Cameroon: Ndole ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฒ

Every so often, I come across a dish I dread.

It usually involves a leafy green.

I’ve had one-too-many incidents of stomach trouble after eating cooked spinach. My esophagus cringes when I smell broccoli. I straight up laugh at most kale, unless it’s fried.

Leafy greens just ain’t for me. But, still, I try โ€“ which is why I went to Mama Pauline’s African Market and picked up some frozen ndole.

The leaves sat in my freezer for months, before I had the courage to move forward. They sat in my fridge, defrosting, and I dreaded them. They looked soโ€ฆ spinachy.

Not helping things: the recipe I found for Cameroon’s national dish called for soaking the leaves in baking soda and water for a day.

My stomach turned again. I soaked them for two.

But I also bought the ingredients I needed, and I couldn’t let them go to waste. I drove to Beaverton to get crawfish. I bought a half-pound of shrimp. I even found Maggi, the ubiquitous flavoring sauce from much of the not-American world.

I didn’t get sick. And, in fact, I didn’t hate ndole. The meal was incredibly rich, and I couldn’t eat too much without worrying about what was going to happen to my digestion โ€“ but nothing did. The leaves had a unique, not-spinachy taste, and the seafood was tasty and hearty without being overpowering.

Recipe sourced from African Bites.



  • 1 cup shelled and peeled peanuts
  • 1 can seafood stock
  • 1/2 # shrimp
  • 3/4 # crawfish
  • 1/2 # chicken (or beef)
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 large onion, chopped, divided
  • 2 Tb Maggi
  • 1 # ndole leaves
  1. Place ndole in a bowl with water, rub leaves together, rinse. Soak overnight with a ts baking soda.
  2. Fry half the onions until translucent, then add the meat.
  3. Boil the peanuts with seafood stock and 1 Tb Maggi for about 10 minutes. Cool.
  4. Drain the peanuts, reserving the stock. Put the peanuts in a food processor and pulse to a paste, adding stock to get the right consistency.
  5. Blend half the onion and 3 cloves garlic into a fine paste and add to the mixture of peanuts and meat.
  6. Pour in the crawfish and let it simmer for 10 minutes stirring frequently to prevent burns. Season with salt and Maggi.
  7. Add the ndole leaves, and simmer for 10 more minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, heat oil in a pan, add 1 clove crushed garlic, then add shrimp, stirring constantly until pink.
  9. Serve ndole on a plate with boiled plantains or cassava fufu, and put shrimp on top.

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Bangladesh: Korma ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ฉ

For more than a decade, I searched for the best make-it-at-home chicken tikka masala recipe. I’d tried every sauce mix I could find, from jars to packets to powders, to no avail.

Then, in 2015, I took an Indian cooking class, and it all started to make sense. I could make my own curries at home! It no longer felt futile!

With my new-found skills at hand, I’ve made curry a few times โ€“ and one of my favorite versions is chicken korma, the sweet, savory, flavorful national dish of Bangladesh.

I’m not going to run a recipe here, because I straight lifted it from the New York Times, and the Gray Lady needs the clicks. But check it out. Well worth your time, and a relatively easy weeknight meal.

Algeria: Couscous ๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ฟ

Remember when couscous became a thing?

I think it was the mid-1990s, when Near East started putting boxes of the stuff on your store shelves and you could make it in 5 minutes. It was an easy way to get some weeknight carbs, a parents’ dream in a one-pot meal, and it was even, dare I say, exotic.

I loved that stuff. My family would eat it a couple of times a month. I’d keep boxes in the pantry for meals when I was cooking for myself. Pine nuts, seasoning packet, tiny semolina grains, 5 minutes, good to go.

In 1998, I was fortunate to go on a school trip to Spain, a trip that included an optional one-day excursion to Morocco for $80, and heck yeah I was doing that. We had lunch in the city of Tetouan, in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sitting on the floor and having couscous.

It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It was light, flavorful, even decadent.

I don’t think I ever ate another box of instant couscous again. I knew what I had available to me in the states was not even comparable to what I had in Morocco.

For some reason, it never occurred to me to try to learn how to make a better couscous, until I got up to Algeria in the Nation Plates project. That’s when I started to learn about this fascinating dish: It’s gently steamed to cook, water and oil mixed in with the couscous before put over a hot pot. And then it’s steamed again. And again.

It seemed challenging, and it took some improvisation โ€“ particularly in finding a receptacle to steam fine-grain couscous. I used a strainer, which was imperfect but sufficient.

Recipe sourced from Halal Home Cooking, with some edits.

