Mali : tout savoir sur le gombo, le roi des légumes africains

Mali : tout savoir sur le gombo, le roi des légumes africains

De forme allongée, à peine plus pointu qu’un cornichon, il n’est pas très alléchant. Quand il est frais, le gombo arbore même des poils duveteux sur sa peau striée. Il a l’air de peu, et pourtant c’est un roi, celui que les Maliens de la diaspora cuisinent pour se sentir un peu plus près de chez eux.

Ce légume d’un vert éclatant, au goût doux, proche de l’aubergine, possède un signe distinctif qui peut rebuter les palais non avertis : il est mucilagineux. Une fois coupé et écrasé, il gonfle au contact de l’eau. Idéal pour épaissir soupes et ragoûts. Le voici donc qui compose la sauce gombo, un plat gluant que l’on déguste en général nature avec du  (une sorte de polenta préparée avec de la farine de mil, de sorgho, voire de maïs) et que l’on agrémente parfois de viande, de poisson ou de crustacés.

Au Mali, et dans toute l’Afrique de l’Ouest, le gombo, dont le nom est d’origine bantoue, est le légume le plus cultivé après la tomate. Toute l’année, dans les marchés de Bamako, on le trouve bien en évidence sur les étals ou en train de mijoter dans des marmites fumantes, posées à même le sol. On le voit partout, dans les champs au bord des cases, en train de sécher au soleil ou encore réduit en poudre pour ensuite servir de condiment. Ses feuilles aussi sont comestibles – un régal en salade – et, de ses graines, on a même tiré un ersatz de café… Tout est bon dans le gombo !

Si bon d’ailleurs qu’il a conquis le monde entier, souvent sous une autre étiquette : on l’appelle bamia dans les Balkans, calalou à Haïti ou okra aux Etats- Unis, notamment en Louisiane, où il est à la fête dans la cuisine cajun. Ce sont les Maures qui, au Moyen Age, importèrent cette plante tropicale (Abelmoschus esculentus) en Europe, via l’Egypte.

Puis le gombo est arrivé en Amérique, par le commerce triangulaire. Les esclaves du Nouveau Monde ont d’ailleurs longtemps appelé «gombo» tous les légumes, sans distinction. Aujourd’hui, les nutritionnistes vantent les mérites de ce superaliment, riche en fibres, antioxydants, vitamine C, potassium… Fort de sa texture particulière, le roi gombo entre également dans la composition de produits de soin et de beauté traditionnels, qui adoucissent la peau et les cheveux. Et aujourd’hui, des industriels testent ses propriétés pour la fabrication de colle pour papier glacé… Ou même pour des confiseries !

Nos conseils pour bien cuisiner le gombo

Parce qu’il a les faveurs d’une multitude de cuisinières et de cuisiniers, le gombo, aussi appelé lady’s finger (doigt de femme) dans de nombreux pays anglophones, est facile à dénicher sur les étals des épiceries orientales, africaines ou asiatiques.

Bien le choisir
Il ne doit pas dépasser cinq à dix centimètres environ pour rester bien tendre.

Ne pas tarder
Car il ne se conserve que trois jours (au frais).

Faire attention
Plus on coupe ou écrase le gombo, plus sa substance mucilagineuse se libère. On peut le laisser entier (comme une petite courgette) si l’on craint cette texture. Et pour l’atténuer, ajouter de la tomate, du citron ou une petite cuillerée de vinaigre.

Le cuire
La cuisson à l’étouffée est idéale. Mais jamais plus de dix minutes !

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