Welcome back to the table readers! I’m really excited to be bringing y’all my first recipe and a read post since my short hiatus. It really is one of my favorite things about this blog that I get to explore different techniques and foods from all over the world. I’ve made Korean, English, Cuban, Middle Eastern, Italian, Mexican and the list goes on. It’s so fun and I’m thrilled to be taking y’all (any myself) to another new location: Nigeria! Jollof rice is one of the most common dishes in West Africa and there’s tons of regional variations. I’m sticking with a more traditional recipe for today but in my research I saw numerous incredibly tasty looking options.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Eleven years prior to the start of our story, King Saran ordered the genocide of the former Maji. He issued this order, strategically, on the same day that the Maji lost their powers. Given to them divinely by the Gods. Left defenseless and against impossible odds, nearly all of the former Maji fell. Among those, were our MC Zelie’s mother, whom she witnessed first hand murdered in the most brutal fashion imaginable. Killing the Maji wasn’t enough though, he needed to scare all the diviners left (those who, before magic disappeared would have turned into Maji) so he had all the murdered Maji hung up on display for everyone to see. King Saran needed to squash their hope and kill their dreams all in one fell swoop.
You crushed us to build your monarchy on the backs of our blood and bone. Your mistake wasn’t keeping us alive. it was thinking we’d never fight back.
Since her mother’s death Zelie has been training with other girls in her village from a warrior woman named Mama Agba. Mama Agba has been painstakingly teaching the girls to fight back with their staffs so they are never the victim, left defenseless again. As King Saran continues to raise the taxes on poor villages with no hope of meeting them Zelie is forced to go into the capital city to make a trade to ensure her families saftey. So Zelie and her brother Tzain set off on a journey that will forever alter their future.
I teach you to be warriors in the garden so you will never be gardeners in the war.
During her visit to the capital market, Zelie encounters a frightened girl on the run from the capital’s guards. Zelie unwittingly helps the young Princess Amari escape the guards with a stolen artifact so vital to both King Saran and the future of the Maji’s that Saran sends his own son, Inan after them. To hunt them, and dispose of them by whatever means necessary. Even if that means cutting down his own little sister. Zelie, now holding one of three key artifacts to bringing magic back to her people, sets out on a mission that will change her and the entire world, forever.
Reality told us we would fail. But again and again, we fought. We persevered. We rose.
Whew! Well this book was something else. If I had to choose one word to describe my over arching feelings about the writing and story here, it would be vibrant. Adeyemi meticulously developed nearly every aspect of this story. From the characters, to the settings, character arcs and plot development. We’re given multiple POVs from the main characters, including the villain, Inan. I’d have to say that Inan’s chapters were some of my favorites. For me, it’s easy for an author to create depth to a main character, to the “chosen one” who has the weight of the world on their shoulders. But to create empathy and depth within the “bad guy” is something I’m consistently a sucker for. Inan was complex, difficult to understand while being simultaneously easy to connect with.
While Zeile and Tzain easily had the most traumatic story, all of the characters you meet along the way are touched by the devastation of war. There are no “easy” stories here, they’re all heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. Each character has a journey and a purpose within the overarching plot that makes the integral to the story. There’s no wasted space here. I’m generally not a big fan of “action scenes”, even in more action packed books they tend to be my least favorite aspect. However, Adeyemi created an “edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting, can’t-stop-reading, WHAT-IS-GOING-TO-HAPPEN” need within me. The action scenes were just as pivotal, just as developmental and complex as every other aspect here.
As it fades, I see the truth – in plain sight, yet hidden all along. We are all children of blood and bone. All instruments of vengeance and virtue. This truth holds me close, rocking me like a child in a mother’s arms. It binds me in its love as death swallows me in its grasp.
I’m afraid if I keep going on about the reasons I feel so connected to these characters that I’ll give important aspects of their journey away and I don’t want to do that. I think being able to follow a complicated character through their journey is one of the most beautiful parts of consuming a story. Humans are complicated, there are no “mary-sue’s” in real life. We’re all layered, deeply flawed creatures and Adeyemi did a beautiful job of showing that while simultaneously drawing poignant parallels to the ugly parts of the world we still see today. In the end, I loved this, I feel connected to this story and it’s characters and I’ll be pre-ordering the second installment without a doubt.
Suggested For: Fans of the YA genre, fans of the fantasy genre, fans of folk/fairy tell retellings, lyrical writing, amazing character development and those who generally like good stories.
Well, there you have it! If you can’t tell, I loved the book and it was a total knock out. Now, onto our recipe! In addition to the book being a total slam dunk, so is freaking Jollof rice y’all. Both my husband and I were huge fans!
West African Jollof Rice
Prep-Time: 15 minutes
Cook-Time: 60 minutes
Pans: 2 (one to par-boil rice, one to cook the Jollof rice in)
- 3 tomatoes, cut into quarters
- 1/2 red bell pepper, stemmed and roughly chopped
- 1 red onion, half roughly chopped, half diced (separated)
- 3-4 garlic gloves
- 1/2-1 habanero pepper, stemmed and seeded
- Vegetable oil (a couple tablespoons to cook the chicken in + 1/4 cup)
- 3/4-1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped into bite size pieces
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup par-boiled rice (this is essentially 1/2 uncooked rice)
[Par-Boiling Rice]: Par-boiling rice is essentially just cooking rice until al-dente. You can start this before prepping, or when you start the chicken. Just add 1 part rice, 2 parts water. Bring the water to a boil, reduce to low and cook covered for 10-15 minutes. The rice should have just a bit of a “bite” to it. You can then set it aside for later.
- Add tomatoes, bell pepper, roughly chopped red onion, habanero pepper and garlic to blender, blend until smooth.
- In a large pot (I used my enameled cast iron dutch oven) over medium heat, heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil. Add in diced red onion, chicken and curry powder.
- Cook for 10-12 minutes, until onions are soft, chicken is browned and cooked through.
- Remember, the brown bits at the bottom of the pan are GOOD and are great flavor that will come up later when we add in the sauce.
- Once chicken is fully cooked, remove from pot and place on plate to the side.
- Raise the heat to medium-high, add the sauce mixture and cook until reduced by half (about 10-15 minutes).
- Add in the remaining oil (1/4 cup) and “fry” the sauce for 8 minutes.
- Stir in chicken, rice, stock and thyme.
- Cover pot with foil, place lid on top of foiled pot.
- Reduce heat to low, cook for 30 minutes.
Slight caveat: So we made JUST the Jollof rice, but I’ve seen in numerous recipes that people serve this with beans and a side salad. I think that would’ve been wonderful and the next time we make it we definitely will! Also, I know the habanero pepper might freak some people out (it did for me!) but it really wasn’t spicy at all. You can add more if you want to dial it up, but I ended up adding some additional hot sauce and I don’t consider my spice tolerance all that high.
Quote: I try not to think of her. But when I do, I think of rice. When mama was around, the hut always smelled of jollof rice.
Music Mood: Old Bone by Wet
Have you read Children of Blood and Bone? If so, what did you think? What are some recipes you like to make that were outside of your comfort zone but you ended up loving? Drop me a note in the comments and let me know!