Understanding Jollof Rice and how to prepare it….

With its seductive aroma, spicy flavour and deep colour from golden brown to deep red, Jollof rice is the undisputed king of West African kitchens, yet variations of this loved meal both divides and unites the region.

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Jollof rice is to West Africa what risotto is to Italy, biriyani to India, paella is to Spain, and fried rice to China. People gobble Jollof down at family gatherings, birthdays, coming-of-age ceremonies, engagement parties, and weddings. Enjoyed as a main meal, this rich, mouth-watering dish consists of rice cooked in a flavourful sauce of tomatoes, onions, and aromatic spices. These base ingredients are often layered with ginger, garlic, thyme, grains of selim (a West African spice), tomato puree, curry powder and Scotch bonnet chillies, though the exact components and preparation differ from country to country; even from house to house.

History of Jollof Rice:

Jollof traces its origin to the Senegal–Gambia region where it was enjoyed among the Wolof people. They call it Benachin. The dish (or its variations) travelled through the West African region and sub-Saharan Africa. However, the recipe has evolved as people continue to experiment with recipes. This makes it challenging for any ethnic group to say that they really own or invented Jollof.

Despite having an unclear owner across the region, few foods have caused as much of a stir as Jollof rice. Today, every West African country boasts at least one variation of Jollof. Each nation and family add their own twist and interpretation, which perhaps is the root of the fierce competition taking place across social media, parties, and street-side chats. The main protagonists in steam over who makes the best Jollof rice are Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cameroon. The Gambia and Senegal are quite laid-back and rarely enter the Jollof controversy; after all, they gave it to the world.

Rather than stick with one, why not learn the basic preparations of the countries involved in the #JollofWars.

Ingredients needed to make Jollof Rice.

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  • Rice (some use long-grain parboiled rice or basmati).
  • Tomatoes (fresh or canned), bell peppers, scotch bonnet, onions, garlic, and ginger.
  • Oil for frying your sauce—any kind of vegetable oil will do.
  • Stock—Chicken, beef, or vegetable stock are great choices here for added depth of flavour.
  • Seasoning and herbs—curry powder, salt, black/white pepper, bouillon powder, thyme, and bay leaves.

Ghanian Jolof Rice:

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  1. Add onions and 2 tablespoons of oil to a blender and pulse until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl.
  2. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and habanero pepper to the blender, and pulse until smooth. Transfer to a separate medium bowl.
  3. Heat the remaining ⅓ cup (80 ml) of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.
  4. Once the oil is shimmering, add the onion puree and cook until the water has cooked out and the puree is starting to brown about 10 minutes.
  5. Stir in the tomato puree and add the curry powder, garlic powder, ginger, dried herbs, and crushed bouillon cubes. Cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally until the stew has reduced by half and is deep red in colour.
  6. Add the rice, mixed vegetables, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover the pot with foil and a lid. Simmer for another 30 minutes, until the rice is cooked through and the liquid is absorbed.
  7. Enjoy!

Nigerian Jollof Rice:

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  • Sauteeing the Onions. This should take about 3 to 5 minutes. The next thing is to stir in the tomato paste. This adds a deep and rich tomato flavour. Simply fry this for another 5 minutes.
  • Add the ginger and garlic and cook along with the tomato paste for another two minutes; Actually, by the time this is ready, you will notice it in the smell.
  • Add the blended peppers. Usually, there is no particular time frame for frying this pepper.
  • Add the thyme, curry powder, salt, white pepper (good but optional), and seasoning cubes. 
  • Stir in the Rice. Make sure you stir the rice properly until you cover each grain of rice with the sauce.
  • Now add the chicken stock. Give it a brief stir and cover it up with a tight-fitting lid. If your lid is not fitting enough, simply cover the rice with foil paper before covering it with the lid. This is because Jollof needs a lot of steam in order to turn out well.
  • Once the rice comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low immediately and continue to cook until the rice is done about 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Serve with Fried Chicken, Spicy Grilled Chicken, Grilled Tilapia Fish, or Gizzards and plantains.

Liberian Jollof Rice:

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  • In a skillet, saute the chicken, meat or fish in vegetable oil. Remove from heat and set aside in a larger pot.
  • Add 2-3 cups stock or water to the chicken and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, sauté onions and green or red pepper until soft in oil, 4-5 min; add garlic and sauté 1-2 min longer.
  • Stir rice into the onions and peppers, then add tomato paste, stirring to coat the rice and give it a reddish hue. Add chopped tomatoes, and let them cook down for several minutes.
  • Pour this mixture over the chicken, and add carrots, green beans, cabbage and spices.
  • Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Serve on a platter, and garnish with sliced hard-boiled egg, cilantro or parsley.

Sierra Leone Jollof Rice:

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  1. Put ham hock in a deep pot with chicken bouillon and beef bouillon and simmer covered for an hour.
  2. While the hock is simmering, heat oil in a heavy stew pot and brown chicken and beef. Remove from pot and reserve.
  3. Sauté onions and garlic for a few minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, chillies, salt, and cayenne. Stir and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Add bouillon, ham and beef to stew and simmer covered for an hour. Add chicken and simmer covered for another 15 minutes.
  5. Add rice. Stir well. Cover and simmer for another 20 minutes or until rice is cooked and chicken tender. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving so the rice will absorb the liquid.
  6. Prepare cabbage and eggplant and pumpkin by boiling or steaming them and serve as side dishes.

Jollof rice is more than a colourful and tasty rice dish Africans enjoy arguing over: it connects to a rich heritage and is a dish that will forever remain.

Do you have any question or comment? Do share with us in the comment section.

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