This spiced red rice dish is popular all along the coast of West Africa. The smoky, delicious treat is so beloved that it has inspired the so-called jollof wars between Nigeria and Ghana. Make it for yourself—take the extra step to make it “party rice”—and you’ll see why.

Ingredients:

(makes a family-sized pot)

4 cups uncooked long-grain rice (not basmati)
4 cups stock (vegetable, chicken, or beef) or water, divided
6 medium-sized fresh plum/Roma tomatoes, chopped, OR a 14 oz tin of tomatoes
6 fresh, red poblano peppers (or 4 large red bell peppers), seeds discarded
3 medium-sized red onions (1 sliced thinly, 2 roughly chopped), divided
1 to 2 Scotch bonnet peppers (yellow is my favorite!), to taste
1/3 cup oil (vegetable/canola/coconut, not olive oil)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons (Caribbean/Jamaican-style) curry powder
1 teaspoon (heaping) dried thyme
2 dried bay leaves
2 teaspoons unsalted butter (optional), divided
Salt, to taste

Preparation:

  1. Rinse the rice to get rid of some starch, then set aside.
  2. In a blender, combine tomatoes, red poblano (or bell) peppers, chopped onions, and chili pepper; blend till smooth, about a minute or two. You should have roughly 4 cups of blended mix.
  3. In a large pan, heat oil and add sliced onion. Season with a pinch of salt, stir-fry for a minute or two, then add the tomato paste, curry powder, dried thyme and bay leaves. Stir for another 2 minutes. Add the blended tomato-pepper-chili mixture, stir, and set on medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes so the mix cooks and the raw taste of the tomatoes is gone.
  4. Add 2 cups of the stock to the cooked tomato sauce, 1 teaspoon of butter, and then add the rice. Stir, cover with a double piece of foil/ baking or parchment paper and put a lid on the pan. This will seal in the steam and lock in the flavour. Cook on low heat for 15 minutes. Stir again, adjust seasoning to taste, then add the remaining 1 cup of stock. Stir gently, cover with foil/ baking or parchment paper and let cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, stirring gently to prevent burning, till the rice is cooked and the grains are separate.
  5. Don’t be afraid to add some more stock or water—by the half-cup, stirring gently—if you still find the rice needs it. When it’s cooked, take off heat and remove the cover of the pot. Put a tea cloth over the top and leave for half an hour or more, till ready to serve.
  6. To make party rice, you’ll need one more step. Party rice is essentially smoky jollof rice, traditionally cooked over an open fire. However, you can achieve the same results on the stove top. Here’s how: Once the rice is cooked, turn up the heat with the lid on and leave to “burn” for 3 to 5 minutes. You’ll hear the rice crackle and snap and it will smell toasted. Turn off the heat and leave with the lid on to “rest” until ready to serve. The longer the lid stays on, the smokier. Let the party begin!
  7. Serve with fried plantains, roast meats, coleslaw, and anything else you fancy.

Storage: leftovers keep well refrigerated or frozen.

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