There are authentic and traditional dishes that can create wars. Jollof rice is one of those dishes!
What is jollof rice?
Jollof rice is one of the most common Western African dishes. It is prepared throughout the region including in Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Togo, Cameroon as well as Mali.
It is composed of fluffy, red-orange rice that is cooked with a combination of vegetables that may include peas, peppers, carrots, cabbage or eggplant, and often accompanied with meat such as lamb, goat, chicken, beef. Jollof rice is also served with salad or fried plantain called dodo in the Yoruba language.
What is the origin of Jollof rice?
Based on the name of the Jollof rice, one can easily conclude that its origins can be traced to the Senegambian region that was once ruled by the Jolof Empire (1350 to 1549). The Jolof Empire (also Djolof, Wolof), which controlled parts of Senegal and the Gambia was established as a vassal of the Mali Empire. At that time, the region extending from the Gambia River to Liberia was also known as the Grain or Rice coast because a number of grains including rice and millet were grown on the banks of the Senegal River.
However, James McCann in his book, Stirring the Pot claims that Jollof rice may have propagated throughout West Africa with the Djula people, tradesmen from the Mali Empire, historically referred to as the Manden Kurufaba, or just Manden (c. 1230 to 1670).
The Senegalese version of this traditional dish, thieboudienne, which features fried fish and that I cooked last year, seems to have originated much later during the nineteenth century as it was created by a woman from Saint Louis, on the northwest coast of the country, called Penda Mbaye.
It is interesting to note that the main component of the traditional Jollof recipe, rice, is native only to a small part of West Africa, from Senegal to Sierra Leone. However, another main ingredient of Jollof rice, tomato, really arrived from the New World in the Columbian Exchange during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
At the time, the Senegal River was an established Portuguese trading port where goods and services were exchanged. It is therefore possible that locally grown rice was combined with imported ingredients like tomatoes from the New World to give birth to Jollof rice.
As a matter of fact, Jollof rice probably traveled to America too, as jambalaya and especially Lowcountry red rice share a lot of similarities with Jollof rice. This West African dish will also be reminiscent of the popular old world paella, as well as a number of other rice dishes we have already featured in 196 flavors such as galinhada, arroz con pollo, nasi goreng, plov, biryani, majboos, al kabsa or skoudehkaris.
Who makes the best Jollof rice?
Although Senegal, the Gambia or Mali could easily claim the paternity of this West African staple dish, there is definitely a light-hearted war going on between Nigeria and Ghana about who makes the best Jollof rice!
Nigerians typically parboil their rice. Parboiled rice can be store-bought (e.g. Uncle Ben’s) or pre-cooked in a large volume of water before being incorporated with all the other ingredients. They make a separate stew, then mix the rice with the stew to finish the cooking together.
In Nigeria, Jollof is often cooked outdoors in an iron pot over firewood or charcoal. This version is called Party Jollof Rice and it features a particular smoky flavor, that is obtained by letting the water evaporate to the point where the rice is almost burnt or scorched.
Senegalese Jollof rice is traditionally prepared in one pot, as everything is slowly cooked together so that the rice is absorbs the flavors throughout the process. As in Liberia, the Senegalese version is often served with fish.
What rice to use to make the perfect Jollof rice?
Whichever rice you decide to use, it is important to parboil it. You can use it already parboiled or use Basmati or Jasmine rice. To parboil it, you just need to cook the rice for 5 to 10 minutes in a large volume of salted water.
Rice contains two types of starches that are called amylose and amylopectin. The ratio of these starches in a grain of rice determines the texture of the rice when cooked, as the heat and liquid penetrate the grain and the starch molecules break down.
Amylose is a long, straight starch molecule. Rice grains with high amounts of this molecule, such as Basmati or Jasmine rice, are fluffy and easily separate once cooked. These rice varieties typically have a volume of 22% of amylose.
Amylopectin is a highly branched starch molecule. Rice with higher amount of this molecule, such as short grain rice (risotto rice), medium grain sushi rice (Calrose rice) or glutinous rice, tend to be stickier. These rice varieties typically have a ratio of 15-17% of amylose.
We are trying to stay away from food wars on 196 flavors, but I stumbled upon this funny video praising the taste of Ghanaian Jollof that I had to share.
Ghana Jollof, Yummy! Nigerian jollof dier e taste funny
I will leave you with that hilarious song, and remember that no matter what, and even if we are all about authenticity on our blog, what really matters is good food, friends and fun, so enjoy!
- 2 lb chicken (bone in), cut
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 onion
- 1 1-inch piece of ginger
- 1 Scotch bonnet pepper
- 1 stock cube Maggi or other
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 onions , thinly sliced
- 8 oz tomato paste
- 1 (14 oz.) can tomato puree
- 2 Scotch bonnet peppers
- 1 onion
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon curry powder (optional)
- 4 cups parboiled rice
- ½ lb green beans , cut into 1 inch-pieces
- 2 carrots , peeled and cut into large matchsticks
Blend the garlic, onion, ginger, stock cube and chili peppers, with 3 cups of water.
Put the chicken pieces in a large pot, and pour the mixture on top. Stir, add water to cover the chicken if necessary. Cover and cook on medium/low for 30 minutes.
Heat oil in a non-stick pan and fry the sliced onions for 8-10 minutes until soft and golden brown.
Add the tomato paste and continue cooking while stirring for 5 minutes.
In the meantime, remove the chicken from the pot, and drain the stock into the blender.
Add the tomato puree, 1 onion, and 2 Scotch bonnet peppers and blend to obtain a smooth consistency.
Add this mixture to the pan with the onions and tomato sauce, and mix. Add the vegetables and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Add the bay leaves and curry powder. Add the rice to the sauce and stir. Add salt to taste. Cover and simmer on a low heat till rice is fully cooked, about 20 minutes.
In the meantime, fry the boiled chicken in a saucepan with 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil, to give them some color.
Serve the rice with the chicken, as well as fried plantains or a green leaf salad on the side.