Food & Drink

Michael Twitty’s Jollof Rice

The culinary historian’s take on the beloved West African dish, from his new cookbook, Rice

Photo: Dacey Sivewright

This famous West African rice is named after the Wolof people of Senegal and Gambia, who themselves call it benachin. Maggi, a popular imported bouillon cube ubiquitous in West Africa, has become part of the flavor profile of everything there. If you have access to an international market, it will have Maggi cubes, and you can use them to make a Maggi broth to replace the stock here—just follow the instructions on the package. Be careful—it tends to be salty, so go lightly at first to find your bearings. 

Kitchen pepper is an old-school spice mixture that was very popular in early American cooking, especially in the coastal South. While it takes its main cues from quatre épices, a spice mix of pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and ground ginger common in French cooking, it also helped to preserve both medieval and Silk Road flavors in Southern foodways, as well as the flavors of West Africa, where indigenous and Middle Eastern spices had long influenced the cuisine. This is my take on this classic. It has the complexity of garam masala without quite the punch and heat. —Michael Twitty


  • Basic Jollof Rice (Yield: 4 servings)

    • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil

    • 1 large yellow onion, chopped

    • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

    • 2 tbsp. tomato paste

    • 1½ cups long-grain white rice, washed and drained

    • 1 habanero pepper, seeded and chopped

    • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper or kitchen pepper (ingredients below)

    • ½ tsp. seasoned salt or jollof rice seasoning

    • 2½ cups vegetable or chicken stock, homemade or store-bought, or Maggi broth

  • For the Kitchen Pepper (Yield: About ½ cup)

    • 2 tbsp. coarsely ground black pepper

    • 1 tbsp. freshly grated nutmeg

    • 1 tbsp. ground allspice

    • 1 tbsp. ground cinnamon

    • 1 tbsp. ground ginger

    • 1 tbsp. ground mace

    • 1 tbsp. ground white pepper

    • 1 tbsp. red pepper flakes


  1. Make the kitchen pepper if using: Combine the black pepper, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, ginger, mace, white pepper, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to six months.

  2. Make the jollof: Heat the oil in a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 4–5 minutes, until soft.

  3. Add the tomato paste, turn the heat down to medium-low, and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. 

  4. Stir in the rice, chili pepper, black pepper or kitchen pepper, and seasoned salt. Cook for 2–3 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. 

  5. Add the stock, cover, turn the heat down to low, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the liquid is nearly but not completely absorbed. Remove the lid, place a piece of aluminum foil over the pan, return the lid to the pan over the foil, and steam for another 20 minutes. 

From RICE: a SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook by Michael W. Twitty. Copyright © 2021 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.