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What Is Jollof Rice?

By Andy Josiah
Updated May 16, 2024
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Jollof rice is a West African dish that is mainly made from rice, tomatoes and tomato paste. It is very popular throughout West Africa, particularly in the area stretching from Senegal and Gambia at the westernmost part of the region to Nigeria at the easternmost side. Due to its extensive geographical presence, there are several variations of jollof rice.

In addition to the aforementioned items, the basic ingredients have traditionally been onion, red pepper, salt and any choice of meat and vegetables. The most popular vegetable combination is carrots, peas and corn. The meat is typically beef, goat or chicken. Some people use fish, although it tends to fall apart much more easily during cooking, thus restricting its appeal. Sometimes, but rarely, the meat and vegetables are omitted entirely.

The rice used for the jollof rice is washed and then cooked in a pot. Meanwhile, the meat is cooked in another pot. When it is done, the meat and resulting broth can be poured into a bowl or container and set aside. The vegetables can be boiled in another small pot.

Oil is then introduced to the pot that previously contained the meat, and heated up. Onions, tomatoes and red peppers are sauteed in the oil, and when those items become soft, tomato paste, the meat and some of the broth are added. Salt, ground red pepper and seasoning such as Maggi or Knorr cubes are added for taste. The result is a red stew.

The rice and vegetables are then poured into the stew. Some people prefer to pour in washed but uncooked rice and vegetables at this stage, waiting until then to cook these items. This method also serves as a measure to prevent the rice and vegetables from getting too soft. The mixture is covered and cooked in medium to low heat until there is no liquid. The resulting red and flavorful rice is most commonly served with fried plantain, although salad and beans are other popular accompaniments.

Jollof rice originated among the Wolof, an ethnic group mainly based in Senegal, and a country that constitutes a thin strip of land nestled within it called the Gambia. The dish is called benachin, which means “one pot” in Wolof. Since its beginnings in the Senegambia area, the dish has spread to other parts of West Africa. Today, it is actually more closely identified with countries such as Nigeria and Ghana than with the region of its origin. Jollof rice is particularly popular as a family meal after church service on Sundays, or on special occasions such as birthdays, weddings and funerals.

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Discussion Comments
By discographer — On Dec 23, 2013

@ZipLine-- I don't think that Jollof rice and Biryani are similar. Biryani is also made with long grain rice and has spices like curry, bay leaves and cayenne. But those are the only common ingredients.

Biryani is made with chicken and it doesn't have any tomatoes. I think that Jollof is usually vegetarian, it has tomatoes, peppers and onions. There might be versions of Jollof that are made with chicken and meat, but it's not a requirement. On the other hand, I cannot imagine a Biryani rice recipe without chicken or mutton.

By ZipLine — On Dec 23, 2013

Does the Jollof rice recipe have any similarity with the Indian Biryani recipe? I know that Biryani doesn't have tomatoes but the other ingredients seem to be the same.

By fBoyle — On Dec 22, 2013

My Nigerian friend made this rice for a potluck. It was my first time having Nigerian Jollof rice and I loved it. Tomatoes and tomato paste turn regular rice into something very different. Jollof rice could probably be eaten by itself as a meal.

Considering that tomatoes were discovered in the Americas and later introduced to Middle East, Africa and Europe, I'm guessing that Jollof rice is a fairly new dish. But according to my friend, it's the number one food in West Africa and everyone makes it. She also said that each country makes it slightly differently. I would love to try Jollof rice from other West African countries as well.

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