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.