Peanut’s writeup on this type of cooking oil brought to mind West Africa, where palm oil is widely used, and a very elaborate, labor-intensive dish called "Jollaf Rice" which has palm oil as its base. Actually, palm oil itself is not used as much as the residue of the palm flesh after the oil has been extracted by pounding the fruits in a wooden mortar. This is known as "palm butter".
I lived in various West African countries for a number of years and often served Jollaf Rice on special occasions. The servants were always ambivalent about preparing this feast. On the one hand, they were excited and pleased whenever I served rich, African dishes instead of "white man chop". But there was so much work involved!
The boys started days beforehand. The head boy was always in charge of choosing the best palm clusters from the trees growing in the garden. Then a morning would be occupied with everyone in the household – head garden boy, small garden boy, head boy, small boy, wash boy, cook, and kitchen boy – supervising, advising, or simple giving moral support while one of their number scrambled up a tree to cut out the cluster. Encouragement was needed as the climber, equipped with a machete, went aloft. Green mambas live in palm trees. Everyone made a great deal of noise so the snakes would know they were being invaded and would retreat higher into the tree.
A palm nut cluster is about as big around as a bushel basket and consists of hundreds of orange-red waxy-skinned fruit, each about the size and shape of a large Spanish olive, nestled in long, thin, needle-like barbs which protect the ripening fruit from birds. It was the job of the small boys to pluck the fruits from the cluster. After that the palm nuts were washed and soaked in hot water to soften them, and then they were put into a large wooden mortar and pounded with a 4-foot pestle. This work, done outdoors in the back yard, is traditionally women's work. The boys, working in teams of two, each with a pestle, were the butt of good-natured jokes from the other boys.
The deep orange oil separated from the fruit and was poured off. Then the residue was squeezed to extract the "butter", a semi-solid substance, leaving behind the kernels, fibers and bits of skin. When Africans pound palm nuts for oil alone, they often "cut the palm" by adding handfuls of sand to the mortar, then filter the oil. Pounding for "butter" takes longer without the addition of sand.
Jollaf Rice is very much like a curry as it is a dish of rice with a sauce and a number of fruits and vegetables which are mixed into the rice. Jollaf Rice is very different from an East Indian curry because it uses different flavoring ingredients and the fruits and vegetables (small chop) are all raw.
Three ingredients are essential and very West African: chicken legs, hard-boiled eggs, and bird pepper or country pepper. Bird pepper is very red, very tiny (over 200 in a handful) and is often grown as an ornamental garden bush. Country pepper is yellow, red, orange or green and looks as if it had been squashed. Both are very, very, very hot.
I have no exact recipe for Jollaf Rice. Basically, the rice is first browned in palm oil and then water is added as for plain rice ("Twice is nice, water to rice"). The sauce is made by browning minced onion and the chicken legs in the palm butter. As much hot pepper as you think safe is crushed and added, together with salt, more palm butter, and a small amount of water. This is then cooked until the chicken is tender and the sauce has naturally thickened.
For the "small chop", prepare a series of small bowls of the following ingredients, one per bowl: banana, tomato, bell pepper, shredded coconut, white onion, pineapple, avacado, and roasted, unsalted peanuts. All of this has to be minced, shredded, or crushed very fine. Dress the banana and avacado with lemon juice so they do not change color. You can include a small bowl of finely minced hot pepper.
When it is time to serve, mix the rice with some of the sauce and mound it on a large platter with the hard-boiled (peeled) eggs half-buried in the rice and a circle of chicken legs around the edge of the platter. Offer a bowl of plain rice on the side, as well as a bowl of plain sauce. You can sprinkle as much of any (or all) of the small chop as you wish on your plateful of rice, then mix everything together before eating.
I haven’t been able to make this dish for a long time. I now live in Florida where some of my neighbors have oil palms as ornamental trees. When walking the dogs, I pick up fallen palm nuts and nibble on them the way Africans do, just for the flavor of palm butter.