A Taste of Mali Here at Home

By Merritt Frey, Executive Director

I don't know about you, but my favorite way to get to know a country is by exploring its food. When I think of Italy, I think of pesto and risotto. When I think of India, I think of dal and naan. But when we think of Mali....well, does anything leap to your mind?

I didn't have much of a clue either, so when I started  this job a few years ago one of the first things I did was throw a party promising Mali food for my friends. With the help of some Malian advisers, I put together an admittedly westernized version of a Mali meal. It was a huge hit. Recipes from my party are below.

Of course Mali is a big country with diverse people, so food habits vary around the country. In the southern area where our schools are located, most main dishes have a base of a starch (often fufu (mashed yams), rice, millet, etc.) that is covered in various stewy sauces. The sauces are usually vegetable or peanut based, with chicken or goat where meat is available.

Traditionally, meals are eaten from a communal bowl using your right hand to scoop up a mix of the starch/grain and the sauce. Malians do this with grace; I am a source of messy amusement for all when I try to do it.

You might not be up for eating with your hands, but you can certainly enjoy a taste of Mali at home. Try these recipes from my party. Each was very popular. I failed to achieve pretty little candies with the sesame-honey sweet, but it still tasted divine. (I ended up with broken shards I served over ice cream. Not traditional but very tasty.)

Give the recipes a try during our cold winter and just maybe you'll feel a little closer to the warmth of Mali's climate -- and of her people!

  • Poulet yassa -- This was the most popular dish of the party. It is a tasty mix of chicken, onions, and lemons. I cut the onions in half and it was still a lot of onions. Serve with couscous or rice.
  • Tigadeguena --  Peanut sauce is a common, and very tasty, option in Mali. This recipe calls for chicken, but I modified it for my vegetarian friends. I simply did not use the chicken but added more vegetables to the recipe (more sweet potatoes, carrots, etc.). Serve with couscous or rice to soak up the wonderful sauce.
  • Meni-meniyong -- Sweets are not traditionally part of a meal in Mali, but I found this option. I loved it because it isn't overwhelmingly sweet. Fruit or tea would be a more common option in Mali.

In addition to this more traditional fare, Mali's food is influenced by the French, who colonized Mali for decades. Especially in the more developed areas, you'll see that influence in bread, sweet treats, and more. But that's a post for another time!

(By the way, one way we spread the word about our work is through small parties where a group of friends gather to learn more about Mali and Mali Rising. If you'd like to turn your cooking exploration into this kind of event, contact Merritt for more information.)