It’s that time of the semester when jadedness and panic simultaneously begin to set in. While this is usually not the most lucrative grounds for productivity, I’ve managed to economise my studio time by weaving two projects into one and making it into a recipe post. What could Cameroonian ndolé stew possibly have to do with Sustainable Packaging Design and Screen Printing for Typography? Oh plenty, my friends, plenty.
The finished projects will most likely show up on my Behance portfolio at some point down the road, but for now I’ll leave you with some pen doodles, pretty pictures, and a plate of African food. I know last week’s German Apfelküchle was more like an afterthought connection to indulgently cute Pinterest-esque apple ring pancakes, but there’s none of that today.
Ndolé hails from Cameroon, first originating in coastal Douala but having since become a national dish of sorts. Cameroon is a sometimes referred to as “Africa in miniature” because it draws diverse influence from a central location within the country. There are residual French influences, but culinary traditions stay strong if only for the fact that white breads and pastas are an expensive luxury for a population that’s 70% subsistence farmers.
The dish is named after what Cameroonians know as bitterleaf (Vernonia amygdalina), which is understandably not something readily accessible in markets of the Western world. It can be cultivated all over the world with relative ease, but if you don’t have access to bitterleaf in your backyard, never fear—it can easily be subbed out with any of the lovely winter greens that are abundant at this time of year. The dark and moody dino kale called out to me, but I bet collard greens or spinach would be equally excellent. If you’re using local greens as substitution, you can also skip out on the bicarbonate soda soaking and scrubbing action it takes to reduce bitterness out before cooking.
The shrimp is a pretty touch of umami and complementary colour scheme. It’s a major source of protein in Cameroon, where bushmeat is more expensive and often blurs the line between local sourcing and illegal trade. The copious amount of crushed peanuts makes this dish hearty and rich, which means it’s usually served with some variety of plain starch—you can commit fully to the African theme by making fufu or bobolo, but a garnish of some pan-fried plantains was all I needed.
Ndolé (Bitterleaf/Kale Peanut Stew with Shrimp & Plantain)
- 8oz (1 cup) raw peanuts
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 T ginger, freshly grated
- 4 cups bitterleaf/kale/spinach/collards
- ¼ cup peanut oil
- 1 cup crayfish (dried, ground)
- vegetable / beef stock
- ½ lb shrimp
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- cayenne, to taste
- salt & pepper, to taste
- 1 plantain
Soak the bitterleaf overnight in water and baking soda, then rub the leaves together thoroughly until most of the bitterness is gone. If using alternative winter greens, simply chop and blanch for 5 minutes. Shell and skin the peanuts, parboiling for 5 minutes.
Pound peanuts, ginger, 1/2 onion, and garlic into a paste with mortar and pestle or blitz them in a blender/processor.
Heat up peanut oil in a pot, adding the other ½ onion along with the peanut paste and cook for 20 minutes, stirring every 5-10 minutes to avoid burning. Season and add crushed dried crayfish. Add your parboiled greens and cook for 10-15 minutes until you reach a consistency of thick paste.
Meanwhile, pan-fry shrimp with garlic until pink with a seasoning of salt, pepper, and cayenne. Peel and slice plantain, pan-frying in a few tablespoons of peanut oil until browned and cooked through.
Serve ndole with fufu or rice and garnish with shrimp and plantain medallions.