Jollof rice is to West African cuisine what barbeque is to the Southern states of the United States of America. Much like the never-ending food wars over Texas barbeque versus Carolina or Kansas barbeque there is much spirited debate and light-hearted cooking wars over Ghanaian Jollof versus Nigerian Jollof versus Sierra Leonean. Jollof is quintessentially West African and a dish that is a great one pot meal of sorts: vegetables, grain, and protein all in one dish (“of sorts” as it definitely takes more than one pot to make but comes together as one dish!). Thus, Jollof seemed like the natural choice to feature for Sierra Leone.
This recipe is far from authentic. In fact, a truly authentic recipe, emphasis on “a,” for Sierra Leonean Jolloff may well be a unicorn. Every family has its own spin on the dish, some boil the protein and reserve the stock for the rice, others shallow fry the protein and then mix it in the rice, while some others do both (parboil then brown it) but then prep the protein separately in a sauce and serve with the rice. Likewise, the vegetables that go in also vary. Some commonly used vegetables are bell peppers, cabbage, carrot, and scallions. What is a constant is the base of pureed onions, tomatoes, and peppers and the quintessential Maggi brand bouillon cube. I’m choosing to use chicken as the protein, to sauté it and the to fold it in with the rice to finish cooking. You can omit the chicken and keep the dish vegan.
Sierra Leonean Chicken and Jollof Rice-ish
For the chicken
Bone-in chicken – 1.5 lbs.
Ginger garlic paste – 1 tbsp
Curry powder – 1 tbsp
Cayenne powder – 1 tsp
Thyme – 1 tsp
Salt – to taste (about 1 tbsp)
Olive oil – 4 tbsp
For the Jollof Rice
Onions – 1 large, cubed
Red Bell Pepper – 1 large, cubed
Green Bell Pepper – 1 large, cubed
Scotch bonnet or Habanero pepper – per heat preference, use ½ or 1 small
Tomatoes – 1 large, cubed
1 head of garlic
Tomato paste – 2 tbsp
Cabbage – ½ head, thinly shredded
Scallions – 1 bunch, diced
Salt – to taste
Olive oil – 3 tbsp
Rice, Basmati – 2.5 cups
Maggi (or other brand) bouillon – 1 cube
Water – 2 cups
Dutch oven or pot with lid
- Marinate the chicken with the ginger garlic paste, curry powder, cayenne powder, thyme, and salt and set it aside for an hour.
- Heat the olive oil in the pot and when hot, add the chicken pieces and cook until seared and golden brown and cooked most of the way through
- Set the chicken aside
For the Rice
- Preheat the oven to 350F
- Place the cubed onion, red pepper (not green pepper), head of garlic (skin on its top, trimmed), cubed tomato, and habanero pepper on a baking tray
- Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle salt to taste
- Bake at 375F for 30 minutes until they are roasted and lightly browned
- In a blender add the roasted vegetables (squeeze the garlic cloves out of the skin) until it is a sauce like consistency
- In the same pot that you sauteed chicken (or a new pan if you are skipping that step) add the oil
- Rinse and drain the rice and when the pot is hot, add rice and stir to coat
- Add the onion-tomato-peppers sauce and sauté until fully mixed
- Add the water and bouillon cube and mix
- Cover the pot and let cook for 15 minutes
- Uncover (slowly and carefully lest the contents are bubbling) and stir making sure to scrape up bits stuck to the base
- Add the cubed green pepper, shredded cabbage and scallions and mix thoroughly
- Add the chicken, if using, and stir to combine and let cook for 5 minutes
- Turn off the stove, cover pot with lid and allow it to stay 10 more minutes.
- Serve hot!
Recipe and photo credit: Vinola V. Munyon