A few weeks ago, I was in France with an international group of students for a short course in Ethnobiology. During this course, I was paired with my friend from Cameroon, Ntumuwel Bonito Chia, to cook breakfast. It was quite interesting because we were asked to create a meal using only select French ingredients. When we asked each other what we should make, we quickly realized our ideas included many things we could not find nearby. We managed just fine with bread, eggs, and cheese, but I left France very curious about the West African foods my friend suggested we make that morning.
After returning to Cameroon, my friend Bonito kindly sent me some recipes for cooking Cameroonian plants. I’ve shared two of these recipes that use plants gathered directly from the forest. I hope to take Bonito up on his offer to visit Cameroon to learn more about these plants and to taste these recipes!
|Eru Leaves (Gnetum africanum, photo courtesy of Bonito)|
Eru (pronounced ‘e,ru) is a traditional meal of the Bayangi people that live in the southwest of Cameroon. Eru is also the name of the plant that is the main ingredient in this dish, Gnetum africanum. Below you can see the Eru leaves cut into thin strips to be cooked.
|Sliced Eru Leaves (photo courtesy of Bonito)|
A dish Bonito enjoys combines boiled Gnetum leaves, crayfish, dried fish, cow meat, and a red oil (from the African oil palm). Eru is served with a side of plantains and fufu. Fufu is a dish made from yuca or cassava (Manihot esculenta). Although I believe fufu recipes differ regionally, in Cameroon Bonito explained that fufu is made by boiling and pounding the cassava root.
Bonito explained that cooking eru leaves changes their flavour from slightly bitter (uncooked) to sweet (cooked). Interesting, even when cooked, eru leaves retain an odor reminiscent of the forest. Because eru leaves are fibrous, people boil them with leaves called “water leaves” to help to tenderize the eru fibers. People living outside of Cameroon report that spinach can be used as a substitute for water leaves in a pinch!
|Ndole with Fried Plantains (photo from www.awayfromafrica.com/2009/07/cameroon-food-part-1.html)|
Ndole (pronounced ndo ‘le) is a traditional meal of the Douala people from the costal region of Cameroon. This meal is cooked using leaves from the ndole plant (Vernonia amygdalina) also commonly known as “bitter leaf”. As its common name indicates, ndole is bitter; this flavour is due to the high levels of antioxidants it contains.
To remove the bitter taste, Bonito explained that ndole leaves are washed several times in water or boiled with limestone. Ndole leaves are then cooked along with groundnuts (also known as peanuts in North America; Arachis hypogea) and groundnut oil. After this process, Bonito told me that ndole tastes sweet.
Thanks again Bonito for sharing these forest-plant recipes!