Bring the flavors of Ghana to your kitchen with this vegetarian (and vegan!) version of Jollof Rice. This classic spicy, steamed tomato rice makes for a hearty, flavorful, easy dinner or side dish. This version is inspired by my travels to West Africa.
You didn’t think that the West African Spicy Peanut Shrimp was going to be my only Ghanian-inspired recipe this year, did you? It is, after all, turning out to be the year of global recipes.
One bite of Jollof Rice and I’m immediately transported back to the days of walking through the markets in Accra, the sights, the smells, the laugher, and the hot, hot, hot sun beaming down. And then, a small restaurant with the breeze blowing through, my professor discussing her childhood in Ghana, and my first taste of Jollof Rice.
I was hooked. The flavor, the spice, the smokiness, it all had my heart. And my stomach. I knew this treasured dish was one I needed to find locally, and learn how to make it in my kitchen, while fully knowing it would be nothing like actually experiencing it during my time spent in Ghana.
That being said, since becoming more vegetarian in my diet, I was elated to develop a Jollof Rice recipe that was a suitable vegetarian substitute in my Minnesota kitchen, until the next time I’m able to travel to Ghana again. I hope you enjoy and provide yourself the opportunity to learn more about Ghana and the amazing culture and experiences it has to offer!
If you want to know a little bit more about my time spent in Ghana, head to the Spicy Peanut Shrimp recipe to read more!
What is Jollof Rice?
Many countries have their own traditional rice dish they’re known for, one that’s made just a little bit different depending on which region you’re in, or even whose home you happen to be dining in. There’s paella, risotto, fried rice, tahdig, jambalaya…the list goes on and on. Jollof Rice is that rice dish for West Africa. Said to have originated in Senegal, there is an ongoing “battle” of whose Jollof Rice is actually better: Ghana’s or Nigeria’s.
According to Eater, the Ghanaian version of Jollof rice typically uses fragrant basmati rice, whereas Nigeria’s uses long-grain rice. Cooking methods may vary too, but the rice type is one major difference between the two country’s rice dishes.
Traditionally, Jollof Rice includes meat, which is cooked down as the first step in the cooking process. Because I’m making a vegetarian version here, this step is skipped.
While it’s often served at parties, celebrations, and ceremonies in Ghana, I usually enjoyed it as an everyday meal in Ghana. Now that I’m back home, it’s a delicious one-pot meal that requires little fuss, just a little extra time, so I make it when I need a weeknight pick-me-up in the form of comforting spiced rice, or over the weekend when I want a special dinner.
What You’ll Need to Make Vegan Jollof Rice
The ingredients for making this recipe are really quite simple. They’re ones I bet I can find in your pantry already. Let’s break them down now, so you can prep what you have or make that grocery list!
- Vegetable oil: palm oil is what is typically used in Ghana, and contributes to the red color of the rice. I am using vegetable oil or olive oil as a neutral oil base that I already have in my pantry. Feel free to use what you have on hand, too.
- Yellow Onion + Garlic: the aromatics that have my heart. They cook down slowly in this recipe releasing all that flavor!
- Thai Chili or Habanero Peppers: use what you’re most comfortable with spice-wise. An authentic recipe usually uses Scotch Bonnet peppers, which are hard for me to easily come by here in Minnesota. I also prefer a nice mild hint of spice, so I go with a Thai chili, seeds removed. If you’re a huge spice lover, you can leave the seeds in. Or if you’re looking for a lot of heat, use a Habanero Pepper to really make you sweat!
- Fresh Ginger: fresh is definitely best! Because this recipe has so much flavor, I would stick with fresh (even if it’s the kind that comes in a little jar).
- Diced Tomatoes: I use canned tomatoes, however, if you have fresh tomatoes, you can absolutely substitute them in their place.
- Dried Spices: thyme (you could easily substitute with fresh), curry powder, salt, and black pepper.
- Basmati Rice: the more traditional rice used in Ghanaian Jollof Rice. You could also use Jasmine Rice.
- Water or vegetable stock: I love using vegetable stock for a little bit more flavor. However, because the base has so much flavor to it, you can easily use water in this recipe, too.
How to Make Jollof Rice
Jollof is actually pretty darn easy to make. Most of the “work” is just allowing the dish to slowly simmer on the stovetop, leaving you with plenty of hands-off time to relax (or drink wine, or catch up on your favorite show, or you know, whatever!).
