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Winter Healthy Living Fair features flavors of Cameroon – Charleston Gazette

Naweh Amibang was a whirlwind of activity in the kitchen of her Charleston apartment.

One moment, the native of Cameroon was peeling potatoes to add to Njangsa soup, a popular and peppery Cameroonian stew, spiced with the nutty flavor of the Njangsa nut. The next, she was stirring another soup pot on her stove top.

“This is called ‘bitter leaf,’” she said, introducing the soup to a visitor. “It has a bitter taste, a little bit.”

The main ingredient — a bitter leaf indigenous to Africa — is thoroughly washed before cooking, until there is just a tang of bitterness to the tasty soup.

The soup is considered a good dish for diabetics looking to control their blood sugar levels, she said.

Bitter leaf soup also includes pumpkin seeds. While a rare ingredient in American cooking, the seeds are a star in Amibang’s kitchen. She goes to a drawer and pulls out large plastic bags full of not one, not two, but three different varieties of pumpkin seeds.

“It is very, very nutritious,” she said. “It builds up the immune system.”

Amibang will be among the featured presenters at this weekend’s Winter Healthy Living Fair, styled as “How to Stay Healthy in Winter, Naturally.” The fair, presented by the West Virginia Wellness Community, takes place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 520 Kanawha Blvd W.

The free event, which includes lunch for sale, features a host of natural and holistic services and products, along with nutrition tips, Tai Chi and Qigong, meditation, reiki, natural nutrition, remedies for the cold and flu and more.

At the fair, Amibang will be serving fried plantain, Koki corn, bitter leaf soup, a carrot soup and njangsa soup, each with vegetarian and meat-filled options.

Amibang aims for simple and fresh ingredients in her cooking, and her refrigerator exemplifies that approach. It is filled to the brim with fresh vegetables of all varieties, along with neatly stacked packages of frozen banana leaves for steaming and presenting food.

In the middle of a West Virginia winter, you can find shucks of corn stalks in her refrigerator. She cooks the corn and cuts it from cob to make a vegetarian dish called Koki corn, made with fresh corn, corn meal, spinach and palm oil.

She even goes so far as to make her own peanut butter when she can get peanuts sent to her by family back home.

“I will make peanut butter when they send me peanuts from Cameroon. You taste the peanut butter and you never want to buy peanut butter again. Trust me!”

She learned cooking at her mother’s side in the communal fashion of a young girl growing up in Cameroon.

“In Africa, as a girl child, you have to stay in the kitchen,” she said. “No matter when you go to school, come back, you are tired — you have to stay in the kitchen and watch what they are doing! At a tender age, you have to start cooking your own food.”

She learned well.

She returned to the stove top to stir a fish soup, fish being a common ingredient in main dishes in Cameroon, she said.

“This is Mbongo. This is fish stew. We eat a lot of fish,” she said.

Amibang, who is 38, shares her food as well as her service in the Charleston community.

“I volunteer with Union Mission, Manna Meals. Gabriel’s Project. I love working in the community,” she said.

And cooking in the community, it should be added.

“I cook almost every day. I have to give food somewhere. People always call me for food,” she said. “I love giving out food!”

She is effusive with visitors, encouraging them to sample or leave with some of the bounty bubbling away on her stove top.

“You know, I’m begging you to eat!” she said. “May the god of my ancestors be with you from Africa!”

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