Jamaican Cuisine: Rice and Peas

Jamaicans from all walks of life enjoy the humble rice and peas, sometimes as a meal of its own but mostly as a side dish.  What a Jamaican calls “peas” we call “kidney beans,” and the dish has a lot in common with southern American red beans and rice.  Key Jamaican twists on the dish include cooking the beans in coconut milk (which yields a creamy, slightly sweet flavor) and including a Scotch bonnet pepper in the cooking liquid for a little spice.

More Jamaican dishes on The World Cup of Food:

We would have been content to serve our jerk chicken alongside some simple steamed vegetables and boiled potatoes, but then we found out about rice and peas.  We had tried coconut milk as a cooking liquid for rice before when we made Tanzanian pilau back in July with fantastic results so we were eager to try it with dried beans.

Rice and peas

adapted from Lucinda’s Authentic Jamaican Kitchen by Lucinda Scala Quinn

SERVES 2 TO 4

  • 1/2 cup dried kidney beans
  • 3 cups coconut milk
  • 1 green onion, trimmed of the root end but left whole
  • 1 habanero pepper, with a couple of slits cut down the sides
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 3/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 cup long-grain rice
  • 1 tsp salt

Dried beans go through a large-scale industrial cleaning and sorting process that occasionally misses things, so first we washed the beans in a sieve with cold water and inspected them to make sure we weren’t putting any small stones or debris of any kind in the pot.  The beans, green onion, habanero, pepper, and thyme were covered in a saucepan with the coconut milk and brought to a simmer over medium heat:

beanssimmering

Once simmering, the heat was reduced to low and the saucepan was covered and left to become delicious.  After about an hour and a half, the beans were almost fully tender and we were ready to add the rice.  First, we needed to remove the green onion and the habanero:

removinggreenonion

The rice was added and mixed into the beans.  We needed to add about three-quarters of a cup of water so that there would be enough liquid to cover the rice by about half an inch:

riceadded

The lid was placed back on the saucepan and the heat turned back up to medium.  In just a minute or so the liquid was simmering again, and the heat was reduced to low again.  The pot was simmered for another twenty minutes until the rice had absorbed all the excess liquid and was fluffy and tender.  A healthy scoop of the rice and peas was served alongside our jerk chicken:

jerkchickenandpeasandrice

The mildly sweet, creamy coconut milk was great with the starchy, rich beans.  Visually, the pink pigment from the beans’ skins had infused the coconut milk and the rice and left everything a pastel pink hue.  Most styles of beans and rice elsewhere rely on ham hocks, pigs’ feet, or similar rich meat sources for flavor, but Jamaican rice and peas gets everything it needs from the coconut milk.  We usually have a couple of cans of coconut milk lying around somewhere, so Jamaican rice and peas might be on the menu again soon.

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