Recipes from Gabon


In my pre-Travel by Stove days, bananas were something you sliced up on cereal, or ate as a snack or with ice cream, or made banana bread out of when they started to turn a yucky color. That was pretty much my whole banana repertoire.

Then I discovered boiled green bananas and loco. Bananas can be a side dish! Who knew?

Now with this entry, my banana repertoire gets even more interesting. Because this week's entry features a seriously yummy banana dessert that goes way beyond mere banana splits and banana cream pie.

This week we're in Gabon, which is another one of those small African nations with limited recipe availability. I'll pause here so you can sigh over my broken-recordness.


The first people to live in Gabon were Congo Pygmies, who were eventually replaced (or maybe just absorbed) by the Bantu tribes. All of whom, of course, were minding their own business when the French came along and wrecked everything. French rule eventually led to great political upset, military coups and general repression of most kinds of freedom. Fortunately for the Gabonese, after much turmoil things did eventually get better, and today Gabon has a mostly-functioning democracy. It also has the highest Human Development Index in Sub-Saharan Africa, which means the Gabonese are pretty fortunate since a lot of African nations rank very low on that particular scale.

Pointe Denis, Gabon. Photo Credit: carlosoliveirareis.

Gabon is close to The Democratic Republic of the Congo, and our main course this week is actually pretty similar to the one I did for that nation. Normally I don't like to cook recipes that are too similar to ones I've already done, but in this case I didn't have too many alternatives. I do take comfort in the fact that this one is a chicken dish, while the other was beef. Anyway here it is:

Poulet au Gnemboue (Chicken in Nuts)
(From The World Cookbook for Students)
  • 6 ounces palm base* (or substitute palm nuts, almonds or hazelnuts)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 3 green onions, sliced thinly
  • 1 2-lb chicken, cut into pieces
* Palm base, as you may remember, is hideously difficult to find in the US. If you have an African market in your area, check there first. Otherwise you may have to find some very obscure online grocer to order it from for exorbitant shipping costs, which is what I did. Fortunately, I ordered some extra which is why I actually had some on hand for this recipe.

No side dishes, because I couldn't find any. I just served it with rice and called it "done." But for dessert:

Baked Bananas Gabon
(From The African Studies Center at the University of Pennsylvania)
  • 8 yellow bananas, not overripe
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp orange juice
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp sour cream
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
OK here we go:

To make the chicken, put the palm base in a large saucepan over medium heat. If you're using nuts instead of palm base, process the nuts in a food processor with the water until you get a paste, the transfer to the aforementioned saucepan.

Add the peppers, salt, garlic and green onions and stir to combine.

Now add the chicken to the saucepan. Cover and reduce heat to low.

Let simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until tender, adding water if necessary. Serve over rice.

And the bananas:

Slice each banana up into three equal-sized pieces. In a small bowl, beat the egg together with the orange juice.

Dip each banana piece in the egg mixture, then roll in the breadcrumbs. Repeat until all the pieces are coated.

Heat the oil over a medium flame and fry each banana on all sides until they start to turn a golden color.

Transfer to a cookie sheet and bake for 5 minutes.

Serve topped with a dollop of sour cream sprinkled with a little brown sugar.

I did like the chicken but found it a bit underwhelming, which is how I tend to find most food from this particular part of the world. I like it, it's good, basic food but it doesn't really wow me.

The bananas, on the other hand, oh yum. And really they were also quite basic, though I can think of a million different ways to make them: maybe add a little cinnamon to the breadcrumbs, or some sugar, and top them with some chocolate syrup. But just as they were with the sour cream and brown sugar on top (which I actually thought was weird until my friend Liz told me that's how she likes to eat strawberries) they were really delicious. Anything else would be a variation and not necessarily an improvement.

One question I did have about them was why you would bother to bake them for only five minutes since they were already pretty much done in the frying pan. Maybe so you can call them "baked" bananas. After all, baked bananas have a lot fewer calories than fried ones, right? Right?

Anyway my kids ate those bananas and loved them. The chicken, not so much. But you already knew that because my kids are predictable.

Next week: The French Southern and Antarctic Lands (I bet you thought I was going to skip that one! Well, I almost did …)

For printable versions of this week's recipes:



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