Amira Williams sets her family table with jollof rice, fragrant West African blend of stew, spices

April 5, 2023

Family members huddle around the heart of the home, the kitchen. Vibrant conversations fill the room as some get to work. A large pot sits in the center of the kitchen, a vibrant orange jollof rice inside. The intense, zesty smell of the bouquet of peppers, spices and vegetables fills the air and permeates every room of the house. 

Ever since sophomore Amira Williams could remember, her grandmother’s jollof rice has been on the table at any important celebrations with her family. Jollof rice is a rice dish that originated in West Africa and quickly became the region’s most popular dish with multiple variations depending on the country, some being served alongside meat, fish or plantains. 

“Jollof is a dish that my family makes for almost every birthday, or after prayers, or just special occasions,” Amira said. “Prayers are super long, like they can go until really late at night, so it is really nice to come home and just have some really good food. And for birthdays, you just have to have it.” 

She also expressed a strong sense of family connection from the process of making the rice. 

I feel a sense of pride and excitement when I cook with my grandma because it’s just so good.

— Amira Williams

“Usually my grandma makes it and my siblings and I watch her in the kitchen, and it is pretty cool to see the dish come together, Amira said. “But when I do help, I get the rice and help prepare it, and in the end you get to have a really nice meal with your family.” 

The recipe is a flavorful and fragrant blend of different vegetables and spices that gives the rice its iconic orange color. 

“So first you have to make the stew. So that’s with tomatoes, bell peppers, habaneros, scotch bonnet, bay leaf, and a bunch of spices, and you fry it with a bit of oil. The smell of the spices is so good,” Amira said. “Usually you would cook it on the stove, but my grandma always puts it in the oven, and it always turns out amazing.” 

Amira said the type of rice used in this dish is crucial to it coming out perfect. 

“You have to use long-grain rice,” she said. “Not basmati rice or jasmine rice, long-grain rice ensures that the jollof comes out nice and fluffy.” 

For Amira, cooking jollof rice is far much more than simply the process of cooking. 

She said, “I feel a sense of pride and excitement when I cook with my grandma because it’s just so good.”

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