Nigerian jollof rice, or "party jollof" is a one pot, tomato and pepper infused rice with a layer of crispy rice at the bottom. My recipe is vegan, packed with flavor, and Nigerian-partner approved!
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💭 Why you'll love this recipe
My partner is a Nigerian carnivore, born and raised in Lagos and considers any dish without meat an affront to his existence. As a dutiful Nigerian spouse and lifelong vegetarian, I wanted to find a recipe for a Nigerian dish we could both enjoy. Thankfully, I didn't have to look too far.
- Vegan, gluten-free, ready in 30 minutes. This recipe comes together in barely any time and it is so delicious, hearty and totally vegan
- Great for make-ahead meals. I typically make a huge batch and we tend to eat it with different curries and mains through the week. It also freezes excellently.
- Super simple to make substitutions. You don't have a blender? No worries, just use canned marinara sauce and add some habanero sauce to it (blasphemous, but you gotta get by sometimes) Don't want it spicy? Just take out the habanero. Works each time
⭐ Origin Story
This is an origin story close to my heart, because it truly speaks of the connection between West African cuisine and modern-day Southern "red" cuisine. It originated in modern day Senegal, from the Wollof people. As Portuguese trading posts were set up on the Senegal River Delta, tomatoes made their way to West Africa.
It's commonly believed that a shortage of barley led a local cook to use rice, and modern-day jollof rice was born (called Benachin, aka, one pot). One school of thought suggests that the influence of jollof rice has been felt in the American South, where West African slaves from rice-growing regions introduced the "red rice" concept. Modern-day dishes like jambalaya and gumbo are believed to derive some influence from jollof rice!
Difference between Nigerian and Ghanaian jollof rice
There is a ton of debate on where jollof originated, and which jollof rice is the best (sparking online wars). But I'll say - jollof rice, to me, is a dish that every household has their own recipe for. It's like a Thanksgiving turkey, or cornbread. And my jollof rice is based on my sister-in-law's recipe (aka, it's the real deal).
That said, there are a couple of key differences between Nigerian and Ghanaian jollof.
- Nigerian jollof uses long grain, parboiled rice (most commonly consumed). Ghanaian jollof uses softer, non-parboiled rice (typically something like jasmine rice)
- Ghanaian jollof also has a wider variety of spices (I've eaten some with clove, for instance) - but the Nigerian version keeps it simpler (typically just bouillon).
📋 Ingredients & Tips
There are two components to the Nigerian jollof rice.
- For base sauce, I use red bell peppers, Roma tomatoes, yellow onion, and habanero.
- For seasoning, I use vegetarian bouillon (substitute curry powder in a pinch), bay leaves and thyme with basmati rice and vegetable stock
What is the best rice for jollof? This is a raging debate! The most common options are long-grain rice, basmati , and Thai jasmine. I have noticed a trend towards bulgur as a healthy option. Traditional long grain rice tends to hold the consistency the best, but I prefer basmati because it cooks a bit softer. For the oven, Thai jasmine works best (World Jollof Day agrees!)
How do you increase or reduce amount of pepper? The pepper sauce is the heart of any jollof rice recipe. To intensify flavors, you can parboil the sauce (i.e. simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes) to get a more concentrated flavor. This is the base which we use for making a variety of dishes (like vegan red pepper alfredo or my vegan Nigerian efo riro).
To reduce the pepper flavor, play with the mix of tomatoes and red peppers, or eliminate the habanero peppers entirely. Every person's spice palette is different. If you have low spice tolerance, play safe the first time and then increase the peppers the next time, versus the other way around.
♨️ Making Nigerian jollof rice
First, make the base sauce. There's two ways of doing this.
Blend red peppers, tomatoes, onions and habanero peppers to make the base sauce. I typically use this sauce directly to make jollof. If you have time and want to intensify the flavor, you can parboil the base to evaporate excess water. This is my African pepper sauce. I usually make this in a big batch and have it on hand almost all the time. If you go this route: use around 200 ml (80% of a cup) per 2 cups of basmati rice.
Start by sautéing some onions and bay leaves, then add the base sauce to fry it.
Use a deep and wide pan with a tight-fitting lid. Add about ⅓ cup of vegetable oil (this seems like a lot but you're going to basically fry off the sauce). Add finely sliced onions and fry for 1-2 minutes. Then, add bay leaves and thyme and sauté for a minute.
Now, add the tomato base, bouillon and tomato paste and fry the sauce.
At this step, you can also add curry powder if you wish. But the key is to get the base sauce nicely fried with the onions and spices. I cook this covered for 1 to 2 minutes to get the raw taste out of the pepper sauce.
While the sauce is cooking, rinse your rice thoroughly.
Not rinsing rice properly is one of the biggest mistakes that leads to mushy jollof! So, rinse the rice under cold water really well (typically 3 times until the water runs clear).
Add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil.
Now, add the vegetable broth (if you're using 2 cups of rice, use 1 and ¾ cup of broth) to the pepper sauce. Cover the lid and increase the heat to a medium-high and boil. Typically, this takes about 3 to 4 minutes.
Then, add to the pot, and cook covered for about 12 to 14 minutes.
