Palaver Sauce

Old editions of Webster’s Dictionary define “palaver” as “a parley between European explorers and representatives of local populations, especially in Africa” or “In Africa, a parley with the natives; a talk; hence, a public conference and deliberation; a debate”. The word “palaver” comes from the Portuguese language.

In the 1400’s the Portuguese were the first to sail around Africa from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean (Portuguese navigator Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1488); Portuguese traders were the first Europeans to establish a presence along the sub-Saharan African coasts. Though they were later largely displaced by the English and French, the word “palaver” became a part of the lingua franca along the Atlantic coast of Africa.

What “palaver” has to do with Palaver Sauce (or Palava Sauce)–an African stew made from greens and meat–is not clear. In Ghana, this dish is also called Kontonmire, Kentumere, or Nkontommire, named for the leaf of the cocoyam (taro) plant which is used for the greens. See also: Plasas.


* If you are using dried or fresh bitterleaf: Wash it in cold water, rinsing several times, and allow it to soak for at least a few hours, then chop it into pieces.

* If you are using spinach leaves: Clean and chop them immediately before cooking the soup. If you are using any other greens (such as kale or collard greens): Clean, chop, and parboil them briefly before cooking the soup. !

* If you are using dried/salted fish: Soak it in water for an hour or two, then cut the fish into pieces and remove any skin or bones.

* Heat the oil in a large dutch oven or covered pot. Fry the meat until it is partially done, and then add a few cups of broth, stock, or water. Reduce heat. Simmer.

* Add the bitterleaf (or greens, or spinach) to the pot. Stir and simmer for several minutes more.

* Add the fish to the pot, along with the onion and tomatoes, and any hot chile pepper, salt, and red or black pepper you like. Cover the pot and continue to cook over low heat. !

* When the greens seem tender, add the remaining ingredients. (Egusi or okra help it to thicken. The egusi, pumpkin seeds, or sesame seeds should be crushed or ground before they are added.)

* Cook over low heat, stirring often (do not add any more liquid) until it is a thick sauce-like consistency.

* Serve with Banku, Kenkey, Fufu, or Rice. Palaver ‘Sauce’ is a good example of the English word “sauce” used to describe something that is more like a soup or stew.

Platto, bologie, and bitterleaf all appear in various Palaver ‘Sauce’ recipes– whether these African greens are one and the same is uncertain. (See also: Ndole Soup.) Spinach is usually substituted outside of Africa.

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