If you’re familiar with West African cuisine, then you know about jollof rice. For those uninitiated with the flavorful, tasty and crunchy-on-the-bottom goodness that is jollof rice, let me tell you: it’s called the jollof wars for a reason. Simply put, it’s rice simmered in an aromatic tomato stew made with onions, spices and chili peppers. Every country and family has its own way of making jollof rice (Ghana’s the best though, just saying), and there are as many variations to making jollof as there are hairstyles at Curlfest.
While the traditional way of making jollof is with rice, you can jollofitize (I know it’s not a real word y’all) any grain to take it up from plain Jane to “yasssss!” using ingredients that you may already have. For this recipe, I switched it up a little and used couscous instead of rice, but you can use anything – just make sure to follow cooking directions and adjust the amount of liquid accordingly.
Just a few notes before I get into the recipe: you’ll want to specifically use plum tomatoes, since they’re great for stews and sauces. Also, it may seem like you’re using a lot of oil, but it’s necessary to “fry” the tomatoes so to speak and reduce the acidity. You’ll know you made it right once the stew is a deep, rich dark red, with very little acidity. Cooking the tomatoes for a while gives time for the umami flavor of the tomatoes to develop and for all those spices to meld beautifully.
You can discard the remaining oil – or better yet, cook your eggs in it, or use it as a part of a vinaigrette (it’s basically an infused spiced tomato oil, and the same thing will cost $20 at Whole Foods so you might as well make a bottle for free!).
Also, I like my food spicy (I once ate a whole grilled jalapeno on a dare like a boss, just because) so feel free to adjust the amount of scotch bonnet pepper and paprika in this recipe!
jollof couscous + tomato stew
prep time: 5 minutes
cooking time: 35 minutes
For the tomato stew:
- ¾ cup canola, sunflower or vegetable oil
- 2 medium shallots (you can use sweet onions, but I have a slight preference for shallots)
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 Maggi cube (you can find them here, but any bouillon/stock bouillon cubes will do, just use half of it)
- 1 whole star anise
- fresh ginger (I used a small knob, about the size of half your thumb)
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ⅛ teaspoon dried rosemary
- ⅛ teaspoon powdered cloves (if using whole cloves, use 2-3 cloves)
- 1 teaspoon mild curry powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ¼ cup water
- 4 plum tomatoes
- 1 scotch bonnet pepper
- 1 small bay leaf
- ½ cup couscous
- ½ cup tomato stew
- salt, to taste
- 12 in. saucepan (the more surface you have, the quicker the tomatoes caramelize)
- In a saucepan, heat oil on medium-low heat. Blend the shallots, garlic, Maggi/bouillon cube, star anise, fresh ginger, thyme, rosemary, cloves, curry powder and paprika. Add a ¼ cup of water to facilitate blending and set aside in a separate bowl. Then, blend the tomatoes and scotch bonnet and set aside.
- Add the shallot puree to the oil, and turn up the heat to medium high. Cook for about 3-5 minutes, or until it’s amber brown in color. Be careful not to burn this, or the stew will taste bitter.
- Add the tomato puree and bay leaf, and cook until the tomatoes have reduced to about 40-50% of their original volume and the oil has risen to the top of the pan, about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent the tomatoes from burning on the bottom. If the stew starts to splatter, partially cover the saucepan with a lid and reduce the heat.
- For the couscous, take ½ cup of the stew and add ½ cup of water. Taste and season accordingly. Follow instructions on the couscous packet, fluff and serve!
You’re going to have some leftover stew, so you can easily double the amount couscous for this recipe. I like to keep a little extra and serve it with the couscous and some chicken, like I did below (feel free to add any protein you want), or freeze the extra portions to use at a later time. You can also add in some crushed tomatoes and a little stock to make shakshuka too!