west-african-jollof-rice

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If you type in “Jollof Rice” in Google, chances are you will find several different versions of this recipe, each with its own claims to authenticity and provenance. It’s no wonder really. Jollof rice is prevalent in West Africa and regional variations abound. This recipe is not far from authentic, but I have used a bit of science to help bring to the best in terms of flavour, in this much-loved dish.

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Jollof rice is prepared from a tomato base sauce made up of blended tomatoes, onions, sweet bell peppers and chilli peppers, usually, scotch bonnet peppers. To create the tomato base sauce, traditional recipes will blend the vegetables, then boil and simmer the resulting sauce to a paste-like consistency. Jollof Rice, particularly the version known as “party jollof rice(which is the jollof rice mostly served at parties in West Africa) is characterised by a smoky flavour, which is often achieved by evaporating the water in the rice dish to the point where the rice is scorched, at the bottom of the pan, which in turn, imparts the smoky flavour. The second defining characteristic of Jollof Rice is appearance of the cooked rice grains, which are long and fluffy, and deep red/orange in colour.

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The secret to smoky-flavoured jollof rice?

Oven grill the vegetables (peppers, onions and garlic). For twenty minutes with a coat of extra virgin olive oil, and watch the magic unfold. The heat from the grill chars and blisters the pepper skins, and soon, the wrinkled skins detach from the peppers, revealing their succulent insides which are sweeter and more tender than the outer skin. Smoky flavour and more tender and sweeter peppers? Now that’s a double whammy!

 

Next stop – the rice. There’s a bit of a debate as to what type of rice is used for authentic jollof rice. Ghanaians love their basmati rice, Nigerians swear by long grain rice. But which is best? This is a pertinent point, and even more pertinent, is the question of how to cook it. How many times have you followed a recipe for jollof rice to the letter, only to end up with either a soggy, clumped-up mess?  I confess, soggy jollof rice has happened to me, on more than one occasion, and from my experience, the best thing you can do, to get you on the right track to perfect light and fluffy jollof rice grains is picking the right kind of rice.

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Fluffy jollof rice?

Rice contains 2 types of starches – amylose and amylopectin. This is important because the composition of these starches in a grain of rice determines the texture of the cooked rice i.e. fluffy, creamy or sticky. Amylose is a long straight starch molecule, whereas amylopectin is a highly branched starch molecule. More amylose means straighter, fluffier grains of rice. More amylopectin means sticky, clumpy grains of rice – think sushi rice or risotto rice.  For Jollof rice, amylose is your friend.

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Amylose is highest in long grain rice, so for the best jollof, use long grain rice. American long grain rice? basmati rice? After all, they are both long grain rice, right?  That is right. It really doesn’t matter what type of long grain rice you use. What that really comes down to, is individual preferences. I have a personal preference for basmati rice for the nutty and earthy flavour it imparts to a rice dish – but again, that is just a personal preference.

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To cook the rice, some recipes say soak the rice then rinse, Some recipes skip the soaking stage all together. It is the soak or not-to-soak question. Soaking rice does have its benefits, because soaking kickstarts the water absorption process in the rice, which leads to the softening of the rice kernel. Interestingly, I soaked two bowls of basmati rice – one for 30 minutes and the other for 2 hours before cooking, with another bowl of un-soaked rice to act as a control, and the results were that the soaked rice took a shorter amount of time to cook, was fluffier and more aromatic than the un-soaked rice

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Is blanching the rice necessary?”

In many Nigerian recipes, the rice is routinely blanched. This is the method where rice is placed in a pan, along with some cold water, which is then brought to a boil, then taken off the heat. The rice is then rinsed several times over, until the water runs clear, at which point the rice is then cooked to perfection. Personally, I find this step un-necessary, preferring instead, to submit my soaked rice to one good rinse to get rid of any excess starch prior to cooking.

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How to cook Jollof rice?

Like many things in life, there are several different methodologies for cooking jollof rice. Jamie Oliver swears by boiling the rice first for a few minutes, the draining it into a colander and letting the steam from the water cook the rice. I tested out this method and I have to say, it delivered the perfect, fork-worthy fluffy rice. However, I ended up having the downside of having more dishes to wash up. BBC Good Food recommends using twice the volume of water to rice i.e. a 2:1 ratio to cook the rice, while my rice packet comes with the instructions to use the ratio of 1.5:1.

