Aji Akokomi’s recipes for a west African barbecue: dibi lamb, joloff rice and fried plantain | Food

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Outdoor cooking over fire is prevalent in most west African homes, mainly, of course, due to the warm climate. So it’s not surprising that the most popular street foods in the region are also barbecue dishes, be it suya from Nigeria, domedo from Ghana or dibi from Senegal. The marinated leg of lamb is lovely with the jollof rice and fried plantains below.

Dibi leg of lamb

The word dibi means “barbecue” in Wolof, and it’s a hugely sought-after dish that is mostly sold by street vendors and in small, basic eateries known as dibiteries, where marinated lamb is roasted in large wood-fired ovens and served with roast onions and mustard sauce.

Prep 15 min
Chill 3 hr
Cook 4 hr
Serves 8

1 leg of lamb (about 2½kg)
40g flaked sea salt
150g dijon mustard
200ml vegetable oil
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 whole head of garlic
(or about 15 cloves), peeled and crushed
1 tbsp hot sauce
500ml chicken stock
10-15g fresh thyme leaves, chopped
3 yellow onions, peeled and finely sliced

Trim the excess fat off the lamb leg, then make 2cm-deep crisscross cuts all over it. Salt the flesh, then rub it all over with the mustard and marinate in the fridge for at least three hours.

Take out the lamb at least an hour before you want to cook it, to give it time to come up to room temperature. Fire up a charcoal barbecue for which you have a lid – aim for a temperature of about 160C – then put the lamb on the grill, cover with the barbecue lid and leave to cook for an hour and a half.

Meanwhile, make the marinade: in a bowl, mix the oil, pepper, crushed garlic, hot sauce, chicken stock and thyme.

When the lamb has been cooking for 90 minutes, lift it out on to a tray covered in a large sheet of foil, pour the marinade all over it, then sprinkle the onions on top. Wrap up the lamb tightly – you’ll probably need several layers of foil – then return to the barbecue, cover again and cook for another hour and a half.

Lift the lamb off the barbecue, leave it to rest, still in its foil wrapping, for half an hour, then carve and serve.

Jollof rice

Jollof rice doesn’t need any introduction these days, due to its widespread popularity. There are various ways to cook it, from simple methods to much more complex recipes, but, whichever approach you take, what makes it so special are the rich, complex flavours – a combination of sweet, umami and spice – all packed into the one dish.

Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr
Serves 8

500g basmati rice – we use the Golden Sella brand

For the broth
3½ litres chicken stock – homemade or shop-bought (we use True Foods)
2 tsp white peppercorns
25g curry powder
1 tbsp ground dried thyme leaves
1 thumb-sized piece
fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 bay leaves
75ml fish sauce

For the ata (or base sauce)
4 red bell peppers, stems, pith and seeds discarded, flesh roughly diced
100ml vegetable oil
2 red onions
, peeled and finely diced
20g flaked sea salt
12 garlic cloves
, peeled and crushed
6 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp hot sauce

Put the chicken stock in a saucepan with all the other broth ingredients, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and cook for about 30 minutes, until reduced a little.

Meanwhile, make the ata: blitz the diced peppers in a blender until smooth, then scrape into a frying pan and dry-fry on a medium heat, stirring regularly, for up to about 30 minutes, until they reduce to a paste. Scrape the pepper paste into a bowl and rinse out the pan.

Return the frying pan to a medium heat, add the oil, then stir in the diced onion and salt, and cook for 10-12 minutes, until the onions start to caramelise. Add the crushed garlic and tomato paste, fry, stirring, for five minutes more, then stir in the red pepper paste in batches. Once that’s all incorporated, add the hot sauce, fry gently, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t catch, for 15 minutes, then take off the heat.

Strain the stock into a heavy-based saucepan, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Stir in the ata and leave to cook for five minutes.

Meanwhile, rinse the rice very well, and at least five times, to get out all the starch, then tip into the hot stock, stir well, cover and leave to cook for 15 minutes.

Lift off the lid, stir again, then taste and add salt, if required. Cover again, turn down the heat as low as it will go and leave to cook undisturbed for another 20 minutes.

Take the pot off the heat and rest, still covered, to steam for 20 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff up with a fork and serve.

Fried plantain

Plantains look like large bananas, which is why they are also known as cooking bananas. They’re a staple of African, Caribbean and Latin American cuisines, not least because they are so versatile. No matter what stage of ripeness they are at – green, yellow or even black – they are always ready for cooking of some sort. Unripe plantains have green skins, and are ideal for turning into plantain crisps. When just ripe, with yellow skins and just a few black dots, they’re great for frying, as here. And when they’re fully ripe and almost entirely black, they’re brilliant in desserts.

Prep 5 min
Cook 40 min
Serves 4 as a side

2 large medium-ripe plantains – ie, with yellow skins and only a few black spots
500ml vegetable oil, for frying, plus a glug extra for coating
1 tsp salt

Peel the plantains, then thinly slice them and rub all over in a little oil and the salt. Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer or large saucepan to 180C (to test, drop in a slice of plantain: it should sizzle immediately), then fry the plantains in batches for about 15 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on a large plate or board lined with kitchen roll and keep warm in a low oven while you repeat with the remaining sliced plantains.

Serve hot alongside the dibi and the joloff rice.

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