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Listen, Read, Cook, Share…
…tuck into something that just warms your heart, body and soul.
This morning, I tended to a pot of smoky and sweet, spicy, and plump red grains cooked in the juiciest passata (smooth sieved purée of tomatoes) and some vine-ripened tomatoes that have reached their peak ripeness, and about to burst. I should be sending you a recipe for quite the attractive ‘tart’ and a Panzanella style salad but after days of glorious sunshine on the Sussex Coast, today we woke up to raindrops outside our window.
While enjoying that cosy ‘bed weather’, you know what I mean. When you just want to cuddle up and tuck into something that just warms your heart, body, and soul.
Aha! Jollof rice! I realised, I hadn’t cooked Jollof in quite some time, in months! Utterly shocking. Although I don’t cook Jollof at home every single week, (I believe some people eat it every day- oh dear) there was a time, pre-covid, when I taught my recipe weekly at our cookery school in London. Those good old days will be back soon.
This bewitching one-pot can be such a challenging recipe even for Nigerian and other West African cooks who have eaten this all their lives or watched an Aunty cook it 100’s of times. I watched several different aunties and cooked it 100’s of times even before teaching others. I assure you, the more you cook it the better you will become, and each time, a little tender loving, and good quality ingredients like your rice and tomatoes are really the foundation of the best Jollof of your life.
I also love adding vegetables to my Jollof, like carrots and green peas for that extra burst of sweetness, not that it is needed but the extra veggies are a plus. The ‘authentic African food police’ may throw a fit. If only they would lean into the joys of cooking with their hearts, such delicious possibilities await.
If anyone accosts you for controversially adding shocking veggies to your Jollof, just tell them it’s Lerato’s ‘Authentic’ Jollof & Peas and you are quite shocked they have never heard of it! Gosh!
Your recipe for the weekend has been adapted from my original recipe in a fabulous collaboration with Tilda Rice. Featured here with Great British Chefs and recently published in Tilda’s cookbook sharing food stories of fans and amazing chefs with all proceeds going to The Felix Project, a wonderful charity distributing great quality food to families in need. Please support by buying the book if you can.
Speaking of Jollof police, enjoy this hilarious comedy of the year from BuzzFeed - Nigerian Aunties Try Other Nigerian Aunties Jollof Rice featuring my good friend ‘Aunty’ Beke who is ‘justifiably’ repulsed by basmati jollof rice. If a Nigerian aunty tells you that your Jollof is ‘nice’ count that as one of the greatest accomplishments of your existence, anything less is a great compliment. But first, check out my recipe for Jollof and peas…which I most often and preferably cook with basmati rice.
I don’t think Aunty Beke will see this newsletter! But she might, once you have shared this newsletter with the entire universe, which I hope you do.
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Jollof and peas
These smoky, sweet, and spicy grains have been warming hearts from West Africa to the rest of the world. Throw in your favourite vegetables like green peas, fine beans, and carrots. Peppery coriander and refreshing parsley are also great soft herbs I enjoy served with roasted plantain. If using basil, chop and add at the final stage of cooking to keep the herb fresh and sweet.
Time: 1hr 20 minutes
400g jar of passata or 400g can plum tomatoes / 500g fresh vine-ripened tomatoes
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 Scotch Bonnet chilli or habanero, ( blended, or pierced and dropped into the pot for less heat - deseed and scoop out membrane for less heat)
3 cm piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
2 Romano peppers, deseeded and roughly chopped
For the Jollof
2 tbsp of cold-pressed rapeseed oil or any vegetable oil
1 red onion, finely sliced
2 tbsp curry powder (pref. fragrant blend with pimento/allspice like Jamaican curry or substitute with garam masala)
2 tsp of smoked paprika
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme or 4 - 6 stalks of fresh thyme
300g long grain rice, thoroughly washed
400ml of vegetable or chicken stock (I use low salt vegan bouillon)
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
150 g frozen green peas
You will need
Heavy bottomed pot with lid & blender
Cook’s Tip: I always add a generous pinch of salt when cooking onions, as it extracts moisture which helps the onions cook for longer without burning. When using bamatic rice, use 100ml less stock to begin and add a little more if needed, as basmati grains require less liquid and more steam to avoid a mushy mess.
Let’s get cooking
Blend all the ingredients for the purée into a smooth purée and set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wide heavy-bottomed saucepan. (I use a le Creuset 27cm, 30cm casserole or a large tri-ply stainless steel pot) Add the sliced onions with a pinch of salt and cook on medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. After 10 minutes the onions should start to take on colour. Cover and reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook for another 10 minutes. Add a tablespoon or two of stock or water to prevent sticking, while you stir occasionally.
Once the onions are softened and caramelised, add the purée and cook on medium heat for 20 - 30 minutes, while stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the purée is reduced and drier in texture. Add the curry powder and smoked paprika. Tuck in the bay leaf and add the thyme.
Add the washed rice and stir well. Add the stock to completely submerge the rice and bring to a boil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 30 - 40 minutes until the grains are plump and tender.
10 minutes before taking the rice off the heat, add the frozen peas and gently fluff to mix into the rice using a fork. Cover and continue to cook. The peas will cook beautifully within the rice.
Once cooked, take the pot off the heat and leave the rice covered for 5 minutes to continue to steam. To serve, fluff the jollof rice with a fork and serve with spice roasted plantains. Scatter over a few thyme leaves to garnish or your favourite herbs. Serve with a roast, a sumptuous stew, definitely serve with plantains or a rainbow of roasted vegetables.
Check the rice regularly, avoid stirring continously, instead, use a wooden spoon to carefully push the grains from the sides to check for water content. Jollof rice needs to be cooked slowly with lots of steam – only add a little water at a time if it dries out. (50 - 100ml) It is okay if it burns a little, in fact in Nigeria the burnt flavour is what we love most about ‘party rice’ - jollof rice with distinctive smoky flavour, typically cooked on coals for parties. Although I already fake the smoky flavour with smoked paprika, burning the bottom of the rice will help to infuse a wonderful smoky flavour into the rice, and someone will enjoy eating the burnt bits.
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