Who would have thought that northern Mali could be some kind of culinary heaven? While the desert is typically considered a survive-on-what-you-can type of place, the populations of northern Mali have developed a few mouth watering dishes thanks to centuries of trade with northern Africa. Labadja is one of our favorite northern specialties, and it’s really easy to make.
The one hitch with this recipe is the Fakoye spice blend that is easily found in Mali, and probably not easily found anywhere else. However, you should be able to get away with a Moroccan blend of spices (a bit of cumin, coriander, allspice and nutmeg can approximate it).
Before I list the ingredients, I just want to say that this recipe is made exactly how we make it in Mali. Measurements are estimations, and you can adjust the ingredients to your liking. I will include pictures for each step of the way, which will help you get a sense for the amounts. This recipe made two very generous servings of Labadja.
beef (in this case, we used filet, but in Mali it’s often tougher cuts of meat)
onion chopped fine
garlic chopped fine
green pepper chopped fine
A heaping tablespoon of Fakoye spice blend (or a Moroccan spice blend as a substitute)
salt and pepper
1 cup of rice
Let’s get cooking
The beef needs to be tenderized. In Mali, they pound it with a mortar and pestle. Then it goes in the pot with a good amount of butter.
After browning the beef, toss in onions, garlic and green pepper (adjust the amounts as you like).
After that cooks for 5 minutes or so, you toss in the fakoye spices, salt and pepper, and cook a bit longer
Then you add the dried dates, but the trick is to already mix the dried dates with water. The water will reconstitute the dates, and the water itself will become flavored. The quantity of water depends on the rice you are going to cook. Most rice is standard 2 cups water to 1 cup rice, but you can probably do with a touch less water due to the other ingredients.
Add the dates with the water to the pot and stir for a bit before adding the rice.
Once you add the rice, bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Cook until the rice is done and the water has been absorbed.
Let it cool for a few minutes and then serve up a delicious labadja!