Traveling to Africa is an amazing opportunity and adventure. The music, clothes, and culture are memorable. The food is also amazing. For example, Ghanaian food is to live for! To name a few: Banku and grilled tilapia fish, red stew with plantains, and so much more. However, Jollof rice is the dish! Sweet, spicy and savory! This rice dish is a must to share with everyone!
It is said that Jollof rice originated around the 14th century. This one pot meal has its origin in the Wolof tribe. However, Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana and other areas of Africa all take credit for being the progenitor.
Some regions did document its beginning. For example, Nigeria credits Walo as creating the recipe. In all fairness, Jollof shows up in almost every country within Africa. No matter where, it’s absolutely delicious! The pride taken in its preparation reflects culture and history.
Jollof rice hype is revealed in almost everything: it’s eaten on holidays, various parties, weddings, naming ceremonies, and even funerals. It is also prevalent in almost every non/religious activity. Jollof! The centerpiece of the community. The celebration dish of many West Africans.
Now, alongside the celebratory nature of serving and eating Jollof, there’s also a kind of war. It’s a universal favorite for sure. But depending on where the dish is prepared there is intense argument on whose rice is the best. It’s intense and serious. But it’s a good never ending battle. As some Nigerians say: “ This Jollof matter is sensitive and personal!”
What’s in this dish that makes it so special? The basics are simple: Rice, tomatoes, onions, and chili peppers. These are essential and a must. Some dishes are varied depending on location and preparer. For instance, some utilize chicken, corned beef, lamb, goat, and beef. Others are strictly vegetable based. Either way it is a sure pleasure.
Here is a basic recipe for our readers to recreate and embrace West African culture:
- Water or stock
- Onions, chopped
- Red or green bell pepper, chopped — 1
- Garlic — tons
- Long-grain rice — 3 cups
- Tomato paste
- Carrots, peeled and chopped
- Green beans
- Cabbage, chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
The above ingredients can be substituted. Use your imagination and learn about various countries in Africa: Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Gambia. These locations are widely known for the “success” of creating excellent versions of Joollof rice.
Here is a general method list found to give readers an idea how to cook:
- Heat the oil over medium-high flame in a large pot. Working in batches, add the chicken and brown on all sides. Remove the chicken to another large pot and add the water or stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.
- While the chicken simmers, pour all but 2-3 tablespoons of oil out of the first pot. Heat the oil over medium flame, add the onions and peppers and sauté until the onions are wilted and translucent, 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another 1-2 minutes.
- Stir the rice into the onions and peppers and heat through for another 1-2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste to coat the rice and give it a reddish hue. Add the chopped tomatoes and let them cook down for 2-3 minutes.
- Pour in the chicken and its simmering liquid into the rice pot and add the carrots, green beans and cabbage. Season well with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover tightly and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Remove from heat, let rest another 10 minutes. Remove to a serving platter and serve with dodo, sliced hard-boiled eggs and a side salad.
- There are many variations of jollof rice. Feel free to improvise using what meats and vegetables you have on hand. Try beef, ham, shrimp, fish, goat or pork. For vegetables, add peas, potatoes, eggplant or mushrooms
- Beef Jollof Rice: substitute cubed stewing beef for the chicken. After browning the beef, simmer in liquid for 45 minutes before adding to the sautéed rice mixture.
- Vegetarian Jollof Rice: simply eliminate the meat and stir hot water or vegetable stock into the sautéed rice mixture.
- Optional spices that can be used to flavor the dish are cinnamon, curry powder or cayenne. Some minced chile peppers can be sautéed with the onions to add extra bite.
(This World Music, 2011)
This is a basic recipe template to try and create your own traditional Jollof Rice. While you’re trying and cooking this dish, listen to this music video!
Robin Harris is an activist for Black, LGBTQIA, low-income, and other marginalized people. She is an organizer for Central Florida Mutual Aid and collaborates with GO Humanity service team Orlando Oasis on disaster recovery.