Jollof Rice – West Africa’s answer to Jambalaya
If you ask the ‘Who’s your Daddy?’ question to Jambalaya the answer has to be Jollof Rice. Hailing from west Africa “Jollof” means ‘one pot’ in the Wolof language and it also goes by Benachin (which is also the name of a restaurant in New Orleans) and ‘Party Rice.’
Like Jambalaya it has many national and personal variations but they all start with tomatoes and spices that have been cooked down to a paste. Italians call this sofrito – what they call it in Nigeria I do not know – possibly something like ‘amazingly flavored cooked down goodness.’ Whatever you call it, it’s delicious.
And if your ancestors hail from west Africa try it! It’s a wonderful way to hook up with your heritage and treat your family and friends to a savory side dish.
Prepping the Rice
You start by parboiling long-grain white rice (it can be basmati or regular) for about 10 minutes. You then take it off the heat and rinse under cold water and set aside. This confused me initially since I’ve always cooked rice in flavored broth. However, pay attention to the African experts because they figured out long ago that the tomatoes and flavorings take more time to cook down to the correct thick consistency than the rice. Add the rice at the start and the end will be sad & soggy.
The flavorings always include turmeric, ginger, nutmeg, and hot chili peppers like Scotch bonnet and frequently Selim peppers which can be difficult to source in the U.S. The peppers below were bought at Savory Spice shop and are called cubeb peppers.
Cubeb’s curious history
Originating in Java, cubeb peppers, piper cubeba, were traded to Africa by Arab merchants, caught on quickly, and provide an aromatic note as well as heat. To me they smell something like the bergamot oil used to flavor Earl Grey tea. They’ve been used in all kinds of interesting ways in Europe and north Africa. Moroccans use them in their famous spice mixture, Ras el hanout, and they were used in medieval Poland as a marinade for meats. Their most surprising appearance came in The Music Man where Harold Hill corrupts the youth of River City by passing out Cubeb cigarettes. Who knew!
Back to the stove!
But back to the stove. After you’ve gotten the tomatoes and other fixins pureed in a blender you will add some oil to a skillet and pour them in. Cook to the approximate thickness you see below, but remember, it’s an eyeball thing so play it by ear.
Next add the rice and thoroughly coat it with the tomato mixture as pictured below.
Once this is done you may start adding the broth. Add it in half cup increments and keep tasting until the rice is done to your satisfaction.
What accompanies Jollof Rice?
I served mine with some chicken that was flavored with some of the curry spice mix I used in the rice. Africans will often serve it as a side dish in a large meal or accompanied by smoked fish, shrimp, or goat. It’s up to you. And for those who follow restrictive diets, it’s gluten-free and vegetarian. So however you serve it, let the party start!
- 2 cups long-grain rice
- 1 14 oz. can of chopped tomatoes
- 1 red bell pepper (or 1 jar of cooked peeled & drained peppers)
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 medium-sized clove garlic, chopped
- 1 scotch bonnet, chopped & seeds removed (or 1 tsp. red pepper flakes)
- ½ tsp. ground thyme
- 1 tsp. curry powder
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon cubeb berries ground and sifted (or several whole Selim peppers)
- 4 tablespoons red palm oil (dende oil) or olive oil
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 to 1½ cups chicken broth (or water if vegetarian)
- salt to taste
- Put unwashed rice into a pot with water to cover & set to boil. Let it cook about halfway, Remove and wash in cold water to stop the cooking. It should have a little resistance but should not be more than half done. This usually takes about 10 minutes but check. Set aside.
- Cut up the bell pepper in quarters, toss in a little olive oil and run under the broiler until the skin is blistered. Remove, put in a covered dish to steam, then peel off the skin & set aside. You can cheat by using the prepared red peppers in the jar. Just be sure & drain the liquid out.
- Put tomatoes, bell pepper, chopped onion, chili, and flavorings in a food processor or blender and puree.
- Put oil in a deep skillet and pour in the puree. Cook over low heat until it thickens significantly. Once that is achieved add the tomato paste.
- Next, add the rice and stir till coated.
- Now start adding the broth. The objective is to add gradually and keep checking the rice until it is done.
- Serve with chicken, shrimp, or goat. (Yes goat! And if you haven't tried it it tastes a bit like beef & is delicious).
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