This repetition of consistency does not get boring. Variety comes from using different bold flavors and bases: potato greens, cassava leaves, palm butter, palm oil, “red oil”, onions, peppers, garlic, “bitter balls,” okra, eggplant, pumpkin, tomato, beans, and fish. There is enough variety to keep things interesting.
But Palm Butter Soup seems to be everyone’s favorite. Also known as Palm Oil Stew or Palm Nut Soup, you will find people enjoying it in every county in Liberia and from countries all along the coast of West Africa. In the climactic final scene in the movie Blood Diamond, set in neighboring Sierra Leone, the father tries to talk his brainwashed child-soldier son into putting down his gun by promising to take him back home and cook him some Palm Oil Stew.
Liberia PCV John O’Malley explains some of the local eating habits:
You might say I went native. For my first three months of service in very rural Liberia, I had either my next door neighbors or one of my students prepare dinner for me almost every day. What they cooked was always a soup served either over rice or a gelatinous preparation of cassava called fufu. Every single Liberian dish I’ve eaten fit this basic mold: The week I extinguished my propane cooking gas, Liberians expressed their sorrow that I’d be stuck eating “dry food” until I could get a refill – not “cold” food, but “dry” food, because every good meal is supposed to be soup. And they say in Liberia that if you haven’t eaten rice then you haven’t eaten (though within my county cassava seems a fine substitute).
Here is a tested and true recipe for authentic Liberian Palm Butter Soup:
- 1 handful hot peppers
- 1 onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 C rice
- 4 handfuls palm nuts
- 1 medium size fish
- Water * For an easier but less authentic way of preparing this dish, you can purchase palm butter instead of making it fresh.
- Boil palm nuts in pot of water for approx. 15 min until semi-soft.
- Mash hot peppers, garlic, & onions in mortar, or blender. Set aside.
- Parboil chopped fish with pepper/garlic/onion mash in water.
- Mash softened palm nuts with mortar. Place into a bowl.
- Rinse mortar with water and pour the now orange water into bowl of Palm mash. Press mash into a strainer to squeeze out any juice. Your bowl now has dark orange palm butter. Discard dried mash of fibers.
- Add palm butter to parboiled fish and pepper mash. Boil until soup reduces to desired thickness. Serve over freshly cooked rice.
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