Jollof Rice Is My All-Time Favorite Food. Here’s How I Make It

published Sep 17, 2021
Jollof Rice Recipe

Jollof rice is a smoky, spicy tomato and pepper-based rice dish that's a staple throughout West Africa.

Serves8 to 12

Prep20 minutes

Cook1 hour 20 minutes

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Credit: Kelly Marshall

If I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would be jollof rice. It’s the first thing I reach for at every Nigerian function, and it’s probably the dish I cook for myself most often at home. The rice is cooked in a mixture of blended tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic, as well as stock and plenty of herbs and seasonings, and all of the delicious flavors infuse into the rice as it cooks. Traditionally it was cooked over an open flame, which gave it its signature smoky flavor, but you can still achieve that rich smokiness on the stovetop.

Jollof is a staple across West Africa, and every country has their own variation. There’s a mostly friendly rivalry called “jollof wars,” over which country has the best jollof rice, but I think jollof is always good, no matter where it comes from. In my opinion, the most important factor is the texture: You want distinct grains of rice that are never mushy. This took me a long time to achieve, but after many years of trial and error and learning from the greats like Ronke Edoho of 9jafoodie, I’ve finally got it down — and I’m thrilled to share my recipe with you.

Credit: Kelly Marshall

What Does Jollof Rice Taste Like?

Jollof is smoky and spicy, with a hint of sweetness from the tomatoes. Thanks to the herbs and seasonings, it really does have multiple layers of flavor. The exact ingredients vary: Some people use seasoning cubes like Maggi or Knorr, while others omit bell peppers and use only tomatoes. This recipe reflects the jollof rice I grew up eating, which includes a lot of commonly used components like bay leaves, thyme, ginger, curry, white pepper, and garlic.

What Kind of Rice Is Used in Jollof Rice?

The short answer is long-grain rice, but the specific type used varies from country to country, and even person to person. In Nigeria, you’ll often see people using parboiled rice, but I much prefer to use basmati or jasmine because I think they cook so beautifully.

The rice at the bottom of the pot tends to burn just a bit as the rice cooks, which helps lend that smoky flavor to the dish, and is delicious for anyone who loves crunchy rice.

What Do You Eat with Jollof Rice?

Jollof rice is typically served with some sort of meat, like chicken or beef, but it would taste great with crispy tofu as well. For me, the one thing I always want on my plate is fried plantains. I’m partial to sweet, soft plantains covered in black spots, because they form the most delicious crisped edges when fried. They’re the perfect contrast to the spicy, savory rice.

Jollof Rice Recipe

Jollof rice is a smoky, spicy tomato and pepper-based rice dish that's a staple throughout West Africa.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 1 hour 20 minutes

Serves 8 to 12

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the red pepper base:

  • 3

    medium Roma tomatoes (about 12 ounces total)

  • 1

    large red bell pepper (about 8 ounces)

  • 1/2

    large red onion (6 to 7 ounces)

  • 1 (1-inch) piece

    ginger

  • 1/2 to 1

    habanero pepper

  • 5 cloves

    garlic

For the jollof rice:

  • 1/2

    large red onion (6 to 7 ounces)

  • 4 cups

    uncooked jasmine or basmati rice

  • 1/2 cup

    vegetable oil

  • 3 tablespoons

    tomato paste

  • 1 tablespoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 2 teaspoons

    curry powder

  • 4 sprigs

    fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground white pepper

  • 2

    bay leaves

  • 3 cups

    beef, chicken, or vegetable broth

Instructions

For the red pepper base:

  1. Core and coarsely chop 3 medium Roma tomatoes. Place in a blender. Trim and coarsely chop 1 large red bell pepper. Add to the blender and blend on high speed until smooth, about 1 minute.

  2. Prepare the following, adding each to the blender as you complete it: Coarsely chop 1/2 large red onion, peel 1-inch piece ginger and coarsely chop (about 1 tablespoon), trim the stem from 1/2 to 1 habanero pepper, add 5 garlic cloves and blend on high speed until smooth, about 1 minute.

  3. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. The mixture will thicken slightly and turn bright red.

For the jollof rice:

  1. Thinly slice 1/2 large red onion. Place 4 cups long-grain white rice in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse thoroughly under cool running water. Set aside to drain.

  2. Heat 1/2 cup vegetable oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and cook until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons tomato paste, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 2 teaspoons curry powder, 4 fresh thyme sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1 teaspoon ground white pepper, and 2 bay leaves. Stir and cook until the paste has darkened in color, 2 to 3 minutes.

  3. Pour in the red pepper base and 3 cups stock. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.

  4. Add the rice and stir until combined. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pot with aluminum foil and then the lid. Cook undisturbed for 30 minutes.

  5. Remove the lid and foil and gently fluff the rice. Remove and discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. If the rice tastes a bit undercooked, remove from the heat, cover again, and let sit for 10 minutes. Don’t worry if the rice burns a bit at the bottom of the pot. This is part of what contributes a smoky flavor to the dish, and some people actually prefer this part! Taste and season the rice with more kosher salt as needed.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftover rice can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Make ahead: The red pepper base can be made up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container.

Storing and freezing: The red pepper base can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw before using.