Burundian sombe

African FouFou

As cooking friends from Ghana, DRC, Burundi, Somalia, Zambia, and Liberia taught to Lindsay Sterling at various locations in New England.

Notes: Foufou is a starch similar in texture to polenta and known by many different names throughout Africa (Burundian bugali, Zambian nshima, Congolese ugali...) It served in the form of a smooth mound or a slice of a molded loaf alongside soup or saucy dishes. In the U.S. we use bread similarly as we dip our bread into soup or soak up sauce with it.

Foufou can be made out of different flours such as that of corn, rice, semolina, plantain, or cassava/yuca. Foufou mixes/flours are sold online or at tropical markets such as the Tropical Foods Supermarket (450 Melnea Cass Blvd Boston, MA). The easiest and tastiest version of foufou to make in my opinion is one made with pre-cooked corn flour that some Congolese friends told me beginners should use. Incidentally, this is the same flour my Venezuelan friend used to make arepas. 

All my foufou teachers ate foufou with their hands. They broke off small bites of foufou, dipped them in soup or sauce, and then ate them. After the novelty of getting my hands messy wore off for me, I found myself putting spoonfuls of foufou in my soup and enjoying them as I would dumplings with a spoon. For authentic dishes to accompany foufou, try these: Ghanaian peanut soup, or Burundian greens, beans, and goat.

Cooking time: 30 min.
Makes: 4 servings


  • 2 cups fou fou mix or fine flour of corn, plantain, rice, or semolina
  • 4 cups water


  • Small pot or microwave safe bowl
  • Foufou stick, wooden dowel, or wooden spoon
  • soup bowls or medium mixing bowl


1. Fill medium pot on medium high heat with 4 cups water. Mix in the foufou flour in so that the water turns opaque  but is still completely watery in texture. Stir constantly with the foufou stirring stick.

2. When the mixture heats up, it'll turn thick like cream. Boil vigorously, stirring constantly. The mixture will continue to thicken. Now, keep stirring around and around the edges and bottom, about 15-20 minutes. This is hard and you will want to quit, but this is how you do it. The goal is to end up with a contained ball of thick dough: jiggly, sticky, and malleable. Keep stirring so the foufou is smooth and thick, like a wet ball of really sticky playdough.

Ebenezer Akakpo teaches how to make his favorite food from Ghana.

3. When you have a smooth thick mass, wet the inner surface of your guest's soup bowl (this will make the foufou not stick to the bowl). Scoop a serving (about 2/3 cup) of the foufou dough into the bowl. Move the bowl back and forth and around to get the mass of foufou to bounce around inside the bowl and take on the bowl-shape. It may help to turn the foufou over to get a really smooth, mounded top surface. Repeat for other guests. You can spoon soup or sauce around the foufou in the same bowl or serve the foufou and soup/sauce in separate bowls.  

Burundian Beans, Greens, and Goat

Sombe and Bugali

As Alain Bitariho and Mia Ntahobari from Bujumbura, Burundi, taught Lindsay Sterling.

NoteSombe (pronounced sahm BAY) are the greens, and bugali (pronounced boo GAH lee) is the white starch that's similar to polenta. The greens, chopped cassava leaves, can be toxic if not boiled for a minimum of 1.5 hours. 

Serves: 12-16
Cooking Time: 3 hours (plus 8 hours soaking beans the day before) 


From an African market such as Ebenezer, 654 Congress Street, Portland, ME:

From the regular grocery store:

  • 1 green pepper, large dice
  • 1 eggplant, cubed
  • 1 + 1/4 onion, large dice
  • 2 leeks, quartered lengthwise and sliced across
  • 2 + 2 bouillon cubes
  • 1/2 cup + 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 + 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp curry powder
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 16 oz. tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter


1. The night before, cover beans with water by 2 inches and soak over night. Drain and cover again with fresh water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about an hour or as long as it takes for the beans to become tender.

2. Put cassava leaves in large pot on high with 4 cups of water, two chunks of goat meat, and two bouillon cubes. Simmer covered for 3 hours. 

3. Put the rest of the goat meat in a medium pot (with lid). Add enough water to not quite cover the meat all the way and 2 bouillon cubes, and cook on high with the lid on. Cook until the meat is brown.

4. When cassava leaves become fragrant, add cubed eggplant, green pepper, onion and leeks, and enough hot water so that it comes just under the vegetable tops. Add bay leaves, Sazonador Total, black pepper, garlic, and cook covered on medium high heat.

5. When goat meat is brown, strain the broth into a container for later use, and add 1/3 cup oil so that the oil is half way up the meat pieces. Add 1/4 onion, minced, black pepper, 1/2 tsp basil, bay leaf and curry powder.

6. After cassava cooks for fifteen minutes, add 1/2 cup vegetable oil. Continue cooking covered on medium high for another 2 1/2 hours, adding cups of water periodically to keep it somewhere between a soup and a solid. In the end, you don’t want it watery, but very moist.

7. When goat is getting darker brown and fried and 16 oz. tomato paste to goat and let cook for ten minutes, stirring to create a thick, red, pasty sauce. Stir in 1-2 cups of the reserved goat broth to loosen the paste into a bright red sauce. Turn off heat.

8. When the cassava has cooked for 2:45, then reheat the goat and pour most of the sauce into the cassava, keeping the goat pieces from falling into the cassava pot. Stir peanut butter to the cassava leaves. Cook for fifteen minutes more. Add more broth if you have it to extend the sauce in the goat pot.

9. You can make white rice or a thick style polenta called bugali to go with this dish (also called foufou in other African languages.) To make thebugali, bring water in a medium nonstick pot to a boil. Split water into two pots. Pour enough corn flour into the 1st pot (still on the heat) to reach the surface of the water. Stir with a wooden spoon, mashing the corn flour against the sides of the pot continuously.  Add water from the 2nd pot only if the corn flour remains dry and uncooked. When the corn mixture becomes bouncy and pulls away from the pot in a single mass, it’s ready. Press the bugali evenly into the bottom of the pot, then overturn the pot so the bugali falls onto a plate. Sprinkle water on another dinner plate and use the wet plate to press the sides of the polenta into a smooth mound.

10. Serve a 1-inch thick slice of bugali on each plate (or a serving spoon of white rice) with along with piles of cassava leaves (called sombe), goat meat with sauce, and boiled beans. Top with 2-3 drops of super spicy Akabanga oil.