Recipes and Resources :
Jollof Rice and other Revolutions: A novel of interlocking stories. By Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi. (Not really a book about jollof rice but it kept popping up in my research and it has excellent reviews so I’ve started reading it).
TL;DR. This recipe was DELICIOUS and gets a solid A+, while I get an F for research and accuracy. Will do better in future. Scroll down to the second last paragraph (just after the photos) if you’d like a review of the actual recipe and not paragraphs of introspection about my own ineptitude!
This dish taught me just how much I have to learn.
The cooking technique isn’t difficult, and the instructions were easy to follow. The final product was totally bomb, so it’s not like this was a failed recipe either. However, I completely misattributed this particular recipe to the wrong country which has opened a whole can of worms and made me realise that I’m not ‘simply’ making one recipe from each country.
The origins of some dishes are complicated due to shifting political borders, colonialism, wars, and in many cases lost or murky history. Also, many countries lay claim to dishes which have the same name, but different preparations.
Enter jollof rice.
My ‘research’ style thus far has been following where my curiosity takes me. While looking up national dishes for one country, recipes from neighboring countries will often pop up. Or in the case of jollof rice, some websites use the very broad brush of ‘West Africa’, a term which covers 15 countries and almost half a billion people.
The history of jollof dates back to the 14th century in the Wolof Empire, a kingdom which covered what is now Senegal, The Gambia, and Mauritiana. The wikipedia page is much better at outlining the complicated history of this dish, and this interview from NPR gives a delightful overview into the competitive rivalry between West African nations for the title of ‘best’ jollof rice.
While there are many differing opinions, it does seem to be generally accepted that an area in northern Senegal was the birthplace of jollof rice. In my unstructured, flitting about research I put the name of the dish next to Senegal in my nerdy little Google Sheets tracker. Later in my internet travels I came across this recipe and put the link into my little spreadsheet and kept going on with my day.
After going to Vancouver International Market to gather ingredients for this and many other recipes (it’s unlikely anyone reading this lives in SW Washington, but if you do, this market is great!), including egusi seeds for the egusi stew I plan to make for the Nigerian installment of this project.
You can probably see where this is going.
Most west African nations have their own version of jollof rice and they all feature rice, tomatoes, capsicum, scotch bonnets (I had to use habeneros as scotch bonnets aren’t readily available where I live), garlic, onions, and spices. While this provides a common thread, the kind of rice used, the preparation steps, the included meat etc all differ from country to country.
The recipe I landed on was not, as intended, Senegalese. Also known as ceebu jen/thieboudienne, Senegalese jollof traditionally contains fish and large chunks of vegetables like eggplant and sweet potato (I will be making a vegan version at a later date). Importantly it is also made with jasmine rice.
Nigerian jollof on the other hand is made with parboiled basmati rice known as golden sella. While some other countries would cook meat with the rice, Nigerian jollof seems to pair the rice with a meat dish instead (although I am obviously the furthest from an expert on this, so I’m sure there are Nigerian recipes which include meat as part of the cooking). And there aren’t any big chunks of veggies.
This is a very long-winded way of saying that I had intended to make Senegalese jollof rice, ended up making Nigerian jollof rice, and now will be making a sub-series in this blog of all the different jollof recipes, because this recipe was freaking delicious and now I’m very curious about how they all differ. Also, Nigeria will end up with two recipes this year because try as I may I cannot find any other recipes which use egusi seeds, and I’m personally really excited to try egusi stew.
In terms of the recipe itself, it was time, but not labour, intensive and took close to three hours from start to finish (although much of that time is fairly hands off – not ‘leave the house and go for a walk’ kind of hands off, but you can go do other things while different elements are roasting or reducing or steaming). It was devine! Incredibly flavourful, with just the right amount of spice for me, although if you are sensitive to heat it would probably be quite hot. I found a ripe plantain at our local supermarket, so I fried that up to serve alongside, and made a simple coleslaw which is a common side dish for jollof in Nigeria. We loved it so much we ate it the next day for breakfast, with a runny fried egg on top (Note: while I’m making these recipes vegan, I am not vegan and do eat eggs).
If you made it this far, I’m sorry? It felt important to call out my own ignorance and highlight the importance of doing thorough research for each recipe. I’m also sure some of the information above is not quite accurate or could use clarification, so I expect to make edits as I learn more from researching other countries’ versions. I plan on these blogs being a bit less lengthy in future – no one wants to read this much – but while I’m finding my feet (and discovering what I don’t yet know) there might be a bit more of the sausage making in these missives.