The Proven Platter – Mali

Hello Diners!

We are off to Mali this month, located in West Africa, in support of the Tandana Foundation. Their Women LEAP program provides literacy and numeracy training, as well as democratic governance and leadership skills.

Often, the program we are supporting will send us recipes that are rooted in their culture. This month we received a very detailed recipe called “Recipe for Toh, (Oro Dja), Traditional Food of the Dogon People,” by Jemima Tembiné. She started learning to cook when she was about 10 years old and has been preparing Toh since she was 15 years old. Near as I can tell, Toh is a dish of millet dough that has been pounded, and served along with different sauces made out of various leaves, dried fish and dried vegetables.

Because I want to give you an idea of what women often have to go through just to prepare ONE meal, I am including the link to the recipe so that you can see for yourselves how much of their day is spent just surviving. For starters, prep time is listed at 2 – 3 hours, and it makes just one family meal. Your head will start to spin after you’ve read the first paragraph.

Instructions such as “pound millet seed in husk in a large mortar and wood pistil until the husk comes off, pour into a large calabash bowl, pour into another bowl so the wind will take the chaff away,” is just one of many, many, pounding instructions throughout the recipe.

I think it’s easy to understand why nobody has time for school, or anything that doesn’t involve feeding yourself and keeping yourself warm.

Absolutely nothing gets wasted. Water from drained millet is fed to the goats. The ashes from cooking fires are recycled as well. Most of the ash goes into the animal compost that eventually goes into the fields. Some is put in the bags of grain that are stored on the roof or in the house to help conserve it and keep insects out. And some is used to make potassium to add to their food.

No worries though, I am not asking you to make Toh or pound anything this month! I am just sending you to the grocery store to pick up a lovely piece of fish, grab a can of coconut milk to make a sauce, (or heck, now that you know how easy you have it in the kitchen, make your own coconut milk), and have a lovely fish dinner on the table in under half an hour!

I’ve taken my inspiration from a wonderful cookbook called “Zainabu’s African Cookbook,” by Zainabu Kpaka Kallon. She was born and raised in Sierra Leone, West Africa. (No, she did not have a recipe for Toh in her book – I looked!)

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments about the recipes at nw4@togetherwomenrise.org. I would love to hear from you!


Tilapia in Coconut Lime Sauce (Tested)

Serves 6

Tilapia, or “ngokah,” is also referred to as “Nile perch” because it is abundant all along the Nile River region. Now that California aqua farmers are successfully raising this delicate perch-like fish, we can find it in our supermarkets, bringing this once “only in Africa” fish to our dinner tables. If perch is available in your area you can substitute perch for the tilapia. Other worthy stand-ins are red snapper or cod, or any white fish that you enjoy.

Note that this recipe calls for either fresh hot pepper or green sriracha sauce and that these ingredients are added at different times in the recipe.

2 tbsp. peanut oil or vegetable oil

1 small onion, chopped, about 1 cup

2 large cloves garlic, sliced

One (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and slivered

1 fresh hot pepper, chopped, or 2 tsp. green sriracha sauce

2 cups sliced mushrooms, about 6 oz.

14 oz. coconut milk, canned or homemade

1 lime

1 tsp. kosher salt

2 lbs. tilapia

2 green onions, chopped (white and green parts)

Fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish


Heat a skillet large enough to contain all the fish and coconut milk. Add the oil to the skillet along with the onion. Sauté for 2 minutes until slightly softened, then add the garlic, ginger, and hot pepper, if using. Cook for one minute.

Add the mushrooms and stir for one minute. Cover the pan and let the mushrooms steam for a few minutes. Remove the lid and let the mushrooms finish cooking.

Add the coconut milk. Using a zester or grater, grate the lime peel right over the pan, then cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice into the pan. Add the green sriracha, if using, and the salt. Bring the sauce to a simmer.

Lay the fish in the sauce, and sprinkle with the green onions. Cover, and simmer until fish is done. This could take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish. Remove the fish to a platter and reduce the sauce if it looks thin and you would like it to thicken. Pour sauce over the fish and garnish with parsley.

Recipe adapted from: “Zainabu’s African Cookbook,” by Zainabu Kpaka Kallon

Photo credit: Linda McElroy