|Ndolé and Fufu|
I finally had a chance to test a recipe for ndolé, the national dish of Cameroon which features bitterleaf (or other hearty greens such as chard, kale, or spinach), groundnuts or peanuts, shrimp and/or dried or smoked fish, and spices such as ginger, garlic and peppers. Ghana, Nigeria, and other West African countries have their own versions which may include melon seeds and meat such as goat.
Here’s where the party begins: fufu, the standard ndolé starch accompaniment, is made with plantains, yams, cassava, or other roots or starches that are pounded in a large mortar and pestle affair until it forms a smooth ball of dough. The traditional method requires two people to get the job done: one to add, combine, and manually turn ingredients in a super-sized wooden bowl while the other pounds with a long wooden pestle to smash and breakdown the additions. After considerable practice the two develop a rhythm and harmoniously succeed in creating a silken dough, with no fingers broken in the process. Once the ndolé is served, individual portions of the fufu are pulled off, and pieces are then dipped with the fingers into bowls of steaming soup or stew to assist in scooping up juicy morsels.
In all fairness, I admit, I have never been a fan of peanut butter type sauces; Asian noodles with the peanut-butter-spice combinations leave me cold. The ndolé recipe I use as my beginning point comes from John Gerber's Just Food Now a great website of well-researched food from not only Africa, but from all over Europe and points beyond. With full confidence in my source, I was game. Since this recipe and others I considered tend to use metric weights and measures, I took a few conversion liberties, as well. But, what the heck, it’s a stew. I doubt if everyone in Africa measures all their ingredients either.
Now that I have a few preliminary caveats out of the way, I confess, I love this dish ― in all its shrimpy peanut buttery glory. The bitterleaf was a bit of a stretch, so I blanched a nice bunch of kale and cut it into bite sized pieces. I channeled my Caribbean cooking days and asked what they would do? Why, add a little thyme, of course! I’m glad I added the second poblano pepper along with a good hit of cayenne because they stand up to the dose of ginger and garlic. In fact, the stew would not be same without kale or other assertive greens; to make up for the missing ‘bitter’ element, a splash of lime on the finish supplied a prerequisite brightness. Who knows, it may not be totally authentic, but it is completely outrageous―and I will be making it again― soon.
Right, I also took a few liberties with the fufu. After reviewing a flight of how-to-cook and eat fufu videos on YouTube, there was no way I was going to swallow my fufu without tasting it. I’ve included a Dutchvlog clip worth viewing on an authentic Ghanaian approach to making FuFu with plantain and cassava, which further supports my position on making fufu: it needs to be tasty.
Consequently, I opted for what my grocer calls white yams, something that looks suspiciously like a blonde sweet potato (unlike the rough skinned African variety). I used my food processor to begin the fufu event and to add the butter, salt and pepper; then the yams were returned to the straight sided cooking pot where I continued to pound them unmercifully with a wooden spoon until they relented and formed a springy cohesive ball.
In sum, I’m not sure which is better: the ndolé or the fufu. This is a world class marriage destined for eternal bliss: a complex utterly delicious stew lapped up with buttery tinged slightly sweet mashed potatoes with some serious body. Finger lickin’ good!
Ndole (Bitterleaf Soup)
Inspired by: Just Food Now, “African Spirit: The food of Cameroon. Just Food Now”.
500 ml dried bitterleaf (or 1 large bunch kale, collards, turnip greens, or spinach)
1 lb cooked shrimps (size of your choice, I used small)
2 green onions chop
3 clove garlic, divided
¼ tsp cayenne (or more)
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chop
1 green pepper; or 2 poblanos, if available, seed and chop
2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1 tsp fresh thyme
3 tomatoes, peel and chop (or 16 oz. diced canned tomatoes, drain and save liquid
¾ cup natural peanut butter, (extra-crunchy works well), approximate
2 cups water, approximate
salt and pepper to taste
juice of 1 lime, or to taste
If using dried bitterleaf, soak it overnight; drain in the morning and press out the excess water.
If using kale, collards, or turnip greens, wash the greens, remove spines, chop them, and simmer simmer in a pot of boiling water 3-5 minutes, until the greens begin to become tender. If using spinach, wash and chop.
Marinate the shrimp: combine the green onions, 1 minced clove garlic, and 1 Tbsp. olive oil into a thin paste and toss with the cooked shrimp. Chill until needed.
Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large pot, add the onion, green pepper, 2 cloves minced garlic, ginger, thyme; sauté for a few minutes until the onions are translucent. Add the chopped tomatoes, reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes to combine flavors. Add the reserved tomato juice and enough water to thin as needed, and simmer another 5-10 minutes.
Add the peanut butter, the greens and additional liquid to thin if too thick. Cover the pot and continue simmering until greens are tender, another 10 – 15 minutes. If dry, add additional water, a little at a time, as needed.
Just before serving, briefly sauté the shrimp, add to the soup, and heat well. Add a dash of lime juice to brighten flavors and correct seasoning. Serve with fufu. Serves 4.
4 medium white yams, peel and cut into chunks
2 Tbsp butter
½ tsp salt, white pepper
In a heavy pot, simmer the yams in salted boiling water until they begin to soften when pierced with a knife. Allow to drain well.
Place the yams in a food processor or beat with a mixer, adding knobs of butter, salt and pepper until there are no lumps.
Return the mixture to the pot and continue to beat with a wood spoon, mashing against side of pot until a silky cohesive dough forms.
Portion into individual rounds and serve each surrounded by soup or stew; use the fufu as bread for dipping with fingers. Serves 4.