Global Holidays: Celebrating Tamkharit in Senegal
I hope everyone is recovering from the Thanksgiving feast and the holiday shopping rush of Black Friday (although I know the shopping malls are still full…people, y’all need to sleep now)… Anyways, as much as I happily (and heavily) celebrated with my American family here, today I turn to my home country’s heritage to celebrate the Tamkharit holiday…because, when it comes to celebration, I believe sharing is caring, so let’s start with sharing the good times first…
So what is Tamkharit? Well, is the name given in Senegal to the “Achoura”, or the tenth day of the first month of the Muslim lunar calendar. Originally, this day celebrated the liberation of the children of Israel from Egypt’s Pharaoh’s oppressive rule. On this day in Senegal, we also honor families, friends, as well as the less fortunate, with gifts and well-wishes. Above all, it is a day of prayer, giving and celebration.
And it’s a day of wonderful, exquisite feasting! The traditional Tamkharit meal in Senegal is the “thiere bassi”, which consists of classic mutton cooked with cassava and cowpeas in a tomato and chilli base thickened with peanut butter, and finished with baobab leaves and served on a base of steamed millet couscous. Yes, it is an elaborate meal, but oh soooo delicious, that I remember looking forward to it every single year…The custom is for families to sacrifice goats, and use the meat to prepare this meal, which has to not only be cooked well, but most importantly, cooked fast, as it is believed that those who eat first on the day of Tamkharit receive blessings from God. It is also the custom for each family to share their feast with neighbors and friends, as well as the less fortunate. I would know, because since my family is Catholic, we would partake in this holiday, and the feast especially, through our Muslim neighbors and friends. After a few years of thanking them for their generosity, I just took to demanding…and expecting, my part of the Tamkharit meal, from all ten of our neighbors…just sayin’…
Needless to say, I always ended up with major indigestion at the end of the day…which, according to tradition, was actually normal, given the common belief that if you did not eat until satisfied the day of the Tamkharit, that you would not be full for the rest of the year. So of course, I only had to be told once…Traditionally, this meal is eaten in a bowl in the middle of the family home; at the end of the meal, the family builds a small mound of sand where the bowl of food has been sitting, and one by one, each family member picks up the bowl and drops it on the mound of sand while asking God for blessings.
Tamkharit is also the occasion to celebrate Tadjabone, which is our own Halloween tradition. At night, boys dress up as girls, and girls dress up as boys, scouring the streets singing and dancing, asking for food or money. It’s a wild night of fun and food, after which the Muslim New year officially starts…
So today, after digesting the Thanksgiving turkey, I am off to eating my “thiere bassi” until my Spanx asks for mercy…In the meantime, I leave you with the thiere’s recipe, just in case you’re itching to taste this delicious meal…
Thierré Bassi (Millet Couscous Stew)
750g mutton, cubed
250g peanut butter
1kg millet couscous
75g powdered baobab leaves
1 small cassava, peeled and cubed
3 tbsp tomato purée
250g tomatoes, blanched, peeled, de-seeded and chopped
2 onions, peeled and chopped
100g cowpeas (or black-eyed peas)
4 garlic cloves
250ml groundnut oil
1 Maggi (or stock) cube
1 hot chilli
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
Heat the groundnut oil in a casserole dish and use to fry the mutton cubes until nicely browned. Stir in the tomato puree and fry for a few minutes then add the tomatoes and pour in enough water to just cover all the ingredients.
Bring to a boil then add the beans and cassava. Take a little of the stock and mix with the peanut butter then work this into the stew. Bring to a rolling boil and cook for 15 minutes. Now add the onion, garlic and chilli then crumble in the stock cube and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes over medium heat.
In the meantime, steam the millet couscous until tender. Once the couscous is ready stir the baobab leaves into the stew and allow to cook for a few minutes.
Serve the stew on a bed of the couscous.