As second-generation American, I longed for a tangible connection to “home.” Despite my physical and socio-cultural distance from Liberia, where my mother is from, it was a place that captivated my imagination. For several years, I yearned to visit Liberia and Sierra Leone to experience the attitudes, dialect, smells, and unique flavors there firsthand.
As a child, I watched my mother prepare homemade meals, breads, and desserts from scratch using only the freshest ingredients. The savory foods were so fresh that the cooking process started in the backyard garden, where my siblings and I would harvest and clean the green pluto, cassava, and bitter leaf greens among others that she would then cook for supper. In her own special way, my mother shared her love of Liberian foods and culture with her daughters. I realized how much I benefited from this inheritance during my first visit to Liberia as I discovered an instant, perhaps innate appreciation for the amazing culinary influences in the country.
Liberia has long been a mixing bowl of many indigenous and international food cultures influenced by the Caribbean, African American, and local indigenous food cultures. Liberian joloff rice exemplifies this clash of cultures so very well. As with many Liberian females, my mother learned to cook this special dish (a crowd pleaser at any party) from her mother, and less than a year ago, I decided that the time had come for me to do the same.
In her recipe, the rice is cooked in the oven, and this time saving modification has lent this traditional dish a distinctly modern twist. Over the course of two days, she was the head chef, and I was her apprentice, transcribing eye measurements into a written recipe. The resulting recipe feeds about 10 or more people and I hope to pass this down to my daughter (should I be lucky enough to have one), the same way it was so kindly handed down to me.
Joloff Rice Recipe
6-8 pieces smoked turkey
3 cans tomato paste
1 16oz can chopped tomato w/ garlic, oregano and basil
3-4 t salt
1 large onion
fresh basil 25-30 large leaves
8oz olive oil
- Pre-heat oven 425F (400F convection oven)
- Chop onions and basil. Sprinkle along bottom of aluminum pan
- Boil water with 3 cans of tomato paste and hot pepper for 1 hour
a. Approximately 13 c liquid remains after boil
- Add 8 pieces of smoked turkey
- Bring tomato paste mixture with smoked turkey to a boil for 30 minutes
- Add spices: 3t salt, 3t garlic, bayleaves
- Add canned tomatoes
- Boil mixture for 12 minutes
- Add 8oz olive oil, 3t thyme, 1t salt
- Stir in 9c rice. Cover and bring to a boil
- After boil, turn off heat. Pour mixture into aluminum pan and cover with foil
- Place rice mixture in oven and bake for 30 minutes
- After 30 minutes, flip rice with a spatula moving rice from bottom of pan to top. Add water if rice is too dry
- Cook covered for additional 20 minutes
- Turn off oven. Remove aluminum foil. Leave in oven to crisp