#1 Niger: Finishing First in Something

Niger is one of those truly tragic countries. They rank dead last (pun intended) in the 2006 Human Development Index. Also, they remain anonymous to most Westerners, except Joe Wilson and his wife (what was her name?). If most Americans can’t pick Iraq out on a map, good luck having them identify where Niger is (hint: it’s above Nigeria). Niger, thus, has it tragic in two ways: it’s poor and divided on the one hand, and it doesn’t wield any of the star-country-power that the Sudan, Ethiopia or the DRC does.

The flag of Niger is, we believe, indicative of the country's understated nature.

Is it India? Is it Japan? Ireland maybe? No, it's Niger!

Physically, it is neatly landlocked in one of the poorest regions of the world and if that wasn’t enough, it was also blessed with a part of the Sahara desert and a part of the Sahel desert (remember, only one “s” in desert because you want it less than dessert!). This is a country that only the French could have created.

Like most of its neighbors, Niger is home to a wide range of ethnic groups slapped together during the colonial era. The Hausa are the largest ethnic group, representing more than half of the total population. The Djerma (also, Zerma, Zarma and a sub-grouping of the Sonhai) are the second largest ethnic group representing about a quarter of the total of the population. The remaining 25% are nomads or Arabs.

The dominant ethnic group in Niger, the Hausa, has a much larger representation in Nigeria (about four times as large). The Djerma, on the other hand, are most heavily represented in Niger, though they still remain the minority. Thus, one ethnic group, the Hausa, is the little brother to the Hausa in Nigeria, while the other ethnic group, the Djerma, is perpetually the minority.

Thus, the idea of “Niger” becomes problematic. It is hard to imagine any strong sense of nationalism emerging within the country, and even harder to imagine that nationalism being embodied in a national dish. There is no American apple pie, no Vietnamese pho bo, and no Scottish haggis. We are left with distinct ethnic identities and no national identity. We are left with the remnants of colonialism.

This identity-group potpourri made choosing dishes to cook from Niger simple: one Hausa, one Djerma and one nomadic (we chose the Tuareg). We made Hausa kabobs (Suya), Djerma stew and Tuareg sand-biscuits (they’re actually called taguella). To drink: the only thing to tie these three disparate identity groups together, a French Chateau Le Pey.

Oh, and for dessert: yellow-cake.

Hausa Suya

We found the Suya recipe in the online “Congo Cookbook” which notes that they are a delicacy in Nigeria. Attempting to represent Niger through food, this might have been a problem. However, because it is a recipe that is explicitly of the Hausa ethnic group, we believed it would be appropriate to adopt for our purposes.


A generous handful of roasted peanuts, crushed
A teabags worth of cayenne pepper
Half a teabag worth of powdered ginger
A thimble of salt
A couple of cloves of garlic
A pound and a half of meat cut into chunks the size of a walnut
A couple of plump, but firm tomatoes
One large yellow onion


Kabob sticks
A blunt object (or mortar and pestle)
Heat source


Taking any blunt and heavy object and crush the peanuts as finely as possible. We used a meat tenderizer which worked well. The meat tenderizer would have also been useful for the very tough stew meat that we used for these kabobs. We would highly suggest buying a better cut of meat (unless you are really into well defined jaw muscles). Mix the crushed peanuts with the dry spices and toss, roll, rub or otherwise coat the meat. Cut the tomatoes and onions into kabob-friendly chunks and alternate them with the meat on a set of skewers. We got the Suya on the grill just as the sun was setting (nothing like after dark grilling), but when they came off of the fire and into the light we discovered that many weren’t done. We ate those that were cooked well, and finished the rest under the broiler in the kitchen.

Djerma Stew

We owe our stew recipe to the fine work of the American missionary team working with the Djerma people in Niger. We’re sure it will be a comfort for them to know that even if they prove unable to bring the light of God to the Muslim Djerma, they have spread the palate of the heathen near and far through the power of the Internet tubes. It’s nice to know what those who are going to hell like to eat.


Half an onion, chopped
A small amount of oil
4 to 5 cloves of garlic, minced
A small jar of diced tomatoes
A couple of pinches of dried thyme
A palm full of curry powder
3 bullion cubes
A glob of peanut butter the size of a tea cup


A pot
A heat source
A spoon


Heat the oil in a pot, we used a heavy dutch oven. Cook the onions and garlic until translucent. Throw in the tomatoes, the thyme, the curry powder, the bullion cubes and enough water to give it a soupy consistency. This was originally a meat stew, but we discarded the meat, added chopped up carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes and made it a vegetable dish. Once the veggies were tender we removed a cup of liquid from the stew and mixed in the peanut butter. This was then added to the stew and simmered until thick.

Serve hot in bowls. Serve accompanied with utensils.

