Ceebu Jen is a mix of rice, fish, veggies, and it uses tomato as well. This is especially popular along the coastal regions where fish is easier to obtain. In poorer areas, and those remote from the coast, fish is used less often. In these cases, the cook may add a strongly flavorful smoked or dried bit of fish - about the size of your palm - just for the flavoring. The vegetables can be any variety you like. I tried to stick with some of the more traditional ones but did mix it up a bit.
Two pounds whole fish or fish fillets (use firm white fish like whiting or mackerel)
1/4 cup red palm oil for traditional coloring (or peanut oil and red food coloring)
1/2 cup finely chopped parsely, packed
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
Salt and pepper
2 onions, chopped
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 head cabbage, quartered
1/2 pound yellow squash
3 carrots, cut into rounds
1 leek, chopped
2 cups rice, uncooked
Rinse the fish well. If you prefer fillets, rub them with the "roof" mixture detailed below. If you prefer whole fish, just have it cleaned at your local fresh seafood market. I'm lucky enough to have one a couple of blocks away.
Mix the parsley, peppers, garlic, and salt and pepper well. This is the mixture they call "roof". It seasons the fish. If using fillets, use it as a rub on them and cook them in it in the pan for the flavoring. If you buy whole fish, cut three diagonal slits in the fish on each side about 3/4" deep. Stuff the roof in these slits. Here's a picture of both ways. I tried using both. When I make this again, I'll be using only whole fish. It was far better.
Heat your oil up in a skillet (you know I prefer cast iron) over a medium-high heat. Brown the fish on both sides and remove to a plate to keep warm.
Transfer the oil into a deep pot that can hold all those vegetables (still medium-high heat). Throw the onions into the hot oil and saute until they being to turn brown, probably 5-6 minutes. Add the tomato paste and about 1/4 cup of water or fish stock and cook another 3 or 4 minutes.
Stir in 5 cups of water or fish stock, along with the cabbage, squash, carrots, and leek. Stir it enough to mix the vegetables but don't break the cabbage apart. Reduce the heat to medium and allow it to simmer for 40-45 minutes.
Some folks add the fish back in here. This will make it fall apart a bit which messes up the presentation. I left it out. If you can find some smoked or dried fish, you should definitely throw it in here. Simmer another 10 minutes. Remove one cup of the liquid, the fish, and the vegetables to a platter you can cover in the oven to keep warm.
Strain the remaining liquid. Discard the solids. Add enough water to that broth to make 4 cups of liquid. Bring this to a boil in the same pot, then add the rice (I used Basmati). Throw in a little salt and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes or so, until the rice is tender and fluffy. Many folks like to soak their rice beforehand so it's not sticky. Don't do that. You'll see why in a bit.
Spread the rice across a large platter, including anything that became crispy and stuck to the pan. Spread the vegetables over the top of the rice. Top this with the fish. I put the whole fish in the center and the fillets around the outside in front of each guest. Pour the reserved broth over it all. Serve it with lemon wedges.
Here's the fun part - Ceebu Jen is eaten as a communal dish directly from the platter. With your hands. You want the rice to be sticky so that you can grab a little rice, a little fish, and some vegetables, and roll them into a ball. Then eat and repeat.
It was a lot of fun and you can tailor this with your own favorite veggies and spices. The Senegalese love to add "yete" to this dish for a smoky flavor. I couldn't find any fermented snails around here though. I'll keep looking. You can also go with peppers that are hotter for a more authentic flavor. I try not to overload guests with heat. Habaneros or scotch bonnets would provide a much more traditional (and hot) flavor.
I'm looking forward to trying out the next dish and seeing your reactions to trying these.