Yassa: Malian comfort food

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Waly Coulibaly

Yassa is a common Malian sauce made of onions.

When people think of Africa they probably don’t think of cuisine. But in Mali, located in West Africa. The food of this country is as diverse as its ethnic culture and regional preferences. In Mali, we eat a lot of vegetables, rice, corn, potatoes and green beans that are cooked in a variety of sauces. Cattle farming and agriculture farming are major avocations of Mali. This reflects in its wonderfully delicious and very rich cuisine.

In Mali, we eat a sauce called Yassa. Yassa is a traditional sauce made with onions, carrots, potatoes and meat. Some people put lamb, beef, goat or chicken. It depends on what you have. In Mali, we don’t eat pork. But a lot of people like Yassa with lamb or beef. We eat Yassa sauce with rice. In Mali, we eat a lot of rice because we produce rice. We export a lot of our rice outside of Mali. Countries know us because we produce good rice.

Yassa is really simple to make. I can cook it because it’s my favorite sauce. When I was back in Mali, I watched my mom cooking Yassa. Cooking Yassa depends on how many people you want to cook for. In my family there were six people, so my mom would buy 6 1/2 pounds of beef and cut it into small pieces with carrots, potatoes, mustard, hot pepper, vinegar and about 4 pounds of onions.

To make Yassa, you need to follow these few simple directions. First, you need to caramelize the onions. Then put vegetable oil in a pot and let it get hot. Then you start to put in the meat and let it cook for about seven minutes. Add your vegetables like carrots and peppers. Cut your onions into small pieces and start putting your onions in the pot and mix them with your meat, potatoes, and carrots. Add water to it and then just sit back and relax and let it cook for about 20 to 25 minutes; After 25 minutes, add a little vinegar and salt. You mix those ingredients together and close your pot to let it cook for an hour.  Be sure to check on it every 10 minutes to mix it so it does not burn. While doing that, you will start thinking about making your rice.

Making rice is simple. You just have to wash your rice, clean it, then put it on the rice cooker.  You have to be careful that you don’t put a lot of water on your rice because you don’t want your rice to be stuck together. After an hour you will see if your onions are well done and you think it is ready and well done to eat. Then people will grab plates. First you put rice on your plate, and then put the onion sauce or “Yassa” on top of your rice and enjoy.

Yassa is not a traditional food because we don’t eat it often. Sometimes the price of the onion goes up and down, so people like to make Yassa on holidays like New Year and the Muslim year or 30 days after Ramadan. It means a lot to me whenever I make Yassa. It reminds me of my mom and makes me miss home more.