A one-pot dish of greens and rice, Babenda is a popular dish in many parts of Burkina Faso. Greens such as kale, swiss chard, mustard greens, or dandelion greens can be used in the dish. In our recipe we are using a mix of swiss chard and spinach, but any of the other greens can be used or a mix of greens can be used as well.
The ingredients that make this greens and rice braised dish uniquely Burkina are soumbala and dried fish. Soumbala (also known as dawa dawa) is fermented locust bean paste that is dried and then fashioned into little balls. A labor-intensive process that takes Burkinabe women several days, soumbala is a staple flavoring agent in many dishes in Burkina cuisine. Described as having a pungent, blue cheese like umami flavor, soumbala not only adds distinctive flavor to a dish but much needed protein. In a country where sources of protein are cost prohibitive and scarce, this plant-based source sometimes fills the gap. Since soumbala is hard to source, we will be using an excellent substitute, another fermented bean paste that is taking the place of soumbala even in West Africa: miso paste.
Dried fish such as sardines or anchovies are also ground up and added to Babenda. They infuse a mildly briney flavor to it. I used sardines in oil, however, this ingredient can be omitted to keep the dish vegetarian. Don’t be wary of the ingredients, the miso paste and fish, and the mix of those flavor profiles. I can attest that the Babenda tastes like a hearty rice and greens stew with just a hint of tangy, umami flavor that elevates the dish into something a little more fun than rice and greens. Bon appetit!
4 servings as a side
Cooking oil – 2 tbsp
Swiss chard – a bunch
Roasted peanuts – ½ cup (divide into 2 portions)
Miso paste – 2 tbsp
Rice – ½ cup
Water – 2.5 cups
Dried fish— 3 small fillets
Blender or mortar pestle
Add one portion of the roasted peanuts (¼ cup), dried fish (if using) and rice to a blender and grind to a coarse texture.
Add oil to the pan and sauté the washed and trimmed greens.
Add the miso paste and mix in with the greens and sauté about 5 minutes.
Add ground peanuts, rice and fish (if using) to the wilted greens.
Add water and bring to a boil.
Reduce to medium and let cook for 15—20 minutes. (I used basmati and it was done in 15 minutes.)
Taste for salt. The miso paste (and fish if added) may provide sufficient salt as to not require any additional.
Serve hot with the rest of the peanuts sprinkled on top.
Recipe and photo credit: Vinola V. Munyon