Location: Central Africa
Population: 26.5 million
Geography: A varied landscape of coastal regions, mountains, savannah, desert, and rainforest
Language: English, French
Signature flavours: Seafood, chicken, legumes, root vegetables, plantain, corn
I would be lying if I said the prep for this assignment was anything other than chaos. Despite careful planning (I created a master list of ingredients and steps so I wouldn’t have to open my computer while cooking), my kitchen looked and felt like a disaster zone while I laboured frantically for two and a half hours. We had company coming for the dinner, so there was an uncharacteristic need for punctuality for my Cameroonian venture.
I was pleased with my menu. Having stumbled across a Cameroonian food blog, I was set for recipes. Anyway, despite the pandemonium, I enjoyed myself as I whipped up stews, doughs, and desserts.
Ndole: A staple dish of Cameroon, ndole is a thick spinach and peanut stew generously flavoured with garlic, ginger, and white pepper.
Prep and cooking time: 40 min
Fish Rolls: Mackerel, onions, carrots, and spices rolled up in fluffy pastry and deep fried.
Prep and cooking time: 45 min
Poulet DG: Apparently this dish is so named because it’s good enough to serve to a director general. It’s a flavourful chicken stew loaded with bell peppers, onions, garlic, and fried plantains.
Prep and cooking time: 30 min
Cameroon-Style Black Beans: Beans fried up with onions and tomatoes, and taken up a notch with crayfish paste (I substituted shrimp paste). This dish is commonly enjoyed alongside fried plantains.
Prep and cooking time: 15 min
Chin Chin: A popular snack throughout the region, these nutmeg-y fried dough bits are another Cameroonian staple.
Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Mango Cream: Boiled mango is blended into a pudding and folded gently into whipped cream for this sensational dessert.
Prep and cooking time: 90 min (includes chilling time)
The Shopping List
Things we used to find so easily at our local market in Toronto (like plantains for Cameroon) are, here in the country, a bit of a culinary curiosity. We went looking — with success — at a large market in a town about an hour away. I managed to tick everything else off my list at the same place.
Like I said, chaos reigned. But it was productive chaos, and before too many hours had passed, the table was set with plates of steaming stews, dishes of friend plantains, crooked piles of chin chin, and delicate bowls of pinkish mango cream.
I explained what each dish was in turn as we tasted it, starting with the ndole. I’ve made dishes similar to this one for other assignments in the region, but this was one of my favourites. Usually, recipes for this type of dish call for peanut butter, but this one called for boiled peanuts blended with garlic, ginger, and onion. I found the result to be less overpoweringly peanut-y and more balanced.
Next was the poulet DG, which I had made with a soy-based chicken alternative. It was a brightly-coloured, flavourful stew that I’m sure would have made any director general happy.
The beans were a surprise standout for me. I like beans as a rule, but I loved the salty punch of the shrimp paste, which up until tasting, was a big question mark for me. We ate scoops of the stew on golden slabs of fried plantain.
The fish rolls looked beautiful, but I found the ratio of filling to breading rather disappointing. My rolls puffed up much more than the pictures online suggested they should (I’m not quite sure where I went awry). Still, all told, they were a nice addition to the table, and by unfolding some of the lovely, soft dough, I had a bit of extra bread for dipping into the stews.
It was hard to resist the great big pile of chin chin up until then, but we did it somehow, and finally ended our meal with crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside chin chin — a little spicy, a little coconut-y. We dipped them into the coconut cream, which was velvety smooth, and perfectly sweet.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.