Porridge Plantains

Today I had a lesson in Cameroonian cooking.

I’ve been following a blog (Immaculate Bites) posted by a young Cameroonian woman who puts out recipes from a variety of cuisines – African, Caribbean, some middle eastern, some from the southern areas of the USA. I’ve made several of her dishes and enjoyed them.

Today’s preparation was not one of her recipes, but rather one taught to me by my husband. It is a traditional dish, called Porridge Plantains, that we could not prepare until now because we needed some ingredients brought to us from Cameroon, by a friend who visited home over the summer. Specifically, a dried vegetable called bitter leaf, and a particular bullion cube that I have not so far seen in the USA.

The preparation is quite easy – provided one has the few ingredients to hand. We had plantains, but they were too ripe! So we made a quick trip into town to Wal-Mart. With the assistance of a store employee, who brought out a new box of plantains, we acquired a supply that were green and firm and perfect for boiling. Home again, the plantains went into a pot with soaked bitter leaf, the bullion cubes, a little salt, some smoked meat, and red palm oil, to be cooked down until the broth had soaked thoroughly into the plantains and they were soft in the middle. Out of respect for my limited tolerance for HOT spice, my husband only added habanero pepper at the end, to his portion of the meal. See below for the challenges of preparing that pepper!

Porridge plantain is served at every special event in Cameroon. We had not yet prepared it, not having the special ingredients. So today was our very own “special event”, as I tried for the first time – and my husband enjoyed after too long a gap – a taste of his home.

Porridge plantain has – for me – an interesting and enjoyable flavor, complex, slightly bitter but not excessively so. I think it helps that I love spinach and am one of those people who like anchovies. I’m sure it also helps that I was raised with a rule that I must take a taste of every food prepared. I did not have to eat a whole portion, but I could not skip tasting the – mostly middle-eastern style – foods my mother prepared. By the time I reached Vietnam (at age 13, way back before anyone in the USA had even heard of the country) I was prepared to try the radically different foods I encountered there.

In the years since, I’ve not only enjoyed eating a variety of cuisines, but have also enjoyed learning to prepare them. Preparing pepper sauce for my husband, now, is a challenge of a different sort. He likes the small, orange, extremely hot habanero peppers, cooked down and turned into a sauce that he adds to just about everything. I’ve started preparing the sauce for him – and just about been run out of the house as the cooking peppers put so much “bite” into the air that everyone starts coughing. In warmer weather, with the windows and doors open, it wasn’t a problem, but now that temperatures have dropped, we have become shut in with any irritants in the air. We’ve found a solution – cooking the peppers on a propane-fueled outdoor grill set up in the shelter of the portal attached to the house.

To everything there is a season. For everything there is a seasoning. Some like it hot, some like it sweet, some like it sour (that’s me). How dull it would be if we all liked only the same tastes, activities, hobbies. I wish, for everyone, an openness to experimentation and learning, and the pleasures that come from new experiences. Who knows, I may yet learn to not just prepare but actually to eat habanero sauce!

A habanero chili

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One Response to “Porridge Plantains”

  1. Ron Maltais Says:

    I enjoyed your reflection on the joys and challenges of Cameroonian cooking/ cuisine. I had never seen a plantain until I was living and working in Singapore some years ago. I bought them thinking they were bananas. I was quite shocked by the taste.

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