Once the rice is rinsed, add this to the pot and give it a good stir so it's evenly distributed. Cover with the tight-fitting lid and cook covered for at least 12 minutes.
Check at the 12 minute mark to see how fluffy your rice is, and give it a good mix again. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes until the rice is fully cooked. Move it off the heat, open the lid and let it vent the steam for a few minutes. Serve hot!
This Nigerian jollof rice is built on my sister-in-law's recipe and has taken me nearly a year, and several attempts to perfect. But thankfully, I was able to troubleshoot some common problems so hopefully you don't have to.
There are two common problems - the rice burns, or it gets too mushy. Here are tips for preventing or salvaging the dish if that happens.
If your rice is starting to burn when you check on the 10 minute mark (i.e. there's no water left, but it's raw and not cooked yet) - then add a bit of boiling hot water, cover the pot with aluminum foil, turn the heat to high for a minute, and then take off the heat. The residual heat will cook the rice without burning it further. I would say, use about ⅓ cup of water for every 2 cups of rice. Leave it covered for 10 to 15 minutes and check again.
"Party" jollof rice has a smoky flavor, and is scorched at the bottom so you get crispy rice. This is normal (and included in the steps of the recipe). If you don't want that to happen, I suggest an extra tablespoon of oil, and a bit of water after stock. More liquid, less chance of burning.
Always make sure you rinse the rice first, and remove the excess starch. When you steam cook like you do with this dish, the extra starch can overcook and make the rice mushy. If your rice is already mushy or sticky, get it off the heat ASAP. This stops the cooking. Then, drain excess water, and transfer rice to a flat dish (e.g. baking sheet). Spread it out and let it cool (~30 minutes at room temperature). Finally, use a paper towel to blot excess water, and pop the baking sheet in the oven at 350F for 10 minutes. Mushy jollof rice, salvaged.
🍴 Three tips for perfect jollof rice
- Wash your rice first! Extra starch can turn the rice super mushy if you're not careful about it. Typically, I measure the rice into a mixing bowl, fill it with COLD water, and use my hands to wash the rice. I typically wash it twice before I cook it.
- Use 1:1 water to rice ratio, and cook on medium heat. Jollof rice uses steam infusion to cook - not boiling. You don't want to overcook the rice! Some people use aluminum foil in addition to a tight fitting lid but this is optional.
- Check your rice halfway through the cook time. I typically check my jollof rice halfway through and give the rice a good stir before closing the lid again. This makes sure that you're not burning any of the bottom rice. Fluffy, delicious jollof.
🍴 Serving and storage suggestions
Storing jollof rice is really simple. Just wait for it to cool down completely, throw it in an airtight container and put it in the fridge. It'll stay well for at least 3-4 days. You can just microwave the portion of the rice you want to eat when you want to eat it.
Freezing is also super simple. First make sure that the rice is completely cooled down, then put it in an airtight container. When you're ready to eat, make sure you thaw the rice first, then spread in a baking sheet, and throw it in the oven (15 minutes at 350F after it comes to room temperature).
If you loved this jollof rice recipe, chances are you'll love these other recipes too
For the stew base
- 2 red bell peppers, diced
- 2 Roma tomatoes, quartered
- 1-3 habanero peppers, diced, adjust to taste
- ½ red onion
For the jollof rice
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil
- ½ onion, diced
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste, for the color - you can make do without
- 2 bouillon cubes, make sure to buy a vegan version!
- ½ teaspoon thyme, substitute thyme powder as needed
- 1 teaspoon salt, add more to taste as needed
- 2 cups basmati rice, wash and drain to get rid of excess starch
- 1 ¾ cups vegetable stock
- Blend tomatoes, red peppers, onion and habanero peppers in a blender until you get a smooth puree. This is the base of the Jollof rice.
- In a deep pot, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add diced onion and bay leaves to heated oil and fry for 2-3 minutes
- Once onions are translucent, add pepper sauce, thyme, bouillon and tomato paste for color. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the raw smell of the pepper sauce disappears.
- Add vegetable stock, cover, and bring to a boil (covered). Add washed and drained rice, mix with the sauce, and lower heat to a low-medium.
- Now, cover the pot (either with foil first or just a tight fitting lid) and simmer for 10 minutes. At the 10 min mark, stir the rice so it doesn't stick. Check to see how the rice is cooked. Cook for another 2 to 4 minutes to finish cooking the rice.
- If you want the bottom to be crispy, turn up the heat to medium high for 1 minute
- Take the pot off the heat, and stir up the crispy rice at the bottom to the top. Add a few more slices of onion and serve hot!
- Typically, Nigerians use long grain rice (and not aromatic rice like basmati) to make jollof. However, I've found that basmati rice works as a great substitute since it's meant for "infusion" cooking (i.e. when you cook the rice in a flavorful sauce or broth like in this case). Plus, I couldn't resist adding a bit of my own heritage into the mix here!
- It's easy to adjust this recipe to your taste - if you want it more spicy, add another habanero pepper; if you want it less spicy, avoid it altogether. Every person's spice palette is different, but if your spice tolerance is lower, I'd suggest playing safe the first time and then increasing the peppers, versus the other way around.
Note: This recipe was originally published in 2019, and updated on September 27, 2020 to include more process pictures to help you make it right the first time.