Jollof Rice is a popular tomato-pepper rice dish found throughout West Africa. This particular version of Party Jollof Rice from Nigeria is extra special with a richer smokey flavor compared to the average mealtime staple. It is meant to feed a crowd and is perfect for upcoming summer picnics and potlucks.
The base of the rice is made by pureeing together tomatoes, bell peppers, scotch bonnet, and onions. The scotch bonnet is a type of chile pepper found in West African and Caribbean cooking. It adds quite a bit of heat to the rice along with a hint of sweetness. If you want to tone it down, add only about 1/2 of the pepper. If scotch bonnet is not available, substitute with habanero- though it doesn’t have the same fruity undertones as its cousin. The pureed mixture is fried, then combined with chicken stock (or substitute with any meat stock) to make a sauce seasoned with tomato paste, ginger, curry powder, thyme, white pepper, and bay leaves. The rice absorbs all the liquid, cooks in the steam of the tightly sealed pot, and leaves a crisp, nearly burnt (I swear it was on purpose!) layer on the bottom that infuses the signature smokey flavor into the rest of the dish. Traditionally, this smokey flavor would be enhanced by cooking the Jollof Rice over firewood. So try not to use a non-stick pot that would prevent the crisp layer from forming or even if the layer manages to form, create issues in cleaning it off without damaging the pot.
Before adding the sauce, the rice is parboiled for a few minutes to help the cooking process along and get rid of any excess starch. It should be cooked to the point of still firm, but just starting to turn white, 5-8 minutes. If you have easy-cook rice available, then it has already been parboiled and you can skip this step. Just let the rice soak in cold water for about 10 minutes, then rinse and drain.
When adding the rice to the pot, it should be at the same level as the liquid. If too dry, top it off with a little hot water or stock. If you have any of the tomato sauce leftover, save it to serve with chicken or even pasta.
When stirring the rice, use a wooden spoon instead of a metal one. The metal spoon will cut the rice and cause it to clump.
This recipe can easily be doubled to serve a crowd.
Nigerian Party Jollof Rice
Adapted from Sisi Jemimah
2 medium red bell peppers, stems and seeds removed, roughly chopped
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 scotch bonnet pepper, stem and seeds removed
3/4 large onion, divided
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 ounces (60 grams) tomato paste
2 bouillon cubes
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper, divided
2 bay leaves
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups uncooked long grain rice, such as Basmati
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
Sliced vegetables for topping:
1 tomato (optional)
1/4 onion (optional)
In a large blender or food processor, add the bell peppers, 2 chopped tomatoes, and scotch bonnet. Roughly chop half of an onion, add to the blender, and puree until smooth.
In a large pot, drizzle oil over medium heat. Thinly slice 1/4 onion and add to the hot oil. Cook, stirring often, until softened.
Add the pureed vegetables, then stir in the tomato paste, bouillon cubes, curry powder, thyme, salt, 1/2 teaspoon of the white pepper, and bay leaves. Cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the oil forms on the top, 15-20 minutes. Pour the chicken stock into the large pot, then cover and let simmer for another 10 minutes.
Place the uncooked, unwashed rice in a medium pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the rice is still firm, but just starting to turn white, 5-8 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water until the water runs clear.
Place the parboiled rice into an empty pot. Cover with just enough of the hot tomato mixture to make the liquid level with the rice. Stir in the butter, ginger, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon white pepper with a wooden spoon. Cover the pot with foil and the lid, reduce heat to low, and cook until the liquid has been absorbed and rice has nearly softened, 10-15 minutes. If all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is still not cooked, add a little hot water as needed. Keep the pot covered to allow the steam to cook the rice. Season with additional salt if needed.
Thinly slice the remaining 1/4 onion and 1 tomato. Gently stir into the nearly cooked rice, cover, and cook until just softened, about 2 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to rest, still covered, for 2-5 minutes before serving.