The Origins of Jellof Rice
Nicole Andrews takes a journey through one of the most popular dishes in West Africa.
Of all the West African dishes, the most well-known has to be jellof rice. Made with rice, tomatoes, tomato paste and any number of variable meats, spices (such as nutmeg, cumin and ginger) and vegetables, jellof rice is meal close to the heart of many of our brothers and sisters on a Sunday.
Interestingly, many countries have their own variations of the dish. In Ghana, it is eaten on its own or with fried, ripe plantains. Nigerians prefer not to add garlic, bell peppers, carrots, green beans or cabbage. Those in Sierra Leone would serve the dish with fry stew which is onion, tomatoes and other vegetables and spices, blended and then fried. In Liberia, seafood in the jellof rice is frowned upon, whilst in Cote D'Ivoire, Senegal and Mali, they would include okra or nuts in the recipe. As can be imagined, each nation claims to have the ‘authentic’ jellof recipe! However, the origins of this popular dish date back to the Wolof people of Senegal, who once were a great empire reaching into Gambia between 1350 and 1890, and this dish was eaten on special occasions. In some parts of West Africa, jellof rice is known as ‘Benachin’ which means ‘one pot’ in Wolof language.
Jellof rice is a dish with a long majestic history and that continues to be enjoyed across the African diaspora, and must be tried at least once! The recipe offered here is a basic version that can be modified depending on preferred tastes.
Jellof Rice Recipe (Serves 4)
• Vegetable oil for frying
• 1 kg of meat or fish of choice, chopped into bite-sized pieces
• One or two onions, finely chopped
• 2 cups of stock (chicken, beef, vegetable) or use or Maggi® cubes and water
• 2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
• 4 cups of rice
• 1 small can of tomato puree
• Salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper (to taste)
• Vegetable oil for frying
• Meat add-ins
o -cooked ham
o -shrimp or prawns (or dried shrimp or dried prawns)
• Flavoring add-ins (to taste)
o chili pepper, chopped
o bay leaf
o curry powder
• Vegetable add-ins
o bell peppers, chopped
o string beans or green beans
o green peas
o carrots, chopped
o cabbage, chopped
• Garnishes (optional)
o fresh parsley, chopped
o lettuce, shredded
o hard-boiled egg, sliced
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large skillet. Stir-fry the meat in the oil until it is browned on all sides. Remove the meat from the oil and set aside. Add the onions, the salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and one or two of the flavouring add-ins (if desired) to the skillet and fry the mixture until the onions begin to become tender. Remove the onion mixture from the skillet and set aside with the meat.
In a dutch pot or large covered cooking pot, bring the stock and two cups of water to a simmer. Place the meat and onion mixture into the dutch pot and cover.
In the same skillet used for the meat and onions, stir-fry the tomatoes and one or two of the vegetable add-ins. Continue frying the mixture until the vegetables are partly cooked, then add them to the meat, onions, and stock in the dutch pot.
Again in the same skillet, combine the rice and the tomato paste. Over low heat, stir until the rice is evenly coated with the tomato paste. The rice should end up a pink-orange color. Add the rice to the dutch pot and stir gently.
Cover the dutch pot and cook the mixture over a low heat until the rice is cooked and the vegetables are tender (approximately half an hour). Stir gently occasionally and check to see that the bottom of the pot does not become completely dry. Add warm water or stock (a quarter cup at a time) as necessary to help rice cook. Adjust seasoning as needed. If desired, add one of the meat add-ins while the dish is cooking. (Shrimp cook very quickly and should not be over-cooked or they will become tough; ham can be added at any time.)
Serve with one or two of the garnishes.