Ndole is a very popular dish in Cameroon, and it is sometimes referred to as the national dish of the country. It is a stew which got its name from the bitter leaf (locally called ndole) which is used in its preparation. Ndole recipe traditionally involves cooking the bitter leaf with peanuts, onions, spices and meat to make a rich dish where the creaminess of the peanuts work well with the bitterness of the leaves. The final dish is served with fried onions and prawns toppings.
I have adapted the traditional recipe by combining the ndole leaves with spinach; and chose not to add any meat. Bitter leaf is not in abundance where I live and can be quite expensive. Whenever I get some to buy, I use it judiciously. I have also tried to reduce the added oil as peanut is quite oily on its own anyway.
This bitter leaf and spinach stew can be served with boiled ripe plantain, yam, bobolo (made from fermented cassava and similar to fufu), rice etc.
What Is Bitter Leaf?
Bitter leaf is a shrub which originated from West Africa. The botanical name is Vernonia amygdalina and it is eaten as a vegetable in Eastern and Western Africa. It got its name from the leaves which can be quite bitter. The bitterness is usually washed off through various methods before cooking.
Local names for bitter leaf include ewuro, onugbu, shuwaka, atidot (Nigeria); awonyono, onyono(Ghana); mululuza, omubirizi (Uganda); ndole, ying (Cameroon).
Bitter leaf soup is cooked with meats, fish, seeds, nuts or other vegetables into stews and sauces in different forms. Apart from its nutritional properties, it is also revered for its medicinal properties. It has a characteristic bitter taste that needs to be washed off to make it palatable. Wikipedia has more information about non-culinary uses of bitter leaf.
What You Will Need To Make Ndole
A few notes about ingredients…
- Bitter leaf : For people who live outside Africa, it may be difficult to access bitter leaf depending on where you live. If you are not able to find bitter leaf, you can substitute with kale or spinach.
- Spinach: Traditional ndole recipes only use bitter leaves, hence the name. Bitter leaf is quite expensive where I am, so bulking with spinach helps to reduce cost. The spinach also helps to counter the bitter taste of leaves; this is a personal preference and you can use only bitter leaf if you prefer.
- Peanuts: I used blanched peanuts, which meant that I didn’t need to cook the peanuts before blending. I got this from the “dried fruits and nuts” aisle at my local supermarket. I know it is also available on Amazon. If you can’t find this, then you can use raw peanuts which you can get from most ethnic stores – you will need to boil this for about 10 mins before blending.
- Scotch bonnet: This is an optional ingredient. I added it for some heat.
How To Make Ndole
Peel the onions and the garlic. Remove the stalk from scotch bonnet.
Slice half of one onion and keep aside.
Pour the remaining onions, blanched peanuts, ginger, garlic and scotch bonnet into a blender. Add two cups of water and blend.
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the prawns on both sides until cooked. Remove from heat and keep to one side.
Fry the sliced onions and remove from heat. There shouldn’t be a lot of oil left in the pan at this point.
Pour in the mixture from the blender. Add the ground crayfish.
The liquid in the pot will be too thick at this point, add another cup of water.
Cover the pot and allow to simmer for about 15 mins. Stir regularly to prevent burning.
The colour will become darker as it cooks. It should look like this when it is ready for the vegetables to be added.
While the peanut is cooking, prepare your vegetables. Wash and slice the spinach. If you are using frozen bitter leaf, wash well and slice stringy bits. If you are using fresh bitter leaf and need to wash away the bitterness, please follow the steps on this Youtube video.
Pour the spinach and the bitter leaf into the pot, add some salt, cover and allow to cook at low heat. Stir regularly until the spinach has wilted properly and it has become difficult to tell the difference between the two vegetables.
Remove from heat and serve. Top with the fried prawns and onions.
Recipe FAQ and Notes
Meat - I find this stew already indulgent with the peanuts and prawns – I’d rather cook it without meat. If you prefer to cook with meat, boil the meat and use the stock to cook the peanut mixture after blending.
Can I freeze ndole? Yes, Ndole will last a few days in the fridge and will last some weeks in the freezer. Allow to defrost before warming in the microwave.
Is ndole suitable for vegetarians? This dish can be adapted to suit vegetarians by not adding the prawns and ground crayfish
Where can I buy bitter leaf: Frozen bitter leaf is usually available to buy from freezers in African or Asian food shops. Check what you buy. Most are already cleaned and ready to use; but a few will have been frozen straight and you will need to wash out the bitterness yourself.
Ndole | Cameroonian Bitter Leaf Stew
- Peel the onions and the garlic. Remove the stalk from scotch bonnet.
- Slice ½ of one onion and keep aside.
- Pour the remaining onions, blanched peanuts, ginger, garlic and scotch bonnet into a blender. Add 2 cups of water and blend.
- Heat the oil in a pan and fry the prawns on both sides until cooked. Remove from heat and keep to one side.
- Fry the sliced onions and remove from heat.
- Pour in the mixture from the blender. Add the ground crayfish.
- Add a cup of water into the pot and cover. Allow to simmer for about 15 mins.
- Stir regularly to prevent burning.
- Wash and slice the spinach.
- Wash and slice the bitter leaf if required. If you need to wash out the bitterness, check the link on the blog post.
- Add the spinach and the bitter leaf into the pot, add some salt, cover and allow to cook at low heat. Check and stir until the spinach has wilted properly.
- Remove from heat and serve. Top with the fried prawns and onions.
Other African stews and sauces to try are;