Jollof Rice

Photo of a dish of Jollof Rice on a wooden table

The Lasso Way
Some of my biggest food obsessions can be directly attributed to something I saw in a movie or on TV. For example, had I not seen Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond eating Moroccan food with their hands in the 1995 movie Sabrina, I might never have understood the beauty of a perfect tagine, that harissa can go on everything, or how to make couscous the right way. (Yes, there is a wrong way). It happened again. But, this time on the small screen.

Like many others, I am a big fan of the Ted Lasso series. And, it was during the Season 2 Christmas episode that my latest obsession was born. In it, Sam is seen bringing some Jollof Rice to the potluck though he laments that it was made with chicken instead of goat. This struck a chord with me. And, the continuing storyline about Sam and his love of his native Nigerian food made me want to see what it was all about.

Though I am not totally unfamiliar with flavors from the African continent, my exposure has been limited to the northern regions and Ethiopia. I just never had the opportunity to taste Nigerian food or other regional flavors from the continent. So, I started researching cookbooks. It was harder than I thought. There are plenty of books about North African cuisine, but those are the flavors I knew the most about. I found a number of options that highlighted the influence African flavors had on traditional Southern cooking. Finding books that focused on other flavors was a bit of a challenge. I did manage to find a couple of good ones. Africana: More than 100 Recipes and Flavors Inspired by a Rich Continent is excellent.

My first mission was to try to make Sam’s Jollof Rice. There are a lot of versions. And, each West African country claims theirs is the best—which is fine. It just means you need to try all of them.

I have found Jollof recipes that I would refer to as “projects” because they take a long time. And, I have found versions that are a little less labor-intensive, though still probably too much work for a weeknight meal. Some recipes include plantains, some don’t. Some are smokey with paprika. Some aren’t. You could get lost in the possibilities. However, all of them will start with rice, tomatoes, and a preferred spice.

This recipe is from Food52 and it is excellent. Give it a shot if you are interested. You just might start your own obsession…

Jollof Rice Recipe
Adapted from Food52
Yields about 16 servings

Jollof Rice is a dish that is served across West Africa. This version is based on a Nigerian recipe. And, while each country has its own version, the consistent elements are rice, tomato stew, and seasonings. Jollof is often served as a main dish.

This recipe makes a large pot of rice, and it can easily be halved for smaller quantities. The dish can also be divided and frozen for later use.

1/3 cup coconut oil
8 medium-sized fresh Roma tomatoes, divided
6 fresh poblano peppers
3 medium-sized red onions, divided
1/2 to 1 hot pepper, or to taste
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 dried bay leaves
3 to 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock, divided
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, divided
4 cups basmati rice
Salt, to taste
Black and white pepper, to taste

Prep the ingredients
Coarsely chop 6 of the Roma tomatoes, slice the remaining two Roma tomatoes, remove the seeds, and coarsely chop the poblano peppers, slice one red onion thinly, coarsely chop the other two, and rinse the basmati rice until the water begins to run clear.

Make the tomato-pepper sauce
In a blender, combine the tomatoes, poblano peppers, chopped onions, and hot peppers with 2 cups of the stock. Blend till the sauce is smooth (about one or two minutes). Pour the sauce into a large pot and bring it to a boil. Turn down the heat and allow it to simmer, partly covered (about 10 to 12 minutes).

Cook the aromatics
In a large pan, heat the coconut oil and add the sliced onions. Season the pot with a pinch of salt and stir-fry (about 2 to 3 minutes). Then add the bay leaves, curry powder, dried thyme, and a pinch of black pepper. Continue cooking on medium heat (about 3 to 4 minutes). Add the tomato paste and stir cooking (another 2 minutes). Add the reduced tomato-pepper-sauce, stir, and simmer on medium heat, with the lid partly covering the pot, until the liquid is reduced by half (about 10 to 12 minutes).

Add the remaining stock to the cooked tomato sauce and bring it to a boil (about 1 to 2 minutes).

Cook the rice
Add the rinsed rice and 1 teaspoon of the butter and stir the pot. Cover it with a double piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper. Then put the lid on the pan. This will seal in the steam and lock in the flavor. Turn down the heat and cook on the lowest possible heat for 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Stir the rice and adjust the seasoning to taste. If the rice isn’t soft enough and needs additional cooking, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup more stock or water, stir thoroughly, and continue to steam the covered rice on low until it has reached the desired consistency.

Finish the dish
Add the sliced onions, sliced tomatoes, and the 2nd teaspoon of butter and stir to combine.

Allow the dish to rest, covered, for 5 to 6 minutes before serving.


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