Kitchn Love Letters

Why Nigerian Fried Rice Will Always Have a Place on My Thanksgiving Table

published Nov 16, 2020
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Credit: Brittany Conerly

Thanksgiving at my house is a mashup of two cultures: Nigerian and American. Our table represents who I am: an immigrant braiding my heritage into American traditions. I keep the basic traditions of Thanksgiving while still putting my unique Nigerian twist on it. Oceans away from relatives, our Nigerian fried rice is a big part of what gives my family our own holiday memories.

Thanksgiving was my first holiday Stateside. It was a love-at-first-sight moment. Coming together with loved ones for a delicious meal made me feel so much at home — like a celebration I would have had in Nigeria. The meal was terrific, but like food without a pinch of salt, a touch of home was missing. Over the years, I have gradually added that pinch of home to my Thanksgiving table. And that is why I serve hearty bowls of Nigerian fried rice alongside things like turkey and stuffing. Even though this recipe is a simple one, the cultural impact of the flavor and tradition make it remarkable.

Nigerian fried rice is one of our favorite festive foods in Nigeria. At parties, this rice is often cooked by a group of women (aunties, mothers, or professional caterers) in big pots over an open fire — in fact, it requires about four or more people to take it down from the fire. The time and craft these women put into making this dish makes the final meal even more special. I love it for its distinct flavor, vibrant color, rich aroma, incredible taste, and that distinct feeling of warmth and comfort I get after eating a big bowl of it.

The dish is also less labor-intensive than other things on my Thanksgiving table, while still remaining totally festive. It’s a lifesaver during the holidays because it relies mostly on pantry staples, and it comes together pretty quickly so you can spend more time with your family.

Credit: Brittany Conerly

Okay, but How Is It Different from Chinese Fried Rice?

Unlike Chinese fried rice, Nigerian fried rice uses thyme for aroma, and substitutes soy sauce for curry powder, which gives the dish an earthy taste. Both of these spices give the rice a distinctly Nigerian flair. The dish also includes a surprising protein: beef liver. And bouillon cubes give it a little extra flavor boost, too.

Key Ingredients

Rice: You have to be selective about the type of rice. Texture is crucial to this dish; I prefer my rice to have distinct and well-separated grains, so I go for the long-grain parboiled rice, which produces firmer and fluffier grains. Long-grain parboiled basmati works well, too. Always remember: A mushy Nigerian fried rice is a total fail!

Protein: Beef liver adds a rich, savory flavor, but it’s not required. Use what you like and have on hand, but shrimp and chicken are especially delicious.

Veggies: Like the protein, personal preference and availability play a huge part in what vegetables to use. However, the most common are sweet corn, carrots, peas, green beans, and onions. Of course, you can adjust it with celery, bean sprouts, green onion, or bell peppers.

Spices and oil: Thyme, curry powder, salt, and bouillon marry perfectly with a little bit of oil for crisping the veggies and rice.

Nigerian Fried Rice Is a Bowl Full of Gratitude 

I like to serve my fried rice with roasted turkey or chicken, Nigerian-style salad, and golden fried plantains on a regular night — not just Thanksgiving. I know what’s on your mind. Yes, this fried rice recipe is a complete meal by itself, but this is how we love to serve it in Nigeria. Trust me on this one!

 On Thanksgiving, however, this recipe takes on a different meaning for me. Nigerian fried rice alongside the traditional turkey and other dishes symbolizes my life during the holidays. My life, just like my rice, is full of love and gratitude for being Nigerian living in the United States, and raising Nigerian-American kids. I am so thankful to be passing these old and new traditions down to them.

Get my recipe: Nigerian Fried Rice from Chef Lola’s Kitchen