia, and Senegal find their source in the heights of the country, which has often earned the country the nickname of “water tower of West Africa”.
The country has preserved amazing natural reserves, idyllic beaches along the coast, peaks, cliffs, forests, mangroves, lakes, waterfalls and large rivers.
The yétissé recipe that I am featuring today is a dish that consists of fish, cooked in a vegetable and tuber stew that includes eggplant, tomato, carrot, and cassava. Fish is traditionally eaten along the Atlantic coast in the Maritime Guinea region, but yétissé can also be prepared with chicken or beef.
This dish is quite unique, starting with the composition and preparation of its thick sauce, typical of Conakry, which does not include spices but rather mixed vegetables that bring delicious flavors and an incomparable texture to yétissé.
The dish is also prepared with okra. Those are not used in the stew but are ground separately to be incorporated into the rice as a sauce.
Let’s talk about okra, the vegetable with the rather particular viscous texture that most people either love or hate. Okra is a member of the mallow family, that also includes cotton and hibiscus. This tropical plant that can reach 6 feet high is cultivated for its pods that can be green or red. The red pods turn green when cooked.
When cut, the pod exudes a slimy juice that is used to thicken sauces and dishes.
Okra probably came from Ethiopia, where it was cultivated by the Egyptians from the twelfth century BC. Its cultivation then spread to North Africa and the Middle East. It is the main ingredient of a stew with which I grew up. Indeed, my mother, originally from Tunisia, often prepared a traditional dish of the North African country, called gnaouia, which consists of okras stewed with chicken or meat in a tomato and onion base sauce, and often served with couscous. The vegetable is also present in many Middle Eastern dishes, such as Persian bamieh, which is traditionally served with rice.
Okra appeared in the Caribbean and the United States in the 18th century. It was probably brought by slaves from West Africa, and was introduced in Western Europe shortly thereafter. In Louisiana, the Creoles learned how to use the vegetable from the slaves, and gave birth to gumbo, the traditional dish that now defines Creole cuisine, just as much as jambalaya.
In some cultures, okra seeds are also roasted and ground for use as a coffee substitute.
In different Bantu dialects, okra is called (ki)ngombo and this is probably the origin of the name of the vegetable in French and Creole, as well as in other countries like Portugal where it is called quingombo.
The English term, okra, comes from the word for the vegetable in a Niger-Congo language. Indeed, the word for okra in the language of Twi is nkuruma. The term okra appeared in the English toward the end of the 18th century. The word nkuruma has probably been shortened by slaves after crossing the Atlantic. The word could also come from the igbo word for the same vegetable, ọkụrụ.
But let’s go back to our yétissé. Yétissé, like many African dishes, is a communal dish. Indeed, it is traditionally served in a single platter with forks all around the dish so that everyone can eat from the same plate. Rice, which is mixed with crushed okra, is usually placed around the dish with the fish in sauce in the center of it.
I made this dish on our family trip to Palm Springs this summer. This very unique recipe was a hit!
- 4 lb tuna steaks (or tilapia, emperor, cod)
- 2 eggplants , cut into large cubes
- 6 carrots
- 2 roots cassava
- 6 onions , chopped
- 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger
- 4 cloves garlic
- 8 tablespoons tomato paste
- 10 oz tomatoes , diced
- 2 cubes chicken stock (e.g. Maggi)
- 4 tablespoons palm oil
- 2 hot peppers
- 1 lb okra
- 2 lb cooked rice
- Vegetable oil
- Brown the fish steaks over medium heat in vegetable oil for about 10 minutes. Set aside on a dish lined with paper towels.
- In a large pot, sauté the onions and eggplants in 2 tablespoons palm oil, for about 10 minutes or until the eggplant is tender.
- In a food processor, add the peeled and grated ginger, peeled garlic cloves, eggplant and onions, until obtaining a smooth paste.
Peel the cassava and carrots and cut into 2-inch (5cm) sections.
- In a bowl, combine tomatoes, tomato paste, stock cubes, and whole hot peppers.
- In the pot, heat two tablespoons of palm oil and add the tomato mixture. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add the carrots and cassava as well as the aubergine mixture. Cover with water, stir, then season with salt and pepper.
- Bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add the fish steaks and let simmer for 15 additional minutes.
- Separately, boil the okras in a large volume of water for 10 minutes.
- Once cooked, crush the okra, then mix with the cooked white rice.
- Serve the fish with the sauce and vegetables on the rice or place the rice around the dish with the stewed fish and vegetables in the middle if the yétissé is served as a communal dish.