Growing up in Nigeria, Christmas was a vibrant tapestry of culture, family and tradition. The streets of Lagos would come alive with festive songs, colourful decorations, and the tantalising aroma of traditional dishes wafting from open kitchen windows. It was and continues to be my favourite time of the year.
In many Nigerian households, including in the diaspora, Christmas is not just a one-day affair. The celebrations begin a couple of weeks in advance. Families come together, often traveling from different parts of the country, or even from abroad, to be with their loved ones. Homes are decorated with tinsel, lights and ornaments. Children and adults, decked in their festive outfits, play games, exchange gifts and reminisce about the year gone by.
Food, as with many cultures, is at the heart of our celebrations, and I have had the pleasure of ‘veganising’ many of them over the years. From the spicy, peppered stews and fried rice, to moin moin and various swallows, Nigerian Christmas dishes are a feast for the senses. For me, the star of the show has always been party Jollof rice.
Smoky party Jollof rice is more than just a meal; it's an experience. This style of Jollof is often reserved for occasions that call for something a bit extra. The mouth-watering blend of tomatoes, peppers, and spices, slow-cooked to perfection, gives it a unique flavour that's both hearty and comforting. Traditionally, the smokiness is achieved by cooking the rice outdoors over firewood but modern techniques include allowing the rice to slightly char at the bottom, or roasting the vegetables before blending - these are the extra steps that elevate the dish and set it apart from the everyday Jollof recipe.
Preparing party Jollof rice for my family is the easiest labour of love. As the pot simmers and the fragrance fills the air, I am reminded of the Christmases of my childhood. The joy, the shared tales, the collective memories – all these are woven into this iconic dish.
This holiday season, as you gather around the table with your loved ones, I invite you to explore the flavours of Nigeria. Give this smoky Jollof recipe a try and discover more celebratory meals, snacks and drinks in my cookbook Vegan Nigerian Kitchen.
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