Saturday 11 October 2008

burkina faso's fish stew

I won’t leave the confused guessing: Burkina Faso, commonly shortened to Burkina, is a landlocked nation in West Africa, surrounded by Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. Until 1984 it was known as the Republic of Upper Volta.

The 13 million people of Burkina Faso are called Burkinabé and their capital is Ouagadougou. Around 50% are Muslim, 30% Christian and the remaining 20% are traditional Animists of varying types.

Archaeological evidence suggests the area was settled around 12,000 – 5,000 BCE by hunter-gatherers and by 3,600 – 2,600 BC farms had developed. During the 1500s, Burkina Faso was an important economic area for the powerful Songhai Empire.

Today 40% of the population are the Mossi, who arrived as migrant warriors in early times. The other 60% is made up of more than 60 ethnic groups, including the Bobo, Mande, Fulani, Lobi, Malinke, Senufo and Gurunsi. With so many different people and languages, the country’s official language is French, a remnant of their colonial past.

So why am I talking about Burkina Faso?

As part of my 2008 Food Challenges I’d set myself, I decided to learn more about African food (both west and east) and so this is my second foray into west African cuisine.

I actually quite enjoyed this dish because it contained okra, my Weekend Herb Blogging ingredient this week, an event founded by Kalyn's Kitchen. I have never actually cooked with okra until now, having been slightly terrified by it’s ooze. I found the flavour moreish and would certainly recommend it for stews.

Maan Nezim Nzedo (Burkina Faso Fish & Vegetable Stew)

Based on an internet recipe. Serves 2-3.


500g freshwater fish steaks (eg bream, perch)
225g okra, halved lengthways if large
500ml passata (tomato sauce)
300ml fish stock
250g cooked rice
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 carrots, cut into 5mm slices
1 small cabbage, shredded
300g French beans
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
2 teaspoons coarse salt
Vegetable oil for cooking


1. Heat some oil in a saucepan then fry fish steaks until almost cooked. Remove and keep warm.

2. In the same saucepan, heat some more oil then fry onion and carrot until onion is soft.

3. Add passata and stock. Season then bring to a boil.

4. Add okra, beans and cabbage then cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook for around 5-10 minutes.

5. Add the rice and simmer for a further 3 minutes.

6. Serve immediately, placing the warm fish steaks on top of the rice.

cut the fish into small chunks and add to stew with rice to heat through.

Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is in the same family as cotton, cocoa and hibiscus and is grown in tropical and warm temperate climates.

The edible green fruit is a capsule containing many seeds and is harvested when immature to be eaten as a vegetable. Inexperienced gardeners often leave okra pods on the trees too long when they actually should be harvested when only 3-5 days old.

Okra leaves are also edible and can be eaten raw in salads. The seeds can be used for cooking oil and in a roasted, ground form can substitute coffee.

It is believed that okra originated in Ethiopia and its journey beyond was via the Red Sea through the Arabian Peninsula. One of the earliest written records is from the Egyptian travels of a Spanish Moor in 1216 who saw locals eating pods with meal.

Okra is eaten in stews throughout Egypt, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Yemen and other parts of the eastern Mediterranean. In India it is commonly added to curries and in the Caribbean it’s popular in fish soups.

It first made it to the Americas in the mid 1600s via slave traders in Brazil and by 1748 it was growing happily in Philadelphia. Being hugely popular in the Southern US, especially around Louisiana, it is believed the French colonists introduced it as a common ingredient to the US.

Okra is crucial to thickening the American gumbo, which incidentally is a word originating from various Bantu languages’ words for okra “kingombo”. This version is the basis for the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and French words for okra too.

In English it’s also known as lady’s finger, but the name okra came from Igbo, a language spoken in Nigeria.

Okra can be served raw, pickled, sautéed, stir fried, boiled, steamed, stewed, casseroled, baked and fried and breaded for deep frying. Be wary that okra emits a sticky, gelatinous substance that many use to thicken food. If you’re not expecting it, you may find it unpleasant.

Okra is pretty nutritious with high levels of fibre, vitamin C, folate, potassium and magnesium.

Store okra in the fridge in a paper bag or in a perforated plastic bag to allow it to breathe. If you want to freeze it, blanch it for a few minutes and then you can keep it in the freezer for around 12 months. Once cooked it lasts in the fridge for around 3-4 days.

Buy firm, colourful pods and avoid rubbery pods with dry or dull skin. Smaller pods are often better too, since large ones can be woody.

So that's my contribution to Weekend Herb Blogging, with this week's host being Susan from The Well Seasoned Cook. Check out her round-up in a few days.




  1. Im not very keen on fish stew but i love both fish and okra and your stew looks yummy:-)
    X M

  2. I was surprised a few years ago when I realized I really do like okra. I am impressed by your commitment to trying foods from different places, and the fish stew sounds delicious.

  3. How much I am reminded of gumbo. I wonder how directly this intriguing stew had its influences.

    Thanks for sharing your recipe for WHB!


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