Today I have a very special recipe for you all! It is called Ndole (pronounced Nduh-LEH). A lot of people aren’t familiar with Cameroonian dishes but Ndole is one of the popular ones. If you go to a Cameroonian event, you will most likely see this on the menu. It is one of my favorites. But I feel that way about a lot of Cameroonian dishes 😀 Well, with a lot of help from my mom, I can now bring this recipe to you.
Ndole is made primarily of bitter leaf and groundnut, with the addition of crayfish, some sort of meat and some seasonings. Bitter leaf is a plant popular in Cameroonian cuisine and in some West African countries as well. Its scientific name is Vernonia Amygdalina and apparently it is part of the daisy family. And here’s a fun fact: after eating bitter leaf, water tastes sweet.
Like a lot of Cameroonian recipes, it can be tricky to find some of the ingredients in the U.S. but you can definitely find these ones at some African stores. Just ask the vendors when you go looking. Crayfish is more popular and easier to find. So is raw and blanched groundnut (peanuts). Bitter leaf, on the other hand, is a little less common but can be found either dried on the shelf or frozen. Often people will substitute bitter leaf for collard greens, kale or even spinach so you can try one of those greens as well. I find substituting bitter leaf with a mixture of half kale and half spinach works really well.
Bitter leaf taste exactly as it sounds. It is bitter and needs to be rinsed a couple of times before used in most recipes. You do want some of the bitterness in the recipe but not too much and how bitter you want it is up to you. If using dried bitter leaf, you will need to soak it for at least an hour in warm water or overnight with about a teaspoon of baking soda so it can soften. If using the frozen type, you don’t need to soak it but you can still add some baking soda to it and let it sit for a few minutes before you rinse it to make it softer. The brand I bought wasn’t chopped finely enough so depending on the brand you buy, you might have to chop it up a bit.
The groundnut to bitter leaf ratio is really dependent on individual preferences so after you have tried this, you can figure out what works best for you. The more groundnut you add the creamier it will be. As a final tip, when you make this, smaller shrimp tend to work better since they are not the main event. I just happened to have only jumbo shrimps on hand. The result is a rich, creamy and hearty savory mixture that is so delicious and so hard to put in words, you just have to try it.
This recipe yields about 4 to 6 servings
- 2 cups raw peeled groundnuts (peanuts)
- 3/4 to 1 pound bitter leaf, frozen or dried and soaked (or spinach and kale)
- 1 pound beef, cubed
- 1 large onion (save about a third for topping)
- 4 garlic cloves
- 2 Maggi or bouillon cubes
- 1/2 cup crayfish
- Salt to taste
- 3/4 pound shrimp
- 1/2 cup oil
Season beef with salt and place it in the pan with about two cups of water, then bring it to a boil. Add water to pan if it begins to dry out at any point. Boil until meat is tender.
As your meat cooks, rinse your bitter leaf and drain out the water. Do this 2 to 3 times. After the last rinse, squeeze as much water as you can out of the bitter leaf and set aside.
Boil groundnut in a pan with about 2 cups of water for 10 minutes. Transfer it with the water to a blender or food processor. Julienne about 1/3 of your onion and set aside. Cut the rest of the onion in chunks and add to the blender along with garlic. Blend it to a fine consistency (use extra water if needed to help). Pour this mixture over the boiling meat. Add maggi or bouillon cubes to the pan. Stir and cover allowing mixture to simmer for about 5 minutes.
Using a mortar and pestle or food processor, grind crayfish to a coarse consistency. Add the crayfish to the pan. Then add bitter leaf making sure you separate any lumps as you add it. Stir and let this cook for about 15 to 20 minutes. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary. Stir often to avoid burning the groundnut at the bottom of the pan. When ready, turn heat off and transfer to a serving dish.
In a separate pan, heat up half a cup of oil. Add julienned onions and fry until translucent, then add shrimp. Season with salt to taste and cook for about 3 minutes or until shrimp is pink. While it is still hot, pour shrimp mixture over Ndole as evenly as possible. Serve with fried or boiled plantains (preferably ripe), miyondo or bobolo, or garri (fufu) and enjoy!