J is for Jollof Rice
Jollof rice is a spicy aromatic rice preparation popular in many parts of West Africa. The dish takes its name from the Jolof empire that ruled around the Senegal region, in the 14th century.
From West Africa, its fame has spread everywhere. Jollof food festivals have been held in cities like Washington DC and Toronto. 22 August is World Jollof Day, celebrated since 2015, evidenced by the huge number of posts on social media.
Though there are versions of Jollof rice popular in almost all countries in West Africa, they differ considerably from each other. The versions in Ghana and Nigeria, prominent Jollof rice consumers, use a different type of rice to start with. While the Ghanaian version uses the fragrant basmati rice, the Nigerians use long grain rice. Also, while eastern spices like cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon are used in Ghana, the Nigerian version relies on tomato paste, habanero and red peppers, and thyme for flavor. I personally cannot imagine using basmati rice, which has a flavor of its own, for such a flavorful dish, and prefer long grain rice for Jollof rice. Oh my, with that have I joined the Jollof Wars? I’m not kidding… there is a Jollof war going on (#jollofwars) between Ghana and Nigeria fought all over social media, which has been joined by celebrities on both sides. Seemingly, it was started in 2014 when a Twitter user used the hashtag to compare the versions prepared by his mother and girlfriend. Read all about the fun controversy here on BBC – Jollof Wars: Who does West Africa’s iconic rice dish best?
The main flavor base of the Nigerian Jollof rice is the obe ata (pepper sauce), with the signature ingredient habanero (also called scotch bonnet) pepper. I’ve discovered that this is a handy sauce to flavor many other vegetables or meat as well.
The bright orange color of the Jollof rice comes from the red palm oil, made from the fruit of the African oil palm, commonly used in West Africa.
Traditionally, Jollof rice is cooked on the stove top; this version (adapted from NY Times Cooking) finishes the cooking in the oven for a perfectly cooked non-sticky rice.
Jollof rice is usually served with a side of meat or fish and fried plantains. You can also serve it by itself, accompanied by a salad and potato chips.
J is for Jollof Rice
For Obe Ata
For Jollof Rice
- Grind together all the ingredients for the obe ata (if required, in batches), except the cooking oil.
- Heat the cooking oil in a pan and add the ground spices to the pan.
- Cook over medium heat till the sauce has thickened and reduced to almost half, about 20 minutes. Set aside.
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large oven proof pot, heat the cooking oil.
- Add half of the thinly sliced onions to the pot and fry till golden. Drain and set aside.
- Add the remaining onions to the pot and sauté till transparent.
- Add the minced garlic and continue to sauté for a minute.
- Add the tomato paste, turmeric and paprika and continue to cook.
- Add the drained rice to the pot and stir to coat, for a minute or two.
- Add the obe ata, thyme and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper.
- Pour in the stock and 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil.
- Cover with a lid and place on the middle rack of the pre-heated oven. Cook for 35 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Open the pot and fluff the rice with a fork.
- Serve with a side dish of meat or fish and fried plantains. Or just with a salad.