Once I’d decided to do this, I had to pick some more countries. I printed off the full list of competitor nations and devised a way of randomising the selection based on asking other people – colleagues in the office, and Facebook friends – to pick a letter of the alphabet and a number between 1 and 20. Guinea-Bissau was the choice of James at work. Earlier in the week I had called him a troublemaker, and indeed Guinea-Bissau was looking troublesome: there aren’t many websites to be found with a huge amount of information on their cuisine.
As it turns out though, Guinea-Bissau is one of many west African nations whose national dish is given as Jollof Rice. I read around a dozen Jollof Rice recipes and one bit of narrative on it from the Guardian, and came to the conclusion that as long as you had the basics right, you can add whatever meat or fish and vegetables that you have handy. That’s my kind of cooking. And then since we were either completely absorbed by the Olympics on TV or just very disorganised, we didn’t leave the house all day, and I had to cobble this together out of what was in the house, so I’m calling this:
“Storecupboard Jollof Rice”
Four skinless boneless chicken thighs
A small onion, chopped
A couple of diced celery ribs
One fat clove of garlic, chopped
A heaped half-cup of basmati rice
A normal 400g tin of tomatoes
Frozen peas and sweetcorn
Salt and pepper
Hot sauce to taste
Season the chicken and brown in oil in a heavy-bottomed pan that comes with a tight fitting lid. Remove the chicken to a plate and add the onions, garlic and celery and soften, and then add the chillies, ginger and thyme, and keep stirring for a couple of minutes. Throw in the rice, stir to coat it in the oil and flavours, and then add the tomatoes and about a wineglass full of stock. Return the chicken to the pan. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting, put the lid on the pan and go and watch TV for 20 minutes. Add a few handfuls of the frozen vegetables and some more stock, and give it a good stir. Another 20 minutes or so should see all the rice cooked but not mushy; add extra stock as needed and stir occasionally during this time. Season, and add hot sauce if you like. Serve piled into warm bowls.
It’s not an especially elegant dish but it was fantastically moreish, helped by the warming layers of ginger, chillies and hot sauce. We’ll be having this again.