Tuareg Sand-Biscuits (Taguella)

We did not approach looking for recipes from nomadic groups living within Niger with much hope. Actually, we believed the whole endeavor was hopeless. However, after fully underestimating the efficacy of our Public Broadcasting Service, we stumbled across a very hip looking website that provided detailed instructions as to how one could make Tuareg Taguella.

The website offers helpful tips for making sand-biscuits and offers this explanation of Tuareg eating habits:

Tuareg cuisine is as austere as its desert surroundings. Meat is a rarity. Milk and milk products from camels and goats are the norm. Camel’s milk with dried dates or a millet porridge with a butter sauce are typical dishes. Couscous is reserved for special occasions.

One of the most popular Tuareg foods is taguella, a thick crèpe eaten with a sauce of butter or dried tomatoes and onions. It is usually served with green tea.

Yum. A thick crèpe. We thought these nomads had a good thing and we were excited to begin our exploration into the Heart of Culinary Darkness.

The instructions from PBS continued:

2.2 lbs. of millet flour, coarsely sifted
Roughly 9 oz. of water
Large pinch of salt
Large enamel bowl

The webpage continues with instructions for how to create this desert crèpe, including such culinary mainstays as:

Dig a low, shallow hole in the desert. Build a low fire from wood and charcoal in the hole.

Scrape the surface with a plant stalk hot from the fire to keep the surface clean from sand.

To check the dough’s temperature, poke it with a stick.

To get rid of the sand, shake the bread or sprinkle it with water.

My favorite line was the one about the stick.

We generally followed the instructions provided by PBS, but altered them to suit a non-desert climate.


A 2 lb bag of millet flour.
A jar full of water
A large pinch of salt


A bowl
A shovel
Hard wood charcoal
A charcoal chimney
A stick
A flame source


We dug a hole in the back yard, just large enough to burry a number of small creatures side by side. It took about 5 shovels of dirt to make the hole adequately large. We then bought two bags of sand from the Home Despot Depot. Place both bags in the hole and dig out a space for burning charcoal.

You have now transformed a part of your back yard into the Sahel desert. Be sure to carry adequate water.

Next, get your hard wood charcoal burning, but don’t use any lighter fluid. We used a charcoal chimney, which works by starting a newspaper fire under the charcoal that eventually creates a lovely bed of burning embers.

Place the embers in your miniature Sahel desert. Let them burn for a bit. This is a good time to escape the rigors of the desert and step back inside your home to create the Taguella.

Place the millet flour into a bowl. Good luck finding millet flour. We live in a major US city and found only one store that carried the product. Mix the flour with the water and the salt until it forms dough. The consistency of the dough is much coarser than dough made with wheat flour. The millet dough also tends to tear and break apart easily.

Form the dough into disks the width of a large coaster and the height of the first two joints of your pinky. From our 2 lbs of dough, we formed five disks. Let these sit for a bit, as they tend to solidify slightly with time as water evaporates.

Leave the comfort of your home and venture back out into the desert. Once there, situate a stick above the fire so that it can get quite hot. Also, maneuver your embers so that they form a large, flat bed, with many embers on the side to pile on top of your sand-biscuits.

Once your stick is hot and your embers are ready, place your sand-biscuits on the embers. The PBS instructions said to scald the tops of the biscuits with the hot stick to keep sand from sticking to them. We did this with much success, though it seemed ridiculous at the time. After charring the tops of our biscuits with the stick, we covered them with the remaining embers.

Next, sit back and wait. They took about 15-20 minutes to cook and we followed the PBS instructions and poked them with a stick (the same stick) to see when they were adequately firm.

Remove them from the fire when they are firm and place them on a serving dish. Serve warm with stew, kabobs and French wine.


For desert, enjoy this simple Yellow-Cake recipe.


*Note: Rachel did not participate in this review. She also took the camera to her friend's wedding not understanding the full importance of this food experiment.

The kabobs were excellent and the rub was a culinary revelation. We would cook them again in a heartbeat using the same seasoning along with the tomatoes and onions. The only thing we would change would be the use of stew meat. While the meat was purchased with good intention, stew meat is not designed for barbequing and it was insufferably tough. Additionally, the cooking of the kabobs was not entirely consistent as it happened in complete darkness.

Score: 3.5 Globes
We give the kabobs 3.5 Globes, the lower score resulting from tough meat and inconsistent barbequing. This dish could easily merit a much higher score with a better cut of meat and better cooking.

The stew was also quite good. It was nicely creamy and the peanut flavor was not overpowering. Also, if seasoned correctly, the thyme, curry and cayenne created a savory/spicy blend that was very satisfying. It would be a bit boring as a stand-alone dish, but worked nicely alongside the spicy kabobs.

