Palava Sauce

By West Africa Cooks, 11 August, 2015

Legend says it's called Palava because people fuss and fight over it, and my mum and dad are no exception. Whenever it, mentioned, their faces light zip and the roonz fills with enthusiastic stories about how much they love the dish, as if they were telling us for the first time. The sauce has been a big talking point for us as it's one of the dishes that tastes distinctly West African, with its reliance on smoked fish with bitter and fresh leaves, underpinned by onions and palm oil. Our recipe only calls for fish, although it's commonly made with meat as well. Auntie Ellen insists that it's best when you 'bang it all in' one pot, and the final sauce is typically served with plain rice.
Cassava leaves, which form the foundation of the dish, can be found in African and Asian stores (often pre-pounded and frozen). However, if you can't get bold of either, spinach is a great substitute.

Yield amount
Yield units
Preparation time
0 minutes
Cooking time
1 hour, 40 minutes
Total time
1 hour, 40 minutes

How to Make Palava Sauce?

1. Bring the water, salt and pepper to the boil in a large pan. Add the fish and let it cook for about 10 minutes. Once the fish is cooked through, carefully remove it from the liquid and let it rest for a few minutes. This resting time allows the flesh to firm up and prevents it falling apart.

2. With your hands, gently remove the skin of the fish and take the flesh off the bones, trying to keep the pieces as large as possible. Set the chunks of fish aside. Blend the leaves into small pieces in a blender or using a pestle and mortar.

3. Bring the liquid in the pan back to the boil. Pierce the Scotch bonnet, add it to the pan with the blended leaves and simmer for 10 minutes. (If you are using spinach, do not add it yet.)

4. Finely slice the onions, garlic and ginger and add them to the pan. Leave to simmer for 50 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the smoked dried prawns, tomato puree and tahini and simmer for a further 10 minutes.

5. Add the palm oil and the cooked fish. If you're using spinach, add it to the pot now. Leave the sauce to cook gently for a further 5 minutes. Serve hot with plain white rice.


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