Make rice the star of the meal with this one-pot spicy tomato rice. This dish is known as Riz Gras (or fat rice) in Burkina Faso. Packed full of flavour, white rice is cooked with tomato, chilli, onion, oil and plenty of aromatic spices, and is a sort of African take of risotto.
Overview of Burkina Faso
We’ve tackled yet another country’s cuisine blind. Previously, we had thought ourselves well-travelled and reasonably knowledgeable of world geography. However, if this challenge has highlighted anything, it is how much more we have to learn about many, many nations around the world.
This brings us to Burkina Faso. This landlocked country in West Africa covers an area of around 274,200 square kilometres and a population of over 20 million. It’s not exactly a tiny nation like Brunei or Andorra, yet we knew almost nothing about the country before undergoing this challenge.
For those who also have little knowledge about the country, here is a brief rundown. Burkina Faso was part of French West Africa up until 1960, and was called Upper Volta under French occupation. Although it gained independence in 1960, it didn’t change its name to Burkina Faso until 1984. French is still the native language of the country, and the influence that the French left behind can be seen throughout Burkinabe culture and cuisine.
History of Burkinabe Cuisine
Similarly to many countries in Western Africa such as Benin, the diet in Burkina Faso is based on staple foods including rice, millet, maize, peanuts, potatoes, beans and yam. Meat is a luxury in the country, with mutton, goat, beef and fish as the main sources of protein.
Most meals include tô, which are firm, starchy balls made of millet, sorghum or corn. Tô is rather bland on its own, but is used as a form of carbohydrate which takes on the flavour of the meal its served with such as soup or stew. When it comes to seasoning, some Burkinabe dishes can pack a surprising hit of flavour. Chilli and cinnamon are often used as marinades, and hot sauce or fruit chutney is often added to dishes to give more flavour.
As you can see below, the number of exclusively vegetarian dishes in Burkina Faso is fairly limited. However, due to the expense of meat, many dishes are still predominately vegetable-based, making Burkina Faso slightly more vegetarian-friendly than other African nations.
Popular Burkinabe Vegetarian Dishes
- Tô– a dough-based dish cooked millet, corn, or sorghum that is stirred vigorously until it is formed into a smooth paste. It is consumed with various stews and sauces to soak up flavour as it is flavourless on its own.
- Ragout d’igname- a yam stew that is popular throughout West Africa. It is a casserole-type dish that contains a range of different vegetables including garlic, ginger, onions, carrots, peppers, and tomatoes and is typically only seasoned with salt and pepper.
- Riz gras– Translated in English as ‘fat rice’, this is Burkina Faso’s national dish. Riz gras is a one-pot dish consisting of white rice, tomato, onion and other vegetables that are cooked in a generous amount of oil to form a thick rice stew.
- Bissap– One of Burkina Faso’s most popular drinks, it is made from Hibiscus flowers and is often served with pineapples.
Making Riz Gras
For today’s recipe, we decided to make Burkina Faso’s national dish, Riz Gras. This literally translates to ‘fat rice’ in English. Somehow, Riz Gras sounds a lot more appealing than fat rice, so we will just refer to it by its French name. Why does everything sound so much classier in French?
Now, if you are wondering why this dish is called ‘fat rice’, so did we. Apparently, it refers to the large amount of oil that is typically used in this dish. Generally, we’d rather eat our food without the name proclaiming its health detriments. Can you imagine if every menu listed its offerings with ‘greasy French fries’, ‘calorie-laden chocolate pudding’ or ‘heart-attack burger’? It’s not exactly a winning sales tactic.
Despite its ominous name, Riz Gras is in reality a rather healthy, hearty and nutritious dish. It’s kind of like the African version of risotto, and works as either a simple main dish or a side dish. Typically, its served with chicken, but you can also serve it with whatever kind of vegetables your heart desires.
While all the key components in this recipe are similar to a traditional Riz Gras, we must make a caveat that we did adjust a few things. Firstly, we reduced the typical oil quantity to be a bit more modest. We also included extra spices to add flavour. Not all the spices are typical Burkina Faso, so you can decide if you want to include them or not. We personally feel these spices added a depth of flavour to the dish and would recommend them, but that’s up to you.
How to make Riz Gras
There are three great reasons to make this recipe. 1. It’s an easy dish to make 2. It only takes 30 minutes 3. It can be made in one pot.
- Blend together tomato, capsicum and chilli.
- Sauté onion in pot until slightly brown, then add in garlic, tomato paste and spices and sauté for another 5 minutes.
- Add blended mixture and vegetable stock to pot, bring to a boil, add rice and cook for 20 minutes or so until liquid is mostly absorbed.
Ingredient notes for one-pot spicy tomato rice
- Spices- As mentioned above, we included spices in this recipe that are not typical to Burkinabe Riz Gras. Feel free to play with your own spice combination based off what you have in your pantry, or leave the spices out altogether if you want to go a little simpler.
- Rice– The best kind of rice to use for this recipe is long-grain white rice. If you want to use brown rice, you’ll have to adjust the cooking time to be a bit longer and it may not absorb the flavours quite as well.
- Chilli– Typically in this recipe, habanero chillies are used. These are a very spicy type of chilli, so be aware of this if you are spice sensitive. We couldn’t find habanero chillies so we substituted for green chillies instead.
Serving suggestions for Riz Gras
Whilst you can have Riz Gras as a standalone dish, we would recommend serving it with some additional vegetables. We had ours with roasted yams and green beans sauteed in garlic and chilli, which are two vegetables that are commonly eaten in Burkina Faso.
- 4 tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 3 chillies, adjust to your spice preference
- 1/2 red capsicum
- 1/2 cup water
- 3 tbsp oil
- 1 onion, finely sliced
- 4 cloves garlic
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 tbsp cumin
- 1/2 tbsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp chilli flakes
- 4 whole cloves
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- 1 1/2 cup long grain white rice, rinsed
- 3 tbsp parsley
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Blend together tomatoes, red capsicum and chillies with 1/2 cup of water.
- Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add sliced onions and cook until lightly brown.
- Add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds, then add in tomato paste and spices and sauté for 5 minutes. Add water to the pan if it's getting too dry.
- Add the blended mixture and a cup of vegetable stock and bring to a boil.
- Add in rinsed rice, reduce heat and cover. Allow to simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure rice on bottom of pan doesn't burn.
- Once most liquid is absorbed, take off heat and allow to sit for five minutes before serving.
Other African dishes to try
- Mahjouba Recipe – Stuffed Algerian Crepes
- Cocada Amarela Recipe (Spiced Coconut Porridge)
- Caramelised Banana Porridge from Benin