“Which Jollof rice are you making?” was the question flashing on the screen of my iPhone in the form of a WhatsApp message from my sister in Nigeria. “Nigerian, Ghanaian or Gambian Jollof? she added. This was a serious question, and not one to be taken lightly for the following reason:
If there is a dish that is well travelled, at least across the western coast of Africa, it is Jollof rice. Originating from the ancient Wolof tribe of Senegal, Jollof rice has over time migrated across the western coast of Africa, and is today very prevalent across West Africa, and enjoys almost a revered status of something close to a national dish in many countries in the region.
Regional variations in the preparation of the dish, which have been known to fuel rivalry and debates abound, however if there is one notion we are all agreed on, it is the notion that jollof rice is more than just a dish. It is akin to a religion, something so deeply enshrined in the culture of West Africans.
So much so, that Jamie Oliver got himself into #Jollofgate with thousands of West Africans on social media for publishing his version of a Jollof rice recipe, which according to the offended parties, stripped away the essence of the dish.
Moving on to the regional variant that is known as Ghanaian Jollof, one of the defining features of Ghanaian Jollof rice is the type of rice used for the recipe. Ghanaians prefer to use basmati rice for this dish, while Nigerians prefer long grain rice. I prefer to use basmati rice for its aromatic flavour and lower glycemic index – although strictly speaking, for a diabetic diet, I would NOT recommend basmati rice!
Traditionally, Jollof rice is prepared from a tomato base sauce made up of blended tomatoes, onions, sweet bell peppers and chilli peppers usually scotch bonnet peppers. CAUTION: The resulting sauce is hot and not for the faint-hearted – it is not unusual in Africa to see people perspiring profusely while enjoying a large plate of Jollof rice due to the heat from the spices. Taste is very much an individual thing, so be guided by your palate and bravery quotient in determining the amount of scotch bonnet peppers to use. ! In this recipe, I decided to use finely chopped onions instead of blended onions, which worked just as well.
Another must-have ingredient for this dish is a Maggi stock cube (thanks Nestle for your presence in Africa!). You don’t have to use Maggi, though – any stock cube will do, although your authenticity rating will plummet…you have been warned!
Authentic Jollof rice is also not prepared with any added vegetables (other than the combination of vegetables that make up the tomato paste), but I have taken the liberty to add sweet corn, peas and carrots – an easy way to fulfil the kids 5-a-day quota of vegetables.
I also added dried pomegranates which from a flavour point of view, added a tartness and a nice little crunch to the meal, while from a nutritional point of view, delivered a good dose of vitamins and antioxidants – just what the doctor ordered! I received my package of fresh and dried pomegranates from Zoe Ray who stock preservative-free, additive free and zero residue pomegranates. They deliver high quality, ready-to-eat pomegranates so be sure to check them out!
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