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Getting the perfect fluffy rice requires that you cook the rice via the evaporation method. This means cooking the rice in enough water or liquid so that, when fully absorbed by the rice and evaporated away during the cooking process, it leaves the rice perfectly cooked. How much water to use depends on your equipment – the pot, the fit of the lid, and the amount of heat from your stove, but in general, one cup of rice only needs to absorb one cup of water, and the rest is evaporated away. Using too much liquid, causes the grains to become mushy which defeats the objective of Jollof Rice.

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Since Jollof Rice is cooked in a tomato sauce, and not water, I adjusted the amount of tomato sauce to take into account the solid matter contained in tomato sauce, by increasing the ratio to 1.5 to 1. i.e. 1.5 times tomato sauce to rice, and this worked out beautifully. Look at those beautifully separated grains of fluffy rice!

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The verdict? Follow this recipe to the letter, and you shouldn’t have to deal with soggy, clumpy jollof rice ever again. Serve with sweet and sticky chicken drumsticks or grilled trout.

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West African Jollof Rice
West African Jollof Rice
Print Recipe
Add to Meal Plan:
This recipe has been added to your Meal Plan
Servings Prep Time
3 people 30 minutes
Cook Time
85 minutes
Servings Prep Time
3 people 30 minutes
Cook Time
85 minutes
West African Jollof Rice
West African Jollof Rice
Print Recipe
Add to Meal Plan:
This recipe has been added to your Meal Plan
Servings Prep Time
3 people 30 minutes
Cook Time
85 minutes
Servings Prep Time
3 people 30 minutes
Cook Time
85 minutes
Ingredients
Units:
Instructions
  1. Soak rice: Soak rice for 30 minutes in 200mL of water. After 30 minutes, drain and set aside
  2. Roast Vegetables: Chop peppers and onions into quarters. Peel garlic, then drizzle 1 tablespoon of oil over the vegetables. Grill at the highest rung in the oven at 220ºC for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove from grill, and blend to puree. This should yield approx. 250mL of puree.
  3. Add puree to a large pot with a good fitting lid. Add 400mL of tomato passata. Set stove on medium heat* (refer to TIP below), and simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes.
  4. After 20 minutes, add stock cube, paprika, chicken spice, and 100mL of water. Still on medium heat, simmer with the lid off for 25 minutes, stirring frequently (every 5 minutes or so) to prevent the tomato sauce from burning and sticking to the bottom of the pan. This should reduce the tomato sauce to the ratio of 1.5 to 1.
  5. Add the pre-soaked rice to the pot, and stir to distribute the rice evenly into the tomato sauce mix. Cover the pot with a film of foil, then put the lid of the pot over the foil. (The foil and a tight fitting lid should prevent any steam from escaping from the pot).* Do not be tempted to open the lid at any point while the rice is cooking.
  6. Reduce the heat setting to low-medium* and cook for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to low and cook for another 5 minutes.
Recipe Notes
  • Medium heat - On a stove with heat settings of 1 - 9 (with 1 being the lowest heat, and 9 being the highest heat), medium heat refers to a heat setting of 4.

  • Low to Medium Heat - Refers to a heat setting of 2 or 3 per the above example

  • Low Heat - Refers to a heat setting of 1 per the above example

 

Is this recipe right for you?

 

Nutrition Facts
West African Jollof Rice
Amount Per Serving
Calories 402 Calories from Fat 54
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 6g 9%
Saturated Fat 1g 5%
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 4g
Sodium 1522mg 63%
Potassium 759mg 22%
Total Carbohydrates 76g 25%
Dietary Fiber 6g 24%
Sugars 8g
Protein 11g 22%
Vitamin A 124%
Vitamin C 212%
Calcium 5%
Iron 29%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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The information shown is an estimate, and does not replace a professional nutritionist’s advice.

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Did you make this recipe?

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Please let me know how it turned out for you. Leave a comment below and share a picture on Instagram with the hashtag #africaonyourplate.

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Emem
Afro-fusion Food Lover.
Sustainable Food Advocate.
Completely nuts about Avocado.

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