This week we are in Niger (pronounced nee-ZHER), not to be confused with Nigeria. Niger is a West African country that sits directly to the north of Nigeria. Niger is among the most impoverished countries in the world. We found that much of what they eat is millet, rice, and beans. We were close to just making one of these dishes as they seemed to most closely embody what we were reading about Niger and then we stumbled upon Djerma.
Djerma is the national dish of Niger and it felt a little more interesting than rice and beans. One site described Djerma as “chicken noodle soup with peanut butter” and this is precisely how I described the recipe to my parents, my husband, and my friends as I prepared to make this meal. Every single one of them turned up their nose and said, “let me know how that turns out.” Colin asked a number of times if I was sure I wanted to make this dish. He was sure there were better options. I was curious and I was set on making something that didn’t instantly sound good to me. I figured the whole point of this experiment was to try new things and to push myself outside of my culinary comfort zone.
As I prepared the djerma it quickly became apparent that it was less like chicken noodle soup and more like a tomato stew. This made the peanut butter seem a little less strange but we were still kind of perplexed by how it would all come together. It reminded me of making Pad Thai with a thick peanut-y sauce. The more I cooked the more it seemed like a mixture of pad Thai meets chicken fried rice meets tomato stew. The flavors melded well together and we found ourselves going back for seconds. The dish was good. Good enough that I think it will be added to a regular rotation of meals in our home. It was easy to make and the ingredients were largely staples that we always have on hand. If you’ve been interested to try a dish that I’ve been posting about but you don’t want to go around looking for fermented yak cheese, I think you’ll find that you have most of these ingredients in your pantry. We served the Djerma over rice and it made for a hearty meal, perfect for a fall night.
Because Colin was so skeptical about the Djerma he suggested we also make a mango salad with fresh mango, pineapple, lemon juice and apricot nectar. We found that recipe on this little site. It added a colorful brightness to the dinner and was a good compliment to the Djerma. We garnished with pomegranate seeds instead of strawberries since we had them on hand.
My mom gave me the gift of time this week. She watched Micah and let me go do whatever I wanted. Halfway to the grocery store I made a U-turn and decided that groceries can be bought with Micah, a quiet cup of tea with my computer cannot. As I sat enjoying my tea, catching up on emails and writing this post a swarm of high school girls descended upon the coffee shop. I watched them take selfies with their bagels and criticize each other for the lunches they ate, the clothes they wore, and the way they answered questions during class. It dawned on me that this kind of interaction is a part of why this food journey is important to me. It’s important because it isn’t just about the food. I want to be–and I want Micah to be–in touch with a world that is so much bigger than instagram and wearing the right outfit. This might be a harder and larger parenting battle than I am prepared to admit or understand right now, but if I can do any little thing to combat this drama before it starts, I’m going to do my best.
My hope is that as we learn more about each country our world will expand. My little corner of the world here might feel smaller and worries about inconsequential things will begin to shift. Perhaps life in Niger is a lot like life here, but something tells me that a lot of our daily routines are probably radically different. I bet Nigeriens have a lot to teach me about joy and living simply. I’m feeling grateful for things I often take for granted, like access to clean water and solid roof over my head. I’m feeling spoiled to be able to travel the world through food, to have access to grocery stores that are able to provide food from all over the globe. I think it’s important to pause and recognize that this is not the case everywhere and remember that not everyone lives how I live.
If you are from Niger, know someone from Niger, have traveled to Niger, or been to a restaurant serving the cuisine of Niger we’d love to know what other foods you love and if this looks like traditional Djerma! Leave us a comment and let me know more about your food!