Just as rice is a staple in many Asian and Latin American countries, it is in Nigeria, too. Jollof rice, at its core, is rice cooked with tomato, onion, pepper, and spices. This ubiquitous dish is present on both special occasions and regular meals. Not only is this dish popular in Nigeria, but in other African countries as well, such as Ghana. With its rich flavours, I’m not surprised why. Other variations include vegetables or a type of meat, such as beef, fish, or chicken.
How to make a perfect Nigerian JOLLOF RICE
1/3 cup oil (vegetable/canola/coconut, not olive oil)
6 medium-sized fresh plum/Roma tomatoes, chopped, OR a 400-gram tin of tomatoes
6 fresh, red poblano peppers (or 4 large red bell peppers), seeds discarded
3 medium-sized red onions (1 sliced thinly, 2 roughly chopped), divided
1/2 to 1 hot pepper, or to taste (yellow Scotch bonnets are my favourite)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons (Caribbean/Jamaican-style) curry powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 dried bay leaves
5 to 6 cups stock (vegetable, chicken, or beef) or water, divided
2 teaspoons unsalted butter (optional), divided
4 cups uncooked converted long-grain rice or golden sella basmati, rinsed
Salt, to taste
Black and white pepper, to taste
Extra: sliced onions, tomatoes
- In a blender, combine tomatoes, red poblano (or bell) peppers, chopped onions, and Scotch bonnets with 2 cups of stock, and blend till smooth, about a minute or two. You should have roughly 6 cups of blended mix. Pour into a large pot/ pan and bring to a boil then turn down and let simmer, partly covered for 10 – 12 minutes
- In a large pan, heat oil and add the sliced onions. Season with a pinch of salt, stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the bay leaves, curry powder and dried thyme and a pinch of black pepper for 3 – 4 minutes on medium heat. Then add the tomato paste – stir for another 2 minutes. Add the reduced tomato-pepper-Scotch bonnet mixture, stir, and set on medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes till reduced by half, with the lid partly on. This is the stew that will define the pot.
- Add 4 cups of the stock to the cooked tomato sauce and bring it to a boil for 1 – 2 minutes.
- Add the rinsed rice and butter, stir, cover with a double piece of foil/baking or parchment paper and put a lid on the pan—this will seal in the steam and lock in the flavour. Turn down the heat and cook on the lowest possible heat for 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.
- Stir rice—taste and adjust as required. If rice isn’t soft enough/ needs additional cooking, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of stock or water, stir through and continue to steam, on low till cooked through.
- If you like, add sliced onions, fresh tomatoes and the 2nd teaspoon of butter and stir through. Let rest, covered for 5 to 6 minutes.
- To make Party Rice, you’ll need one more step. Now Party Rice is essentially Smoky Jollof Rice, traditionally cooked over an open fire. However, you can achieve the same results on the stovetop. Here’s how: Once the rice is cooked, turn up the heat with the lid on and leave it to “burn” for 3 to 5 minutes. You’ll hear the rice crackle and snap and it will smell toasted. Turn off the heat and leave with the lid on to “rest” till ready to serve. The longer the lid stays on, the smokier. Let the party begin!
- When cooking the tomato stew, you can tell when it is done because the oil will rise to the top. Also another way to tell that is done is when the bitter taste of the tomatoes has been cooked out. The reason why you reserve 1/4th of the tomato mixture and add it at the end is because we do not want the rice to burn. Also, it gives the rice that beautiful red color we all know and love.
- It is key to use parboiled rice so that you don’t end up with mushy rice in the end.