Score: 3 Globes
We give the stew 3 Globes. While it was unexciting, it did have a very nice, creamy texture and flavor that nicely complemented the kabobs.

The sand biscuits were appalling. We brought them inside when they were warm, just off the fire. They looked tolerable and we thought they might have too much of a smoky, charred flavor, but we were wrong. They had a very subtle smoky flavor which was tolerable, but the texture was simply awful. They tasted like a warm, slightly hardened mixture of baking powder and chalk. They crumbled into powder when you bit into them and it took a lot of effort to actually work up a sufficient amount of saliva to allow them to go down the hatch. I don’t know if we cooked them incorrectly or what, but the product that came out of our miniature version of the Sahel was just bad.

Surprisingly, if you look back at the PBS website, the dish was given a full 4 stars out of 5. We speculated that the 15 Tuareg members with computers and a wifi connection were spamming the site to artificially boost the rating.

Interestingly, the stick method for burning the tops of the biscuits was very effective.

Score: ½ Globe I give the Taureg Sand-Biscuits a ½ Globe because they were inedible. No wonder millet flour is so hard to find.

In the end, I believe that we did a good job of representing the country of Niger through food and drink. The Hausa, Djerma and Tuareg dishes were all nicely tied together by the French wine. Onto another country and a brief respite from West Africa.



We love to cook and we love to travel. As we are currently stuck in Denver, Colorado, we decided that the best way to flex these curiosity-muscles was to go on a culinary tour of the globe from the confort of our urban house. We took the United Nations member list and gave it a random ordering. We will begin cooking at Niger and end at Croatia.

We're doing this becasue this is what we love. If you have any suggestions as to how we could better prepare a dish, or where we got it wrong, please let us know.

Below is a list of UN members and the random ordering that they have been given. The dates are when they ascended to the UN.

