If you’ve been paying attention to the growth in interest in West African culinary traditions, you’ve probably noticed the increased popularity of Jollof rice. The name derives from one of the kingdoms of my Ancestors, the Wolof peoples living in modern-day Senegal, Gambia, and Mauritania.

The Wolof have a great reputation as traders, artisans, musicians, and cooks, forming along with their neighbors the heart of the culture and cuisine of Senegambia. From this corner of West Africa came about a fourth of the enslaved brought to America, whose descendants included the likes of Benjamin Banneker, Frederick Douglass, Omar Ibn Said, and Phillis Wheatley. However this same region has produced in our contemporary era chefs like Pierre Thiam and Fatmata Binta who join artists like Akon and Youssou N’Dour in furthering Senegal’s cultural legacy.

Jollof rice, or benachin, may be from Senegambia, but it spread through Wolof and Mande traders and unfortunately due to colonialism. Different countries have different names and styles of preparation to match. The fiercest rivalry may be between Ghana and Nigeria. However, Jollof-style rice became the grandmother of Lowcountry red rice as well as jambalaya and rice from Mexico, Brazil, and various spaces in the Caribbean. All you need is tomato, onion, pepper, and spices.

This is just a basic palette, but feel free to add my West African spice mix (salt-less) from Spice Tribe’s Cooking Gene collection for some more authentic flavors.

When it comes to who makes the best Jollof rice, Ghana and Nigeria have a fierce rivalry.
When it comes to who makes the best Jollof rice, Ghana and Nigeria have a fierce rivalry. Abi Olayiwola / Alamy

Jollof Rice

Michael W. Twitty

  • 4 to 6 servings


  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt or Jollof rice seasoning
  • 1½ cups long grain white rice
  • 1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2½ cups vegetable or chicken stock


  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the onion and garlic 4–5 minutes until the onion is soft. Add the tomato paste and the seasoned salt (or Jollof seasoning), then simmer over medium heat for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
  2. Rinse the rice in cold water, drain well, and add to the pan with the green pepper and a pinch of salt. Cook 2–3 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add the stock, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  3. When the liquid is nearly absorbed, turn off the heat. Keep the pan covered and steam over low heat until rice is tender.

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