An easy African Jollof Rice Recipe for a non-traditional weeknight side or special occasion side dish. This one-pot dish will wow any crowd and smell up your entire kitchen in the best possible way.
Jollof rice is also festive, party food. When done right it will get the crowd buzzing and talking.
The flavor is bold and intense, but not hard to achieve. The actual recipe is easy to make, but recipes aren't shared too often, at least not the entire recipe. An ingredient or technique is often left out to protect those secrets.
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 rice dish common in West African countries like Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon. It's an everyday staple, party food, or even street food. As my family continues to explore our culture through food and travel, I've been experimenting with my own jollof rice recipe.
The origins of jollof rice is claimed by the Senegalese, but Ghanaians and Nigerians fight for best version supremacy. My personal preference is Nigerian style for its texture; Nigerian jollof rice tends to be drier with individual pieces of rice vs. Ghanaian jollof rice 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.
I'm not trying to get into any jollof wars, but I like how my version turned out.
Beats and Eats (music pairing for jollof rice)
There are literally Jollof rice battles. You can't make jollof without confidence. Actually let me correct myself; you can't make good jollof without confidence. You need that braggadocious crazy audacity type confidence like the greatest battle rappers. Boogie Down Productions' "The Bridge Is Over" is one of the greatest diss tracks and battle records ever put on wax. It's the perfect song to accompany jollof rice.
JOLLOF RICE INGREDIENTS
- Jasmine Rice
- Palm Oil - traditional West African ingredient with distinct flavor and color. Hard to find unless you have a market/grocery store dedicated to or that services an African demographic group. Online is always an option as well.
- Yellow Onion
- Red Bell Peppers
- Curry Powder
- Kosher Salt
- Black Pepper
- Bay leaf
- Dried Thyme
- Garlic Cloves
- Fresh Ginger
- Scotch Bonnet Pepper - feel free to substitute Habanero Pepper
- Tomato Paste
- Canned Diced or Plum Tomatoes
How To Make JOLLOF Rice (step by step)
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. Saute the vegetables (onions, garlic, chilis, ginger) in palm oil before adding the tomatoes.
I also season the vegetables during the 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 an 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
Rinse the rice thoroughly until the water runs clear vs. the milky white color.
Quickly saute the onions and bell peppers, just enough for the onions to become translucent. Add the rice and 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 it 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.
If it's available to you, use palm oil. It will give the rice a distinct red color as well as that African flavor.
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.
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
Many traditional dishes for jollof include seasoning cubes (Maggi cubes) for seasoning. I excluded it here and just relied on my mix of spices. Feel free to use them if they're available to you.
Palm oil is not readily accessible so you're not likely to find it in most mainstream grocery stores. If you don't have access then use olive oil or vegetable oil.
Use a 1:1 ratio water/liquid to rice to ensure proper evaporation. Note, a tight lid helps with evaporation as well. Make sure you use enough water.
Feel free to substitute chicken broth in place of the water for a more flavorful jollof rice.
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.
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.
For the party rice 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.
Jollof pairs well with any seafood, chicken, or beef dish as well as purely vegan ones like cauliflower curry or fried black-eyed peas. On occasion, I will also enjoy jollof rice with my favorite okra soup. Lastly this jerk fried chicken makes for a great comfort food compliment to jollof.
MORE RICE BASED RECIPES
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)About Jollof Rice
Is Jollof Rice spicy?
It can be, but doesn't have to be. It depends on whether you cook with the seeds and veins of the habanero chilis included. If you do then the amount you include will determine the heat level.
Does Jollof Rice Include Meat?
This recipe does not include meat. As a matter of fact most recipes you'll come across will not also. That's not to say you can't include meat and I can easily see shrimp or chicken working really well in jollof. However, be ware, the jollof purists may come for you lol.
What is Party Rice?
Party rice has a more smoky flavor thanks to the way the rice is prepared. The rice is allowed to "burn" somewhat in the pan while cooking covered.
What is the Best Rice for Jollof?
For the best jollof rice, I prefer to use a good long grain rice. Basmati and jasmine are both good options. Parboiled rice is used often in Nigerian party jollof rice. Parboiled rice limits the amount of starch which makes it easier to cook the rice more evenly.
Which jollof style is best?
Even though they say the jollof wars are essentially a friendly rivalry, I'm not touching this one. I'm going all Switzerland here.
What kind of rice works best for Jollof?
I prefer to use long grain rice to make jollof rice. Either basmati or jasmine are good options.
Do I Need To Soak My Rice?
Soaking is not required, but I do recommend rinsing the rinse repeatedly until it runs clear of the chalkiness color. Soaking does reduce cooking time and results in fluffier rice.
MAKING THIS RECIPE
If you make this delicious jollof rice, don't forget to save the best part, the pot liquor. Also, please come back and leave me a comment below with your feedback. Definitely take a photo of the dish and be sure to tag #foodfidelity so that I can see them.
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- 2 cups Tomato Puree
- 2 cups jasmine rice rinsed and drained
- ¼ cup palm oil or olive oil
- ½ yellow onion chopped
- 1 medium red bell pepper
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- ½ tablespoon smoked sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
Tomato Puree Ingredients
- 1 tablespoon palm oil
- ½ yellow onion chopped
- 3 cloves garlic chopped
- 2 teaspoon fresh ginger chopped
- 2 habanero chilis seeded and chopped
- 6 oz can of tomato paste
- 12 oz canned diced tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon 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. 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 1½ 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.