1 Niger (20 September 1960)
2 Argentina (24 October 1945)
3 Cyprus (20 September 1960)
4 Namibia (23 April 1990)
5 Japan (18 December 1956)
6 Viet Nam (20 September 1977)
7 South Africa (7 November 1945)
8 Azerbaijan (2 March 1992)
9 Syrian Arab Republic (24 October 1945)
10 Dominica (18 December 1978)
11 Botswana (17 October 1966)
12 Belize (25 September 1981)
13 Liberia (2 November 1945)
14 Lithuania (17 September 1991)
15 Nepal (14 December 1955)
16 Guatemala (21 November 1945)
17 Turkey (24 October 1945)
18 Palau (15 December 1994)
19 Republic of Korea (17 September 1991)
20 Somalia (20 September 1960)
21 Samoa (15 December 1976)
22 Iraq (21 December 1945)
23 Senegal (28 September 1960)
24 Democratic People's Republic of Korea (17 September 1991)
25 Democratic Republic of the Congo (20 September 1960)
26 Netherlands (10 December 1945)
27 Côte d'Ivoire (20 September 1960)
28 Monaco (28 May 1993)
29 Ukraine (24 October 1945)
30 Nicaragua (24 October 1945)
31 Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of... (15 November 1945)
32 United States of America (24 October 1945)
33 Philippines (24 October 1945)
34 Malaysia (17 September 1957)
35 Mauritania (27 October 1961)
36 Ethiopia (13 November 1945)
37 Fiji (13 October 1970)
38 Sao Tome and Principe (16 September 1975)
39 Greece (25 October 1945)
40 Panama (13 November 1945)
41 Thailand (16 December 1946)
42 Ghana (8 March 1957)
43 Saint Lucia (18 September 1979)
44 Nauru (14 September 1999)
45 Uzbekistan (2 March 1992)
46 China (24 October 1945)
47 Suriname (4 December 1975)
48 Congo, Republic of the... (20 September 1960)
49 Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (14 December 1955)
50 Sweden (19 November 1946)
51 Mali (28 September 1960)
52 Solomon Islands (19 September 1978)
53 Guyana (20 September 1966)
54 Cambodia (14 December 1955)
55 Lesotho (17 October 1966)
56 Seychelles (21 September 1976)
57 Slovakia (19 January 1993)
58 Estonia (17 September 1991)
59 Cameroon (20 September 1960)
60 Djibouti (20 September 1977)
61 Andorra (28 July 1993)
62 Hungary (14 December 1955)
63 Dominican Republic (24 October 1945)
64 Sudan (12 November 1956)
65 Bulgaria (14 December 1955)
66 Egypt (24 October 1945)
67 Angola (1 December 1976)
68 Spain (14 December 1955)
69 Georgia (31 July 1992)
70 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (16 September 1980)
71 Trinidad and Tobago (18 September 1962)
72 New Zealand (24 October 1945)
73 Switzerland (10 September 2002)
74 Yemen (30 September 1947)
75 United Republic of Tanzania (14 December 1961)
76 Latvia (17 September 1991)
77 Peru (31 October 1945)
78 Bhutan (21 September 1971)
79 Madagascar (20 September 1960)
80 Barbados (9 December 1966)
81 Honduras (17 December 1945)
82 Ecuador (21 December 1945)
83 Luxembourg (24 October 1945)
84 Moldova (2 March 1992)
85 Eritrea (28 May 1993)
86 Russian Federation (24 October 1945)
87 Lebanon (24 October 1945)
88 France (24 October 1945)
89 Tuvalu (5 September 2000)
90 Gabon (20 September 1960)
91 Bahamas (18 September 1973)
92 Iran, Islamic Republic of... (24 October 1945)
93 Kenya (16 December 1963)
94 Serbia (1 November 2000)
95 Paraguay (24 October 1945)
96 Guinea (12 December 1958)
97 Montenegro (28 June 2006)
98 Rwanda (18 September 1962)
99 Lao People's Democratic Republic (14 December 1955)
100 Brunei Darussalam (21 September 1984)
101 Maldives (21 September 1965)
102 Swaziland (24 September 1968)
103 Uruguay (18 December 1945)
104 Tajikistan (2 March 1992)
105 Malawi (1 December 1964)
106 Saint Kitts and Nevis (23 September 1983)
107 Kuwait (14 May 1963)
108 Micronesia, Federated States of... (17 September 1991)
109 Kyrgyzstan (2 March 1992)
110 Bolivia (14 November 1945)
111 Qatar (21 September 1971)
112 Albania (14 December 1955)
113 Costa Rica (2 November 1945)
114 Nigeria (7 October 1960)
115 Marshall Islands (17 September 1991)
116 Jordan (14 December 1955)
117 Tunisia (12 November 1956)
118 Oman (7 October 1971)
119 Zambia (1 December 1964)
120 Ireland (14 December 1955)
121 Czech Republic (19 January 1993)
122 Algeria (8 October 1962)
123 Grenada (17 September 1974)
124 Central African Republic (20 September 1960)
125 Timor-Leste (27 September 2002)
126 San Marino (2 March 1992)
127 Brazil (24 October 1945)
128 Mozambique (16 September 1975)
129 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (24 October 1945)
130 Burkina Faso (20 September 1960)
131 Indonesia (28 September 1950)
132 Malta (1 December 1964)
133 India (30 October 1945)
134 Germany (18 September 1973)
135 Turkmenistan (2 March 1992)
136 Finland (14 December 1955)
137 Burundi (18 September 1962)
138 Mexico (7 November 1945)
139 Norway (27 November 1945)
140 Slovenia (22 May 1992)
141 Cuba (24 October 1945)
142 Kiribati (14 September 1999)
143 Papua New Guinea (10 October 1975)
144 Israel (11 May 1949)
145 Colombia (5 November 1945)
146 Poland (24 October 1945)
147 Afghanistan (19 November 1946)
148 Austria (14 December 1955)
149 Gambia (21 September 1965)
150 Singapore (21 September 1965)
151 Morocco (12 November 1956)
152 Togo (20 September 1960)
153 Romania (14 December 1955)
154 Armenia (2 March 1992)
155 Bosnia and Herzegovina (22 May 1992)
156 Antigua and Barbuda (11 November 1981)
157 Mongolia (27 October 1961)
158 Haiti (24 October 1945)
159 Bangladesh (17 September 1974)
160 Sri Lanka (14 December 1955)
161 Denmark (24 October 1945)
162 Australia (1 November 1945)
163 Cape Verde (16 September 1975)
164 Pakistan (30 September 1947)
165 Canada (9 November 1945)
166 Myanmar (19 April 1948)
167 Jamaica (18 September 1962)
168 Bahrain (21 September 1971)
169 The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (8 April 1993)
170 Belgium (27 December 1945)
171 Sierra Leone (27 September 1961)
172 Guinea-Bissau (17 September 1974)
173 Chile (24 October 1945)
174 Italy (14 December 1955)
175 Kazakhstan (2 March 1992)
176 Iceland (19 November 1946)
177 United Arab Emirates (9 December 1971)
178 Zimbabwe (25 August 1980)
179 Saudi Arabia (24 October 1945)
180 Tonga (14 September 1999)
181 Portugal (14 December 1955)
182 Mauritius (24 April 1968)
183 El Salvador (24 October 1945)
184 Benin (20 September 1960)
185 Uganda (25 October 1962)
186 Belarus (24 October 1945)
187 Liechtenstein (18 September 1990)
188 Comoros (12 November 1975)
189 Equatorial Guinea (12 November 1968)
190 Chad (20 September 1960)
191 Vanuatu (15 September 1981)
192 Croatia (22 May 1992)