Saturday, March 30, 2013

CAMEROON: THE FOOD


Normally, I do my shopping for the ingredients on Saturday and then I do my cooking on Sunday afternoons. Well, this weekend my normal cooking day got usurped by Easter. And I felt it would probably cause a rift in the family or at least risk me being called obsessed or even OCD if I kept to my schedule. So, I had to get up and buy the ingredients earlier today and cook when I got home. I made sure I chose recipes that didn’t have a million steps to them. I wanted something simple, wholesome, and something that sounds good. To me, at least.

They call it prickly pear for a reason. Probably because it comes off of a cactus. 
The main meal is a dish called zom. I laughed at the name, because it reminded me of gom. As in the gom sandwiches I used to eat as a child. (Most other people call it Sloppy Joes, but in areas of southern Indiana, and especially in and around Columbus, IN, where there was quite a large German population, the name gom was more prevalent. I wrote a linguistics paper about it when I was in college.) Anyway, zom with a Z is a stew made of slow-cooked beef and greens (I used collard greens, but I’m sure any greens would do. I almost went with dandelion greens or Swiss chard. The recipe called for spinach because for some reason they thought it would appeal to an American palate. Whoever wrote that must have never been to the South.) I also added onions, one can of diced tomatoes, a little bit of tomato paste, some pepper, and two tablespoons of peanut butter. (To me, peanut butter is the key ingredient in West African cooking.) It’s all simmered for another half an hour. I served it on a bed of couscous, but you could also use rice.

Zom, which actually means "I'm so full I can't move." Ok, I just made that up. 
My bread recipe was a little different this time. Normally, I make something that uses some kind of flour as a base, but this time I chose to make these corn muffins since I thought it would go better with the zom. I was a little skeptical of the recipe: it called for corn, baking powder and salt. And I thought, “Well, you know, there are a lot of bread recipes using corn flour, and this is essentially the starting block for that, right?” Since fresh corn isn’t in season, I just bought a can of organic sweet corn. I used my mortar and pestle to smash it up a bit before mixing in the baking powder and the salt. Then I put this mixture in a muffin pan and baked it for 20-25 minutes. First of all, it didn’t really hold together much. Maybe I needed to save some of the juice, or add a bit of milk to the mixture. Second of all, I could’ve skipped on the salt, or at least not added as much as the recipe called for. The consensus was that it was just too salty. It helped by mixing it in with the zom stew. It almost makes me wish I went ahead and made the beignets. 

Super salty corn "muffins" that I wished were actually beignets. 
Finally, I was looking for a side dish, something with fruit in it. I found a recipe for a guava fruit salad. Well, I didn’t find guava where I normally shop, although I’ve seen it there in the past. But I did find prickly pears. I’ve never had prickly pears, and didn’t really know much about them. I did find out that they are mostly grown in Mexico, Central-South America, as well as other countries along the Mediterranean and elsewhere. So, no, it’s probably not something Cameroonians eat a lot of, but oh well. I did also buy a couple of mangos and mix the two fruits together. I drizzled a honey-water mixture over the fruits along with some lime juice. Then I mixed in the coconut flakes. I thought it was really good, except that the prickly pear is full of seeds that are edible, but its texture says otherwise. Overall, I liked it. But there is a reason why they call it prickly pear: either wear gloves or hold the outside with a towel -- there are tiny little barbs that embed themselves in your skin and feel like a splinter. As I found out the hard way. 

If you can get past the texture, the flavors are amazing.
Today, I took the kids shopping with me, and I although it usually takes much longer to get everything done than it would if I were by myself, I’ve found it’s a little easier to do if I’m engaging them in what I’m doing, rather than just dragging them behind me. They get bored, and that’s when they start acting up. We talked about the fruit and where it comes from, and in-season vs. out-of-season. And why you shouldn’t buy a package of meat if it’s leaking blood. And why this tiny box of really good cereal costs $5 and this gigantic box of crap cereal costs $2. And how there are labels on packages that tell what the ingredients are, and if most of the ingredients are scientific names, then you probably shouldn’t be eating it. And about the basic layout of a grocery store, how the dairy section is always in the back in order to make you walk through the store looking at other things to buy. Going grocery shopping with the kids can be a great learning experience for them if you make it that way. Although I sometimes regret it, I fully encourage them to ask questions and to question everything. My daughter (age 7) asks questions like “Are there seeds which you cannot eat? Do all fruits and vegetables have seeds?” and my son (age 4) asks questions like “What would happen if you threw a pickle in a lake? What would happen if you threw cheese in a volcano?”  I did say question everything, didn’t I? 

The summary of my Easter Saturday. So good, today should've been called Good Saturday. 

Up next: Canada

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