They say inspiration has its own timetable. (Do they say that? I think I just made it up.) The inspiration for this recipe didn’t come to me in the usual ways, while grocery shopping or feeling nostalgic for the tastes of home. Story time…
I had been in South Africa for about 2 weeks and become very familiar with my hotel, the mall, the office, and nothing else. I can be quite the loner so on my first weekend I was very happy roaming around the mall on my own, but I realised if I did that every weekend I’d end up in the very embarrassing position of having been in South Africa for 3 months and not really knowing anything about the country. So on my second Saturday in SA I left my very warm and snuggly comfort zone and made friends with a South African. It turned out that he was having a braai (South African barbecue) that day, not far from my hotel. He even offered to grill some veggie burgers for me. Of course I couldn’t say no to such niceness so I skipped over. As I tried not to choke on the smell of roasting meat, I introduced myself to a few people. There was this one guy who seemed very excited about the fact that I was Nigerian. “When are you going to make jollof rice for us?” he asked eagerly. And like a good Nigerian I answered the question with a question: “How much will you pay me?” Sadly he wasn’t interested in paying so I lost the opportunity to make some money. But he did get me thinking about making jollof rice, something I hadn’t done since going vegan.
The chakalaka inspiration came as I was sitting in the hotel restaurant one night, wondering what to order. I asked the waiter whether they had any traditional South African dishes that were vegetarian, and he suggested chakalaka. It sounded more like a dance move than a dish but I tried it anyway. Turns out I was right the first time; it was a dance, but a dance in my mouth. I was immediately hooked and I couldn’t wait to try making it myself.
Throughout the week I fantasised about the jollof rice and dodo (fried plantain) with chakalaka that I was going to make. The recipe was in my head, the only problem was that I didn’t have a place to cook. So the next weekend, I asked my new South African friend to lend me his kitchen, and he kindly agreed. This recipe is dedicated to X (his real name, don’t ask) who graciously let me take over his kitchen, and then surprised me with like 8 more people joining for dinner. I had never cooked for so many people at once before so it was a bit of a shock, but I accepted the challenge. (Somewhere in New York, Barney Stinson glowed with pride.)
Hope you’re still reading because story time ain’t over. You know how I had been fantasising about making jollof rice and dodo? Well I wasn’t able to get plantain for the dodo so guess what I used instead. Bananas! (It’s in the title of this post so you get no points.) They turned out so good! Don’t knock it till you try it.
The cooking time for this recipe is quite long, about an hour and a half, ingredient prep included. But it is so worth it, especially because you can make big pots of jollof and chakalaka to keep for later. I tell you solemnly, you can never have too much jollof rice in your fridge. And chakalaka goes with basically everything so it’s the perfect sauce to have around.
Story time over, let’s get cooking. Here’s how to make vegan jollof, chakalaka and banana dodo.
What you will need
*I reduced the ingredient quantities so this makes enough for 4 people
For the jollof rice:
+ 4 cups long grain white rice (I used white for this recipe, but brown is fine too; you’ll just have to double the cooking time)
+ 10 firm medium size tomatoes
+ 6 tatashe (red bell peppers)
+ 1 large red onion
+ 3 atarodo (scotch bonnet peppers)
+ 3 bulbs of garlic, minced (or 3 teaspoons minced garlic)
+ 1 cup diced green beans
+ 1 cup diced carrots
+ ½ cup peas
+ Spices: 1 teaspoon curry powder, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1 teaspoon nutmeg powder, salt
+ A clean large plastic bag or large sheet of foil
For the chakalaka:
+ 6 firm tomatoes, halved and sliced
+ 6 carrots, grated
+ 1 large onion, sliced
+ 1 can/cup white butter beans (any type of beans is fine really, I used the butter beans because I liked how big they are)
+ 2 bulbs of garlic (or 2 teaspoons minced garlic)
+ 2 green bell peppers
+ 1/2 cup peas
+ 2 atarodo (scotch bonnet peppers), minced or 6 green chili peppers, chopped
+ 1/4 cup olive oil
+ Spices: salt
For the banana dodo:
+ 1 large ripe banana (should still be firm, not overripe)
+ 1 large unripe banana
+ 1 tablespoon olive oil
+ 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes or chili powder
+ a pinch of salt
+ 1 small red onion, sliced
How to make it
1. Boil the rice with a bit of salt for about 20 minutes, until just soft enough to bite through a grain. It shouldn’t be soft enough to eat though. Drain excess water from the rice and set aside.
2. Blend the tomatoes, tatashe, atarodo, onion and garlic into a smooth thick liquid. Add only enough water to get the blender going
3. Add the olive oil to a large pot or saucepan, pour the tomato mixture in and leave to simmer uncovered on medium heat for 20 minutes. You want the liquid to get darker and thicker. Add spices and salt to your taste
4. Put the rice in a large pot, then add the tomato sauce; do not stir. Stirring would send all the sauce to the bottom of the pot where it would burn. Just stick your spoon in several places and shake gently to allow the tomato sauce seep into the rice gradually. Add enough water to just cover the rice.
Now you’ll find out what that seemingly random plastic bag was for. Spread the bag (or foil) over the rim of the pot, making sure there are no gaps, and fit the pot lid over it tightly. The idea is to keep the steam inside the pot so that the rice cooks in its own steam and the sauce can seep into the rice instead of drying out.
Leave the rice to cook for 25 mins, checking periodically to make sure the water hasn’t dried out prematurely.
5. Stir in the vegetables (yup, now you can stir) and re-cover the pot with the bag/foil. Leave to cook another 10 minutes. Your jollof rice is done when all the water has dried out and the rice is soft and fluffy
1.In a large saucepan fry the onions, garlic and atarodo/chilies in the olive oil until the onions are slightly browned
2. Add the tomatoes and leave to simmer for 20 minutes. Add the spices and salt to your taste
3. Add the carrots and peas and leave to simmer 5 minutes, then add the green pepper and beans. Adjust seasoning, cover and leave to simmer for 10 minutes. Your chakalaka is ready!
1.In a bowl, drizzle the oil over the banana pieces and sprinkle the pepper and salt. Toss to coat the pieces evenly
2. Spread out the banana pieces in an oiled grill pan (or use baking paper/foil to make clean-up easier) and grill for 45 minutes on medium heat. Halfway through the cooking time, turn the pieces over. The banana dodo is done when the pieces start to turn golden brown around the edges.
In case you’re wondering, the guests loved the food! I was mad pleased, especially since most of the guests weren’t vegetarian. 🙂