This week, families and friends will gather together to celebrate Thanksgiving here in the US. What do your holiday traditions look like? Across cultures, many traditions begin and center around cooking and food. And, as the holiday season is upon us, many people will find their kitchens full of life! Around the world, kitchens are often referred to as the heart of the home.

In Senegal, however, families in rural areas often use traditional open fires, which can make the kitchen a dangerous place. Open fires can cause respiratory problems from smoke, start house fires, and be hazardous to children. To combat these challenges, CREATE! has introduced sustainably-designed and technologically appropriate improved cookstoves! Improved cookstoves are made from free, locally available materials such as clay, sand, dried grass, and water. CREATE! technicians hold village-wide trainings for community members to attend and learn how to build improved cookstoves in their own homes. This way, families in rural Senegal can have cleaner and safer kitchens and protect the heart of the home!

Protecting the Heart of the Home in Walo

After CREATE!, held a training in the community of Walo, many women went back to their homes to build their own improved cookstoves. Fatou Cisse, a proud mother of one, is one of these women. “I have two improved cookstoves in my kitchen now,” she tells us. Women often build different improved cookstoves for different sized pots, now she can cook safely with her two favorite traditional cooking pots. With the cookstove’s outer protective walls, Fatou can cook over both fires and know that her family and home are safe from the flames. “I notice that we live in security since we use the improved cookstove, and there is no longer a fire risk in the village,” Fatou explains.


The Benefits of Improved Cookstoves

As well as increasing safety, improved cookstoves help improve the environment by using less firewood. “With the old fire, I used to spend so much wood for cooking, but with the improved cookstove, I only need two pieces per meal,” Fatou describes. In fact, improved cookstoves reduce firewood consumption by 60-70%! This means that Fatou spends less time gathering firewood for meals. “I use less firewood for cooking. I no longer need to walk many miles for collecting firewood!” She says. Usually, cooking one meal can take over half of a day, but now Fatou has more time to spend with her family. “Since I use the improved cookstove, I gain more time, and I have the possibility to do many other things,” she tells us.

Cooking Nutritious Meals

One of the new activities that Fatou has started participating in is creating and sustaining a community garden with other women in her village. Once a week, CREATE! technicians meet with community members to plan out future garden activities. After her work in the garden, Fatou brings home a large basket of fresh vegetables to cook for her family with her improved cookstoves. “My family’s diet has improved because vegetables are always available in the village,” Fatou explains. “We always feed our children with the vegetables that we grow ourselves!” Fatou has created a wonderful and welcoming heart of the home where her family eats nutritious meals in a clean and safe area.

As you gather with your friends and family this holiday season, also think of the families celebrating their own traditions and togetherness around the world, and what that looks like for different people. For many, having a safe, clean cookstove is an incredible gift in itself, allowing women more time to spend with their families, keeping their children safe, and enjoying a meal together.

In honor of this holiday season, check out a favorite Senegalese dish below:


Ceebu Jen/ Thieboudienne Recipe

Author: AfricanBites
Serves: 6-8


3 pounds fish of white firm-fleshed fish
1 cup of chopped parsley
1 cup of chopped green onions
1 large onion sliced
15 oz of tomatoes sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
5 garlic cloves
3 cups uncooked short-grain rice
2 pounds veggies (carrots, green pepper, eggplant)
2 pounds potatoes/ cassava
8- 10 cups of water
8 oz smoked fish


1. First, wash the fish, then score or slit the fish 4 to 5 times on a slant across each side. Rub the fish with lemon, and after salt the fish and set aside.

2. In a food processor or blender, puree chopped parsley, green onions, garlic, habanero pepper and Bouillon cubes of your choice.

3. Next, dowse fish in one portion of the parsley marinade. Flip the fish so that both sides are coated with the marinade, including the inside of the slashes. Let it sit as you prepare the vegetables for the dish. This may be done an hour or two in advance; cover and refrigerate.

4. Clean and wash the vegetables. Afterward cut the carrots, eggplant, peppers, potatoes, and cassava into large chunks. Make sure to peel the outer layer of the potatoes and cassava.

5. Heat a Dutch oven or a wide heavy saucepan. Add 1 cup of oil, swirl, and heat for a few seconds. Next, lower in the fish and fry until fish is brown around 3 minutes. Turn the fish around and brown for two minutes on the other side. Remove the fish and set aside.

6. Next, add the chopped onions and tomato sauce. Include the remaining marinade for the fish (about 2 tablespoons), add Bouillon cubes of your choice and salt according to preference. Let it simmer for about five minutes.

7. Pour in 6 cups of water and add the cassava and potatoes to cook for about 5 minutes. Then add eggplant, carrots and the peppers last. Let it simmer for about 3 minutes or until tender. Remove the vegetables and set aside.

8. Finally, add the rice and about 1-2 cups of water as needed. Adjust for seasonings to taste, add half of the fish. Cover and cook on very low heat on stovetop for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the rice is cooked and absorbs all the water. Stir occasionally being careful not to let the fish break up.

9. Another option is to finish cooking the rice in the oven for about 10 minutes or until tender. This minimizes the stirring and prevents burning.

10. Remove and serve warm.