West African cuisine is heavy with starch, light on meat and generous on fat. Cooks in West Africa often use root vegetables like yams, cocoyams, and cassava, as well as cereal grains, plantains, hot spices, rice, peanuts, black-eyed peas, okra, green peas, citrus fruits, and pineapples.
Recipe Origin: GHANA
There are many variations of this traditional spinach (silver beet) dish from West Africa. No one can agree to its origins—some say it is Nigerian, others claim it comes from Ghana, but my mother says her version comes from Sierra Leone!
In West Africa 'palava' means business or trouble, so I suppose this dish can also be called, literally, Trouble Sauce. Actually it is a stew rather than a sauce, a rich blend of spinach (silver beet), egushi (pumpkin seeds), prawns (shrimp), meat and smoked herring or snapper. Despite its name, it is no trouble to cook and certainly no trouble to eat!
250 ml (8 fl oz) palm oil
4 medium onions, finely chopped
4 large tomatoes, blanched, peeled and mashed
Salt and pepper to taste
2-4 red chillies (hot peppers), finely chopped (optional)
250 g (1/2 lb) diced cooked meat or leftovers
(optional, although not chicken) and/or 250 g (1/2 lb) fish
e.g. snapper, tuna, salmon or trevally
125 g (1/4 lb) smoked herring, boned (optional)
200 g (6-1/2 oz) dried prawns (shrimp)
3 bunches of spinach (sliver beet) or 750 g (1-1/2 lb) frozen spinach
(silver beet), washed and chopped
100 g (3-1/2 oz) egushi (shelled pumpkin seeds or pepitas),
ground in a coffee grinder
Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the onions until golden. Add the tomatoes, pepper to taste and the chillies (hot peppers).
If you are using corn oil (see Note) add turmeric here. Cook for 10-15 minutes on low heat, stirring regularly (not continuously).
Add salt to taste with your choice of diced, cooked meat and fish. Stir in the smoked herring with the dried prawns (shrimp). Simmer on very low heat, stirring regularly to prevent burning.
Add the spinach (silver beet) to the meat mixture. Cover and simmer on low heat for 10-15 minutes or until the spinach (silver beet) is soft and cooked. Stir regularly, taking care not to break up the fish too much.
Add the egushi (pumpkin seeds) and stir them into the sauce. Cook for a further 10-15 minutes on low heat.
Serve hot with boiled rice, yams, plantains, gari (coarse cassava flour), Banku (cornmeal dumplings) or any root vegetable, roasted, boiled or grilled.
Note: Palm oil is red oil from the red, tropical, palm kernel. It is used for making a variety of foods, such as some digestive biscuits. You can substitute corn oil and 4 teaspoons of turmeric to give a similar visual and culinary effect.
A Taste of Africa
by Dorinda Hafner
Ten Speed Press, 1993
$16.95 / Paperback
Recipe reprinted by permission
West African Recipes
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- The Africa Cookbook by Jessica B. Harris
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This page modified January 2007