Chicken Yassa: Love At First Bite

I grew up like most Americans with a limited view of Africa and Africans. I was unfamiliar with African people, African culture and African food. Little did I know, that my life and views were about to change and it all began December 31, 2000. I  meet and become friends with a wonderful human being who just happened to be from Gambia, West Africa. Soon after our initial meeting, I was invited to attend a Gambian & Senegalese New Year’s Eve celebration.

As we approached the door of the event space, I could smell the food…The aroma was powerful, bold, distinctive and inviting.  I was mesmerized by the essence of the food. So, since this was my first introduction to African food my friend prepared my plate. He explained what was in each dish, how it was prepared and the level of spice and heat I could expect to taste. My sense of smell & sight were on fleek; I didn’t know what to taste first. Instinctively I began my exploration with what looked pretty basic, it was chicken with onions, lemons and red & green bell peppers  served over rice. I promise you, my taste buds started dancing to the beat of the music. I was experiencing love at first bite. It was savory, spicy, lemony, peppery and delicious; it was like nothing I had ever tasted before. Yassa was my new found love.

Yassa originates from Senegal but is very much apart of the Gambian cuisine experience. It can be prepared with fish or chicken. It is marinated overnight with lemons, spices, pepper and onions; then cooked the next day on a charcoal grill.  I’ve learned to perfect Yassa. In fact, my family and friends absolutely love it and request it often. I describe Yassa as a lemon-pepper, onion lovers delight.  Yassa is served family style on a big platter placed atop a cloth on the floor for everyone to gather around and enjoy a piece of the Mother Land.


  • 1-3 pounds of Chicken
  • 1/4 to 1 cup Brown Spicy Mustard
  • 3-4 Onions (Sliced into medium to thin slices)
  • 4 Cloves of Garlic (Chopped)
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper (Sliced)
  • 1 Green Bell (Sliced)
  • 1 tablespoon Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Black Pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Lemon Pepper
  • 8 tablespoons of Olive or Peanut Oil
  • Salt (to taste)
  • 4 Lemons Juiced
  • 1/2 cup Chicken Broth
  • 1/2 cup Green Olives (Optional)
  • 3 cups cooked White Rice

Cooking Instructions

  1. Prepare marinade by combining half of the onions, bell peppers, garlic, olive oil and juice of 2 lemons. Season chicken and add to the marinade. Allow to marinade over night.
  2. Next day, prepare the charcoal grill. Once the grill is ready, place chicken directly on grill grates.
  3. Make a foil pack for the marinated onion mixture and cook them on the grill until tender.
  4. Combine the remaining half of the onions, bell peppers, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice in a bowl.
  5. Heat cast iron skillet on the stove top. Once hot add onion mixture, cook until onions & bell peppers are al dente.
  6. Stir chicken broth into the mixture, then set aside.
  7. Once chicken is done place into a pan, add onion mixture and cover with foil.
  8. Cook in the oven on 350 for 20 minutes.
  9. Serve family style over cooked rice.


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