In this installment of our series on foods of the African diaspora, Jessica B. Harris offers a recipe for leg of lamb that honors Tabaski, the Feast of the Sacrifice.

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Leg of Lamb with Blood Orange, Garlic & Ras el Hanout
Credit: Evan de Normandie

Dakar, Senegal, is one of several spots in the African Atlantic world where I have friends that I consider family. I journeyed there for the first time in 1972 on my first trip to sub-Saharan Africa and have visited frequently at different times of the year.  As a now publicly acknowledged lover of markets, I have spent more than a few hours wandering in the town's three main markets: Kermel, Tilène and Sandaga. Back in the 1970s when I first visited, Kermel was the market where the Europeans shopped, Sandaga was the big daddy of them all, and Tilène was the most traditionally African.

I will never forget one of my early excursions to Tilène when I spied people selling beautifully groomed rams and sheep decorated with bells and flowers as though in their holiday best. Imagine my surprise to be told that the animals were indeed in their holiday best. It was nearing Tabaski and they were being sold to serve as the main event.

A boy feeding sheep at a makeshift marketin Dakaar
A young sheep farmer feeds one of his sheep at a makeshift market in Dakar on July 27, 2020, ahead of the Muslim Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice), known as Tabaski in Western Africa.
| Credit: Getty Images / JOHN WESSELS

Tabaski, I would learn is the Senegalese term for Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday that celebrates the Feast of the Sacrifice. It honors the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismail in obedience to Allah's commandment. Ismail is saved by the appearance of a lamb that is sacrificed instead. In annual commemoration of this, the best animals are sacrificed ritually with one-third of the meat going to the family, one-third given to special friends and the rest distributed to the poor and needy. On Tabaski, all dress up in their best clothing and devote the holiday to religious celebration and visits to family and friends.

Years later, after introducing a friend to the woman who would become his wife, I was gifted with a much-prized leg of lamb on Tabaski to honor that introduction. Every year, when Eid al-Adha arrives, I try to honor my Senegalese friends with a thought to my days in Dakar and a dinner featuring lamb.

I season my leg of lamb with spices that remind me of my trips there and elsewhere on the continent, like the cumin, garlic, and salt that perfumed the lamb eaten in a seaside restaurant outside of Dakar and the ras el hanout that reminds me of the fragrance of the spice stalls in the markets of Marrakech, Morocco. Try the recipe, below, for Tabaski or any special occasion. Eid Mubarak.

Make It:

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