One of the iconic dishes of West Africa, jollof rice is vibrantly colored and heavily spiced. And it reflects how cultures across continents blend with delicious results.
It began in the ancient Wolof Empire, the ﬁrst society in Africa to establish trade with European powers in the 1400s. New World ingredients – tomatoes, bell peppers and chilies – were combined with native spices like grains of selim and rice. Later, the Portuguese would bring curry spices from India.
Now the dish is at the center of family meals and most celebrations, and countries from Nigeria to Ghana to Senegal claim to be winning the “Jollof Wars.” It’s also a delicious one-pot meal that was perfect for our book “Milk Street Tuesday Nights,” which limits recipes to 45 minutes or less.
With up to 20 possible ingredients and countless variations, we focused on common denominators to pare down the list to essentials. Nutty, fragrant basmati rice is seasoned with paprika, curry powder and thyme, then we simmer the grains with chopped carrots in a puree of tomato, red bell pepper and garlic. Frozen peas warmed in the residual heat as the rice ﬁnishes absorbing the liquid helps retain their texture.
To ensure the rice cooks evenly, use a large skillet with a tight-ﬁtting lid. And don’t forget to rinse and drain the rice. This washes away surface starch and decreases stickiness in the ﬁnished dish.
Start to ﬁnish: 45 minutes
1 pound plum tomatoes, cored and quartered or a 14½-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juices
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into quarters
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1½ cups basmati rice, rinsed and drained
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into ¼-inch pieces
1 tablespoon curry powder
1½ teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup frozen green peas
In a food processor, combine the tomatoes, bell pepper, garlic and 1 teaspoon salt. Process until smooth, about 1 minute. Set aside.
In a large skillet over medium, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the rice, then the carrots, curry powder, paprika, thyme, 1½ teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring, until the rice is fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in 1½ cups water, bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the water has been absorbed, about 2 minutes.
Stir in the tomato puree and return to a simmer, then reduce to medium-low. Cover and cook until almost dry and the rice is tender, 12 to 15 minutes.
Scatter the peas over the rice, then cover the pan. Remove from the heat and let stand until the remaining moisture has been absorbed and the peas are heated through, about 5 minutes. Stir the peas into the rice. Taste and season with salt and pepper.