I was inspired by Dr. Tuleka Prah of My African Food Map when I first tried making Jollof Rice at home, and have adapted those steps in my vegetarian Jollof Rice.
This recipe starts by pureeing the onions. Because we’ll already be using the blender, I find pureeing them makes it easy-peasy! Cook the pureed onion down in a large stockpot or Dutch oven, you’ll need enough room because we will be layering in the flavors, then finishing the rice in the same pot (a one-pot wonder we have here!).
Then, tomatoes, chilis (if you’re adding them), garlic, ginger, and tomato paste are pureed in the blender. Once the onions have cooked down, the tomato mixture is added to the stockpot along with the thyme, curry powder, salt, and pepper. Mixed with the onions, they will all cook down slowly until a thick, rich paste that is deep red in color, forms.
This low and slow cooking method with spices, tomatoes, and onions? That’s where the flavor is most developed. It turns into a deep, mellow, spice-filled mixture that is indescribable. You’ll just have to try it for yourself!
Ok, now that the paste has formed, you’re ready to add the basmati rice. It’s important to rinse your rice until the water runs clear in order to prevent mushy rice, a little-known fact about making Jollof Rice from Marwin Brown’s recipe.
Pour in the water or vegetable stock, then cover the pot to allow the rice to simmer and steam low and slow while it absorbs all that flavor.
Don’t stir the rice often! You want to let it do its thing in there and steam away. Stir it one or two times throughout the cooking process and the slightly crispy bits that form on the bottom? Yeah, those are your most prized pieces.
What to Serve with Jollof Rice
You can say “when in Ghana” and serve it alongside fried fish, grilled shrimp, chicken, or beef (again, as discussed, if that’s your thing, it will obviously no longer be vegetarian/vegan then), or mixed vegetables.
Or you can serve it alongside sauteed spinach or another green like roasted broccolini. If I am taking leftovers to work, I’ll throw spinach in my storage container and reheat it with it for an added veggie.
Because the rice has so much flavor and a good kick of spice, it balances out well with a more mild side dish, something that isn’t quite as equally spicy or bold in flavor. That leaves the perfect balance, in my opinion. I’d love to know what you serve it with, too!
Frequently Asked Questions
Add an additional 1/4 to 1/2 cup water or stock to the pot and continue to cook until the rice is tender yet al dente.
If you’ve cooked it for at least 35-40 minutes covered, then you can uncover the pot and allow it to continue cooking while the steam escapes, evaporating the excess moisture in the dish.
Store them in an airtight container and reheat on the stove with a little liquid or in the microwave, heating in intervals and stirring in-between for even reheating.
Did you make this recipe? Please leave a star rating and review in the form below. I appreciate your feedback, and it helps others, too!
Vegetarian Jollof Rice
- 2 TBSP vegetable oil or oil of choice
- 1 medium yellow onion roughly chopped
- 3-4 garlic cloves
- 1-2 Thai chili or habanero pepper (optional) seeds removed
- 1 1/2 inch piece fresh ginger peeled
- 1 can (14 oz) diced tomatoes
- 3 TBSP tomato paste
- 2 tsp kosher salt or to taste
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/4 cups basmati rice
- 2 1/2 cups water or vegetable stock
- In a large dutch oven or stockpot, heat oil over medium heat. Puree onion in a blender until smooth, and add to heated oil. Let simmer to reduce down and release all the liquid. I like to add a pinch of the salt here, to continue layering in the flavor. It will cook for about 8-10 minutes total until "paste-like". Stir occasionally, some browning is ok!
- Meanwhile, in the blender, add the garlic, chilis, ginger, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste; then puree until smooth. Once the onion puree has cooked down, add the tomato mixture along with the remaining dry spices (salt, thyme, curry powder, black pepper) to the stockpot. Stir to combine and continue to let cook down over medium-low for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it's thick and deep red in color.
- While the sauce cooks down, rinse the rice well until the water runs clear. Once the sauce is ready per step 2, add the rice and stir to coat with the tomato mixture.
- Pour in the water or stock, stir to combine. Cover and let slowly simmer for 30-40 minutes until rice is cooked through. You'll want to stir it 1-2 times during the cooking process, but not too much so the rice continues to steam.
- If needed, add an additional 1/4-1/2 cup liquid if most of the liquid has absorbed but rice is still firm. If the rice is too wet, continue cooking uncovered for 5 minutes at a time, then checking for doneness.
- Once the rice is cooked through, serve alongside vegetables or a protein of choice. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge.