Jollof rice is one of the most popular dishes in West Africa. Like other popular dishes in the region, there is a lot of variation in how the dish is served in different countries or regions within West Africa. It is worth noting the importance that rice has played a significant role in the West African diet for much of history. African rice, which is different from rice native to Asia, has been cultivated for thousands of years in West Africa, and many believe that it is the key to food security in the region. Generally speaking, jollof rice consists of rice tomatoes or tomato paste, palm oil, onions, salt, spices (usually cumin, nutmeg, and ginger), and chili peppers. Depending on where you are, the rice can be served with meat (usually chicken), fish, and additional vegetables. The origins of the dish can be traced back to the Senegambia region of Africa during the time of the Jolof Empire, hence the name jollof rice. It is believed that the dish was likely spread by tradesmen through the Mali Empire along with rice-based agriculture and Islam.
Jollof rice has become a point of pride in West Africa. There is a longstanding debate between Nigeria and Ghana over which country has the best jollof. Celebrities and politicians from both countries have contributed to the debate by talking about how bad the jollof rice is from the other country. You can read more about the great Nigeria–Ghana jollof debate here: https://buzzghana.com/jollof-rice-war-ghana-vs-nigeria/.
Jollof rice has played an important role in the history of food outside of Africa as well. Jollof is widely accepted as an ancestor to many dishes that are eaten today in America, especially ones that originated from the Louisiana area such as jambalaya and gumbo. The African diaspora brought the dish to the United States, and British colonizers even began to grow the African variety of rice in the American South. One compared jollof in West Africa to pizza in the United States. Everywhere you go, you will see the same basic ingredients, but everyone does it a little bit differently and everyone claims that their version is the best. You can learn more about the significance of jollof rice’s influence on food in the United States here: Below is one recipe for jollof rice that I found on demandafrica.com.
Jollof Rice, A West African Staple
Follow this recipe to learn to make one of the most popular West African dishes, Jollof Rice, with this easy-to-follow recipe.
- 2 medium tomatoes roughly chopped (about 5 ounces each)
- 1/2 medium Scotch bonnet pepper or use a habanero pepper, stem removed
- 1/2 medium onion roughly chopped
- 3 small red bell peppers roughly chopped (about 5 ounces each)
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons hot ground chili pepper such as African dried chili or cayenne
- 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon plus
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 2 1/2 cups medium-grain rice
- Water as needed
- Combine tomatoes, scotch bonnet pepper and onions and purée in a blender.
- Pour half of the purée into a bowl and set aside for later.
- Add the bell peppers to the remaining mixture in the blender and blend until smooth.
- Add to the blender mixture that was set aside and blend all together.
- Heat vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat.
- Add blended mixture along with the salt, curry powder, ground chili pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, bay leaves, ginger and thyme to oil. Bring mixture to a boil.
- Stir in the rice until well mixed, then reduce the heat to low.
- Cover pot and let cook until rice is al dente, about 45 minutes.
- After 25-30 minutes, check; if rice is too saucy, remove the lid to cook off the excess sauce. If too dry, add 1 to 2 cups water and stir.