Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Senegalese Red Rice

Sometimes cooking inspiration is easy to come by. If you have a well-stocked refrigerator and a well-developed cookbook collection (or blog-reading habit), sometimes a recipe ex machina seems to beam down like a shaft of divine light. Leftover potatoes, newly-harvested garlic scapes, nuts and cheese combine to become my new favorite pizza. Or baby lettuces, fresh cilantro, barely-blanched asparagus, feta, radishes and lemon zest turn into an essence-of-spring salad that I'm still kicking myself for not photographing.

And then there are the other evenings. The fridge is empty, the pantry is uninspiring, and you have neither the time nor the will to go to the market. These are times when I can't remember what it is that I know how to cook anyway, and will literally thumb through the recipe index of my very own blog to remind me. It's a bit ridiculous. But it does happen, more often than I'd like to admit. And so, for times like these, I add another Iron Pantry Chef recipe to the list: Senegalese red rice.

My experience with African food has primarily been limited to regular meals at a local Ethopian restaurant. But last year I checked out The Soul of a New Cuisine, by the Ethopian-born, Swedish-raised Marcus Samuelsson. The recipes are intriguing yet approachable, and are a lovely introduction to African flavors. But for all of the exotic menus in the cookbook, this humble red rice became my favorite dish. In some ways it's similar to a Mexican red rice, consisting of a simple starch, tomato, chili, and fresh cilantro. But it's somehow much more. It's unabashedly soupy, creating more of a stick-to-your ribs risotto-type dish than a fluffy pilaf. The dried shrimp (if you use them) give a nice briny note, but it's equally nice without them. With the exception of cilantro (which required a trip to the front yard for a quick garden harvest), all of the ingredients were in my house last night. Who knew I had the makings for an African meal in my there's-nothing-to-cook pantry? And I don't know if I need to even say this, but the leftovers, when topped with a fried egg, make a fabulous breakfast.

Senegalese Red Rice

adapted from Marcus Samuelsson's The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Food and Flavors of Africa

yields 3-4 servings

2 Tbsp canola or peanut oil
1 smallish red onion, diced
1 jalapeno, finely diced (you can omit if you don't like it spicy)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp chili powder
2 tsp shrimp powder (I've substituted 1 Tbsp asian dried shrimp, soaked and chopped, but have also omitted entirely for an equally nice dish -- I also imagine crumbled nori or other seaweed might make a good vegan substitution)
1 cup chopped tomatoes, canned or fresh
1 cup short-grain white rice
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 sprigs thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves)
1 cup tomato juice
2 cups water
1/2 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped

Heat the oil in a large pot over a medium flame. Add the onion and cook until translucent, ~5-7 minutes. Add the jalapeno, garlic and chili powder, and cook another minute. Add the shrimp powder (if using) and tomatoes, and stirring occasionally, until the oil separates out from the sautee (~10 minutes).

When the oil has separated out, add the rice and stir to coat. Add the salt, thyme, tomato juice and water, and raise the heat to bring to a boil. When the mixture is boiling, reduce heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, check to see that the rice is al dente, just shy of being done. Turn off the flame, stir in the cilantro, and let sit, covered another 1o minutes for the rice to finish absorbing the liquid (it will still be a somewhat moist dish). Serve.


  1. I just stumbled on your blog after searching for things to do with extra jam. (Your kolaches look amazing, by the way.) I stuck around because your writing is wonderful! Thanks for the good read, and for making me hungry this afternoon. :)

  2. This sounds really delish! I made paella a few weeks ago and topped some leftover rice with a fried egg... you're right; it's wonderful!

  3. Great dish!! I added grilled tofu and used the nori - substituted brown jasmine rice ( 2 1/2 c water )and left tomato juice out. Way better than than red rice served at my favorite Senegalese restaurant.