Lamb Merguez Couscous

  • 2 Tb olive oil
  • 1 # merguez sausage
  • 1 1/2 medium onions, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 ts Ras El Hanout
  • 1 ts ground cumin
  • 1 ts ground coriander
  • 3/4 ts fine salt
  • 1/2 ts ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 ts ground black pepper
  • dash of harissa paste, or to taste
  • 4 1/4 cups water
  • 2 carrots, washed, peeled and sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, washed, trimmed and sliced
  • 1/2 # fine couscous
  • 1 Tb extra virgin olive oil, divided plus more for greasing steaming basket
  • 1 2/3 cups water, divided
  • 1 Tb unsalted butter
  • Stew

    1. Over medium heat, warm oil in your cookware. Add merguez and brown on all sides. Remove and set aside, leaving fat in the pan.
    2. Reduce heat to medium low, adding the onion and caramelizing, stirring often.
    3. Return the meat to the pot, along with the spices, stirring to incorporate. Add water, and increase heat to medium-high, bringing to a boil.
    4. Simmer for 40 minutes.
    5. Add vegetables, and simmer for another 20 minutes.
  • Couscous

    1. In a large bowl, add the couscous and stir in 1/2 Tb of olive oil, mixing to coat the grain evenly. Add in 1/4 cup of water, and mix to coat.
    2. Grease the inside of a fine-mesh strainer and pour in the couscous. Place in the pot, suspended above the cooking liquid, and cover, steaming for 10 minutes.
    3. Remove the strainer, and pour the couscous back in the bowl. Separate the grains, add a pinch of salt, a 1/2 cup of water, and return to the strainer, putting it back in the pot for another 10 minutes.
    4. Remove the strainer, pour back into the bowl, separate the grains and add 3/4 cup of water. Stir in the remaining oil and butter. Steam for another 10 minutes.
    5. Serve the couscous on a large platter, then add the meat mixture on top.


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Round Two wrap-up



I started Round Two more than 1,000 days ago.

On January 7, 2015, I made Albanian Tavรซ Kosi, the first of the 21 dishes scheduled for Round Two. Nearly three years later, I got through 19 of them.img_0251

As has been mentioned before, a big part of that is pictured at right, because as nice as it is to have little Eleanor hanging out, it is not conducive to having an adventurous cooking blog.

Part of that is also just the nature of this round. There were a lot of foods I wasn’t looking forward to โ€“ specifically, Kenya, Russia, Zimbabwe, Saint Lucia. Many of those turned out way better than I expected.

Some presented ingredient-acquisition problems: See Finland, where I scoured the web and local vendors to find reindeer meat before giving up and just making mammi. Making ramen broth from scratch was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my kitchen, even harder than cassoulet.

But for the passing of my boss’ father, I’d be stuck without food or ingredients for Palau. I skipped Madagascar because I am hesitant to eat “toothache plant” without knowing for sure I have the right leaf; I skipped Nauru because, well, you tell me what Nauruans eat โ€“ nobody else has been able to.

And so itโ€™s on to Round Three. I am quite looking forward to this round, even more than I dreaded Round Two. I’ve already made two of the dishes โ€“ Algerian couscous and Bangladeshi korma. I found the ndolรฉ leaves I need for Cameroon. I’m excited about eating frogs in honor of Dominica, making pupusas for El Salvador, diving into a new cookbook to make Georgian kachapuri.

This round has three โ€“ three! โ€“ countries from the Levant: Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. I’ll make French crepes and Venezuelan rice and beans. And, it wouldn’t be a round of Nation Plates if it didn’t have machboos (UAE); corn-meal with something (Rwanda) and fish-and-fruit (St. Vincent and the Grenadines).

I only have one question mark on my list for Round 4: Kiribati. Yet another Micronesian nation, where I seem to run into the most trouble on this blog. If you have ideas, let me know.

In the meantime โ€“ here we go. Algeria coming soon. Prepare for the noms.

Zimbabwe: Sadza with peanut chicken ๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ผ


I love porridge.

They’re great vehicles for flavor, they’re filling, they’re relatively easy to make. Pop some ingredients in an Instant Pot, push a button and you’ve got congee. Rinse some nixtamalized corn, boil it, cook it slowly and out come delicious grits. Take some stone ground oats, mix with hot water and a hot bowl of oatmeal is waiting for some maple syrup.

Porridge, clearly, is more of a breakfast food. It’s filling, and, as mentioned, is a great vehicle for bacon, eggs, sweet syrup, fruit, whatever.

That is a very Oregonian way of viewing porridge. But for much of the world, a thicker version of porridge โ€“ corn, cassava, sorghum โ€“ is a crucial staple food.

And so we have Zimbabwe, which, like much of Africa, has a national love for a corn mush called sadza. It’s similar to Zambia’s nshima and other corn-based porridge-mushes, in that it’s thicker than your average porridge, and serves as a vehicle for eating something else.

In this case, rather than suffer through more leafy greens, I found a recipe for a chicken-and-peanut dish from the Cape to Cairo cookbook, which I can’t find online but recommend picking up.

I prefer not to re-post recipes from cookbooks, but here’s a gallery of the meal:

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