Post updated 11/23/2019
An easy African Jollof Rice Recipe for a non-traditional weeknight side or special occasion side dish. This dish will wow any crowd and smell up your entire kitchen in the best possible way.
What is jollof rice?
Every culture has a rice dish – paella, arroz con pollo, jambalaya, pilaf, etc. But as with most things, origins go back to mother Africa. Perhaps Western Africa’s most popular dish, many different versions of jollof rice exist across the region. Jollof rice is a one-pot spicy tomato-based rice dish common in countries like Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon. It’s both an everyday staple as well as party food. As my family continues to explore our culture through food and travel, I’ve been experimenting with my own jollof rice recipe.
The Senegalese claim origin of jollof rice, but Ghanaians and Nigerians fight for best version supremacy. I’m going to play Switzerland and stay neutral. I have no dog in the fight, as based on my DNA results, my origins point to Cameroon/Congo, but my personal preference is Nigerian style for its texture which if you follow me enough you know texture is pretty big with me.
Nigerian jollof tends to be drier with individual pieces of rice vs. Ghanaian which is more wet and thick in the vein of thick oatmeal. One of these days I hope to make it to D.C. for the annual jollof rice cook-off held each August. It’s Nigerian style vs. Ghanaian and based on the social media posts the rivalry is up there with rap beefs whether it’s East vs. West Coast or Queens vs. the Bronx.
Jollof Rice Ingredients
- Jasmine Rice
- Palm Oil
- Yellow Onion
- Red Bell Pepper
- Curry Powder
- Kosher Salt
- Black Pepper
- Bay Leaf
- Dried Thyme
- Garlic Cloves
- Fresh Ginger
- Habanero Chili Peppers
- Tomato Paste
- Canned Diced Tomatoes
Jollof rice base ingredients include rice, chilis, tomatoes, tomato paste, onions, salt, spices, and vegetable oil. Recipe variations include the use of meats or seafood, different vegetables (peas, carrots, red peppers are examples) and different types of spices. Jollof rice should be well seasoned coming from different sources.
In addition to habanero chilis, I prefer to add fresh garlic and ginger which gives off a great aroma. I combine this with spices like curry, paprika, and thyme which provide earthiness, smokiness, and herbal essence. Cooked on low heat all the flavors come together and deliver the flavor goods. A lot of Jollof recipes include meats, but I kept this one vegan.
How to make jollof rice
Step 1: Make the tomato puree
I start with the tomato puree first in order to give it some rest time while I began cooking the rice. I saute my vegetables (onions, garlic, chilis, ginger) in palm oil if I have it on hand before adding the tomatoes. Palm oil is common in parts of Africa and imparts a reddish color to the dish. Other oils are perfectly suitable as I know palm oil is not readily available at all grocery stores. I also season the vegetables during saute step. The heat intensifies their flavor, just don’t cook them too long.
Add the tomato paste. When adding the paste, be sure to mix everything thoroughly. You want even distribution of the paste.
I like to make my tomato puree by combining the chopped tomatoes and sauteed vegetables. Then I actually let the mix sit for a spell to allow the flavors to gel before adding the rice, after all the rice will absorb the flavors of all the ingredients it cooks in. If you have time make the puree a day ahead for even more flavor.
Step 2: Cook the rice
Quickly saute the onions and bell peppers, just enough for the onions to become translucent. Add the rice (don’t forget to rinse the rice first) add saute as well with the onions and peppers.
Add the water, bay leaf, and more seasoning (teaspoon each of curry and paprika). Stir well and cook for 2-3 minutes until much of the water has been absorbed.
Add the tomato puree and mix well. Let is simmer about 15 minutes covered. After it’s done turn off heat. Let the rice sit covered for an additional 5 minutes then uncover and fluff as needed with a fork.
Jollof pairs well with any fish, chicken or beef dish as well as purely vegan ones. Consider any of these recipes to round out your menu:
Jollof Rice Cooking Tips
- If it’s available to you use palm oil. It will give the rice a distinct red color as well as that African flavor
- Parboiled rice is preferred in a lot of recipes because it’s easy to end up with mushy rice using regular rice. The trade-off, however, is the flavor of the dish isn’t as intense. In my experience the longer cook time for regular rice means it stews longer in the tomato mix.
- To ensure non-mushy rice follow the three Rs – rinse, ratio, rest. Rinse the rice ahead of time with cold water. Repeat until water runs clear vs. the chalky white. Rinsing removes much of the starchiness
- Use a 1:1 ratio water/liquid to rice to ensure proper evaporation. Note, a tight lid helps with evaporation as well
- Let the rice Rest away from heat and uncovered so the condensation escapes.
- If somehow your rice is still on the path to mushy world put the lid on and cook the rice on very low heat for another 5 minutes. If the rice is too wet, uncover the pot and cook over low heat to evaporate the water. Or spread the rice out onto a baking sheet and dry it in an oven-cooked on low.
- For the party version which is somewhat smoky, allow the rice to burn a few minutes in the pan with the lid on. Though not exactly the same, this process is an alternative to the traditional way of cooking over a wood fire.
For similar recipes you might like, try these:
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- 2 cups Tomato Puree
- 2 cups jasmine rice rinsed and drained
- 1/4 cup palm oil or olive oil
- 1/2 yellow onion chopped
- 1 medium red bell pepper
- 1 tbsp curry powder
- 1/2 tbsp smoked sweet paprika
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp dried thyme
Tomato Puree Ingredients
- 1 tbsp palm oil
- 1/2 yellow onion chopped
- 3 cloves garlic chopped
- 2 tsp fresh ginger chopped
- 2 habanero chilis seeded and chopped
- 6 oz can of tomato paste
- 12 oz canned diced tomatoes
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp salt
Tomato Puree Instructions
- In a large skillet heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and season with salt and other spices. Cook until onions become translucent, 3-5 minutes
- Add garlic, ginger, and chilis and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
- You should have a nice aroma now and can add the tomato paste, cooking for another 6-8 minutes. Note: Stir well to ensure paste is incorporated well with the vegetables and cooks evenly.
- Transfer all ingredients to blender or food processor and add the diced tomatoes. Process until smooth. Set aside.
- In a large skillet over medium, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes.Â Add bell peppers last 3 minutes.
- Stir in the rice, curry powder, paprika, thyme, 1 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring, until the rice is fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Stir in the bay leaf and 1Â½ cups water, bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the water has been absorbed, about 2 minutes.
- Stir in the tomato puree and return to a simmer, then reduce to medium-low. Cover and cook until almost dry and the rice is tender, 12 to 15 minutes.
- Let the rice sit for at least 5 minutes after its done cooking, then fluff with fork.