Iowa Writes

Aboda Dessi

     I chose this recipe because probably very few people in Iowa City know of this dish. It is particular to Togo, the country in Africa where I grew up. Also, this recipe is not expensive to make. You can purchase the okra at the farmers market or at Fareway. Cut off the stems and the tops from the okra. Farm-raised lamb is good because you know where it comes from. Otherwise, I purchase lamb from 'Akdeniz Market: Foods of the Mediterranean' in Coralville.
     Corn is grown in the south of Togo, and this dish is more popular in the south and central parts of the country. During the time of my grandparents, this type of food was for poor people. Families made this meal during breaks from work in the fields. However, lamb has increased in price. Now this dish is made for special occasions because of the expense. You bring it to celebrations and dances, big occasions. People are forgetting how to make it. Today, poor families substitute small fish for the lamb.
     We have two seasons in my country: rainy and dry. When it is a rainy day, you will find the small fish at market. The fishermen bring it. Women take home the fish and dry it. You can smoke the fish or lay it in the sun; there are many ways to preserve it. If we preserve the fish, we have enough for the dry season. During the dry season, there are not as many small fresh fish.
     In Africa, people are more social than in America. You can visit your family or friends anytime. You knock on the door and are invited inside. You don't need to call beforehand. A household must feed its guests. We have an expression, "the visitor is queen." If you tell them to go home, it is bad for you. Sometimes you need to make a meal quickly to serve to the visitors. Aboda Dessi is perfect. If you don't have anything in your kitchen, that small fish can help you. You can send your children or maid to run to the market for fish. A similar dish is Yebessi, which contains fish, tomatoes, more chili peppers, spices, and water (if you don't have enough tomatoes). You cook it on the fire.

Mutton or lamb, cut into small pieces
Gumbo (okra), tops and stems removed
Spices, such as cloves, ginger, dried onions, sea salt, Huy Fong Foods Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce, a crushed boullion cube
Green pepper
¼ tsp baking soda

•  Put the meat in a pan and add salt, pepper, herbs, spices, and 1 cup of water. Cover the pan and bring to boil for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan.
•  Put okra in the pan with 1 cup of water; add the baking soda and spices. Bring to boil, and then simmer until tender, turning often.
•  Pour the cooked meat into the okra and check salt and spices. Choose spices to give the sauce a good fragrance.
•  Add green pepper and onion. Let boil about five minutes.
•  Serve with steamed rice or fermented corn dough (see note)

Note: The fermented corn dough is like a corn dumpling. To make, I combine corn masa mix and tap water in a bowl. I buy Benita brand masa mix at Aldi Foods; the ingredients are corn, water, and lime (slaked). Stir until well combined. Next I put the mixture in a pan and heat on the stovetop. Once warm, I add more corn masa mix. I stir continually with a spoon. Near the end of the process, I use a paddle to fold the dough. I put the dough in a bowl and cover with a plate. When ready to serve, I flip the bowl upside down and serve the rounded dough on the plate. This dough is similar to Kenkey, a staple food in Western Africa. However, in Africa, we have all day to cook and the dough is fermented longer. Here I need to take shortcuts and to economize.

About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

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Amna's story and recipe were included in Food Roots, a cookbook published in 2010 by Local Foods Connection (LFC) in collaboration with an Art and Ecology class at the University of Iowa. Clients and farmers interviewed for this book come from Illinois, Iowa, California, Mexico, Guatemala, Republic of the Sudan, The Togolese Republic, El Salvador, and Thailand.

Local Foods Connection ( enrolls low-income families and the agencies that serve them in CSA programs. CSAs provide a season's worth of fresh produce to consumers while paying local earth-friendly farmers fair prices for the food they grow, raise, and produce. Clients have the opportunity to visit a farm, as well as to learn healthy cooking methods. These opportunities are part of LFC's larger educational program, which covers nutrition, cooking, and environmental issues.

This page was first displayed
on July 06, 2011

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