Jollof rice is Nigeria’s national dish—well that may be a slight exaggeration, but it’s pretty popular.
There’s a friendly rivalry between a few West African countries as to who makes the best jollof rice. The provenance of the dish is disputed, but evidence suggests it originated from the Sengalese thieboudienne, though most Nigerians would disagree. Suffice it to say, we take jollof rice very seriously. It reflects a variety of important West African cooking techniques, such as stewing, steaming, smoking and one-pot cooking. It is mostly eaten with sweet fried plantains and chicken, goat or beef. Some people say that the plantains have to be plentiful, and cut and fried in 1-inch (2-cm) cubes, to create the perfect balance of sweet and savory. It is a fun dish to make but requires some practice to get it exactly right. The perfect plate of jollof rice must be slightly smoky, deeply flavored, al dente and bright red. It’s a challenge but definitely worth it!
(Serves 6 to 8)
½ medium red onion, coarsely chopped 10 oz (280 g)
2 medium-large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
½ medium Scotch bonnet or Habanero chili pepper, stem removed
3 medium-large red bell peppers (15 oz / 425 g), coarsely chopped
2½ cups (1 lb / 480 g) medium-grain rice
½ cup (120 ml) vegetable oil
1½ tsps salt
Fresh thyme, to garnish (optional)
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp allspice
1½ tsps ground hot chili pepper, such as African dried chili or cayenne
1 ½ tbsps onion powder
2 bay leaves
½ tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp dried thyme
In a blender or food processor, combine the onion, tomatoes and chili pepper. Purée. Pour half of the purée into a bowl and set aside. Add the bell peppers to the machine and pulse until smooth. Add the purée to the blended vegetables in the bowl and stir to combine.
Place the rice in a sieve and rinse under running water until the water runs more-or-less clear.
In a medium pot, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the blended vegetables along with the salt and jollof spices. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the rice and stir until well-mixed, then reduce the heat to low. Tightly cover the pot and cook until the rice is al dente, about 45 minutes. Check after 25 to 30 minutes; if the rice is sauce-logged, remove the lid to cook off the excess liquid. If the rice seems dry, stir in up to 1 to 2 cups (240 to 480 ml) water. Allow the rice at the bottom of the pot to char a bit to infuse the dish with a smoky flavor. Remove from the heat and fluff with a fork.
Reprinted with permission from The Immigrant Cookbook
Leyla Moushabeck, ed. 2018, Interlink Books, 978-1-56656-038-2, $35 hb, www.interlinkbooks.com.
is a Nigerian cook and writer. He moved to the us at 16. Since 2016 he has been traveling across the country with his pop-up dinner series, Blackness in America
, which explores race in America from the Black perspective, through food and discussion. You can read more about his projects at fromlagos.com. He currently resides in New Orleans.