Cassava leaf sauce (or just cassava leaves or palava sauce) is a dish that everybody in Sierra Leone will have grown up with. In fact, so will the Liberians, Guineans and even Congolese (who call it saka-saka or mpondu).
I, like a lot of the diaspora, dream of it after a long time of eating European food, and when I go home to visit my folks, there is always a big pot of these green leaves bubbling away with delicious red palm oil, just waiting to be spooned onto a bowl of rice.
This is heaven for me, sitting on the veranda in the warmth, with my family, eating cassava leaves. So, back here it the UK, I always try and recapture these flavours, and cook up great vats of it whenever any other Sierra Leonean comes to visit. Then we sit down and talk about home. Oh the absolute gorgeous smell of the perfectly cooked cassava leaves is beyond compare.
The dish I am describing uses cassava leaves as a base. However, you can use almost any other green leaves to make something similar. At home, we also cook sweet potato leaves like this, and in the UK, when I haven’t been able to find cassava leaves, I have used finely chopped spinach, and it has turned out just fine.
One of the main things about making cassava leaves in the UK, that I found, is that a blender makes all the difference. Back home, the onions, chilli, the aubergines are all pounded together in a big pestle and mortar (mata wodo as we call it). Here you can just chuck it in the blender and a few minutes later you get the lovely thick puree. Golly that really makes everything easier.
Ingredients to make Sierra Leonean cassava leaves
Just a few notes on the ingredients of Cassava leaves with a few tips for substitution. The main ingredient is the cassava leaf mince. Then you have palm oil (or coconut oil for white cassava leaves). Onion, chilli and aubergine blended together make the lovely thick sauce base.
You need flakes of dried smoked fish but can easily substitute in dried crayfish powder and I have seen people use smoked poultry instead.
You need peanut butter which apart from flavour also helps to thicken the sauce, and some stock cubes and salt and pepper to taste. Beef and chicken are optional, I prefer using beef, which is first seasoned and steamed and the resulting flavoured water is used in the sauce.
Where to buy cassava leaves
If you live in Africa, then lucky, lucky you. You just pop over to the market for a big old bunch of cassava leaves to take home and pound or grind. However, for the rest of us you would have to head to your local ethnic market and buy already minced or pounded cassava leaves from either the fridge or the freezer section.
UK markets you can get this at include Brixton, Peckham and Dalston markets.
Cassava leaves – red stem or white stem. The red stem cassava leaves are the ones you want for cooking this sauce. Both the stem and the tuber (cassava or manioc) are really good for eating. The whited stemmed cassava leaves are not so good for eating as they are bitter and tougher and the root is better for making eats like cassava porridge fufu.
Tips on how to cook cassava leaf soup
- Obviously if you can get fresh young cassava leaves, then that is way better as they will cook much quicker.
- If you pound the cassava leaves yourself then make sure you get them very fine, as they will cook much quicker.
- Blending the veggies at the start also means everything cooks quicker plus this adds a really lovely depth of flavour to the sauce along with thickening the stew.
- Steam the beef at the same time you are putting the veggies on to boil. In Sierra Leone, we tend to cook the entire sauce in one pot which takes a long time as first you do the beef, then the veggies etc.
- Younger and finer cassava leaves cook much quicker and you only need to simmer them for about 30-45 mins. If the leaves are harvested when they are much older or not finely minced, then you might need to simmer the leaves for 60-75 mins.
So guys here is how to make cassava leaf soup. Please do try it and if you do make it, then please do tag #recipesfromapantry on Instagram or twitter so that I can pop over and have a look. It is really, really awesome for me when you make any one of my recipes.
Thank you for reading this cassava leaf sauce recipe post. And please come visit again as I continue dreaming up recipes, traditional African recipes, African fusion recipes, Sierra Leone recipes, travel plans and much more for you.
(And when you’re done trying this soup, try my delicious cassava cake recipe.)
- 450 g (1 lb) boneless meat cut into bite sized cubes
- 1 tbsp oil
- White pepper
- 2 onions peeled and roughly chopped (divided)
- 2 stock cubes divided (Dole or Maggi)
- 750 mls (3 cups) of water divided
- 2 medium sized aubergines peeled and roughly chopped
- 100 g of dried smoked fish flakes or 3 tbsp crayfish powder
- Scotch bonnet or other chilli to taste
- 5 tbsp smooth peanut butter paste
- 125 ml (0.5 cup) palm oil - you can go up to 1 cup
- 500 g (1.1lb) pounded frozen cassava leaves
- 2 tbsp pounded okra optional
- Add the beef, 1 tbsp of onion, a quarter stock cube, oil, 100mls of water and a pinch of salt to a pot, mix well, bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer for about 25 mins until the beef is cooked through. Reserve both the beef and the cooking liquid.
- Whilst the beef is cooking add the aubergine, the remaining onion, fish flakes, chilli and 150mls of water into a high-powered blender and whiz into a puree.
- Transfer the vegetable puree into a pot, add the remaining stock cubes and water, peanut butter, and palm oil mix, bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer for 30 mins stirring occasionally.
- Then stir in the cassava leaves, okra (if using) and beef liquid, bring the boil and simmer for about 30 mins (for young well minced leaves) or about 60 mins for older tougher leaves until the cassava leaves are done. You might need to add a little bit more water if cooking for longer.
- 10 mins before the cassava leaves are done add in the beef, season well and cook till done.
- Serve over bowls of steaming rice.
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