Sure, the main ingredient may be unobtainable and obscure at present – but watch this space. After all, if inhabitants of Smethwick can enjoy their caterpillars, why cant the rest of the world?
Soumbala (Alternative – a splash of soy sauce, a teaspoon of miso paste, a tablespoon of natto) 30g
Stock cube ½ cube
The above measurements are rounded up or down from weights measured in the field. The result was delicious. Promise. I even have video to prove it. Here’s what you need to do:
- Wash your caterpillars. Twice. Meanwhile, put a pan of water on to boil.
- Tip the clean caterpillars into the boiling water. The water should just about cover them.
- Measure out 6-7g of salt and chuck it in with the caterpillars. This may seem like a lot, but don’t worry, not all of it remains in the final dish! The water should now be simmering gently. As gentle as one can be with caterpillars (for edible insect newbies – that's pretty damn gentle. Insects are tiny, beautiful, dangerous things. Let’s treat them well.).
- Put a lid on your pan and leave it – stirring occasionally – for approx 25 minutes.
- While the caterpillars are being softened by the boiling, salted water, it’s time to crush the soumbala into a fine powder. Or not, if you’re using one of the alternatives. Soumbala is a condiment I’ve never encountered outside of West Africa, but while I’m here, I have it with everything. Alternatives I can tentatively suggest are – Miso? Soy sauce? Natto? – and I suggest these not merely due to spending too long in Japan, but also because of the way soumbala is made: it’s a fermented bean paste. It gives you the ultimate umami flavour, and to be honest, it’s miles ahead of the ‘alternatives’ I’ve just suggested. I have no idea why the hipsters haven’t discovered it yet. Watch this space.
- Chop the onions and tomatoes into slivers. No need to worry about cutting them too fine.
- Have 25 minutes passed since you put the caterpillars in the boiling water? No? Go collect some firewood. You never know when it might come in handy. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have a gas cooker and a bottle of wine handy - pour out 125ml , and enjoy, while you wait.
- Once your 25 minutes are up, try a caterpillar. How does it taste? Do tell.
- When the caterpillars are the kind of texture you’d hope them to be (what does this even mean??? OK – if they are chewable, and a bit meaty. Does that help?), drain them and leave them in a bowl to one side.
- Add 40ml oil to the pan, with the flame on a low heat. Add your chopped slivers of onion and tomato. For the next 15 minutes, let them cook, and stir occasionally to make sure they don’t burn.
- 15 minutes is up? Add 500ml of water and turn up the heat a notch. As it comes to the boil, add some seasoning (1/2 a stock cube. Here in Burkina, that’s a cube of Maggi. But there are as many brands to choose from as there are dangerous e-numbers lurking within.) if you wish, and a pinch of salt. Add your caterpillars.
- 10-15 minutes later, you should have a savoury caterpillar stew ready and waiting to be served. Combine with a starch and green veg of your choice for a deliciously unusual meal.