Jamaican Rice and Peas is the undisputed winner of the title "Most Eaten Jamaican Food". Other Jamaican dishes like jerk chicken may be well known internationally, but rice and peas is the old faithful that we have every Sunday, that can accompany every meat dish known to man, that makes Jamaicans feel at home even when we're far away.
A few years ago, I led a group of Jamaican teens and young adults on a trip to Indiana in the USA. We were there to perform in a series of steel band concerts over a two week stretch.
Our hosts treated us royally, and we delved into the new experience with enthusiasm. But after a week, we started to undergo withdrawal symptoms. "We don't mean to complain, the food is fine really, but is there anyway we could get some rice and peas?"
Luckily we knew a Jamaican lady living in Indiana. She cooked us a huge pot of rice and peas, baked some chicken, and brought it over after one of our concerts. It was like getting a lifeline. The rice and peas gave us the strength to go on in a land of pasta and sweet corn!
When we say "peas" in Jamaica, we mean beans as well as peas. Our red peas are known in other places as kidney beans, and our gungo peas are also called pigeon peas.
Other countries have their own versions of this dish, but Jamaican rice and peas has a distinct stamp, thanks to the flavours of coconut milk, scotch bonnet pepper and other seasonings.
Since powdered and canned coconut milk have become available, the tedious task of extracting coconut milk from a dry coconut is no longer necessary. The fresh coconut milk really does taste better though!
In the past, a dry coconut would be split and the hard coconut meat removed. The meat would be grated, and then put through a sieve to extract the coconut milk. Thank goodness we now have less time-consuming options!
Here is a recipe for what is sometimes fondly called "Jamaica's Coat of Arms".
2 cups parboiled rice
1/2 cup red peas, dried or canned
1 sachet of coconut milk powder, or 1/2 can coconut milk
1 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk escallion (crushed)
1 sprig thyme
1/4 tsp pimento (all spice)
pinch of black pepper
1 whole green scotch bonnet pepper
1/2 tsp ginger (optional)
If you are using dried peas, soak them for a few hours (or overnight) in water to soften.
Boil peas in cold water until tender. Pour off stock from peas and measure. Add enough water and coconut milk/coconut milk powder to make 4 cups of liquid, and add to peas.
If you are using canned peas, there is no need to cook them beforehand. Just add the four cups of liquid as described above.
To the mixture of peas, water and coconut milk, add all the seasonings and spices. Allow to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
Add the rice to this mixture, and stir well. Increase flame until liquid boils. Then reduce heat and cover. Simmer until rice grains are tender. Try not to stir again as this will make the rice sticky.
A delicious alternative to red peas is to use gungo peas. Gungo rice and peas is very popular at Christmas time when gungo is in season. Use canned or green gungo peas. There is no need to soak green gungo. Merely boil until tender, then continue the recipe as described.
Jamaican rice and peas is good with any kind of chicken, pork and beef, as well as curry goat, steamed fish, oxtail, and the list goes on. You don't even need meat to enjoy it, and the peas provide protein, so it's nutritious all on its own.
What are you waiting on? Get cooking!
Or maybe you'd like to learn some more about Jamaican food?
Introduction to Jamaican Food
The Best in Jamaican Food
Ackee and Saltfish Recipe
Jamaican Curry Chicken Recipe
Johnny Cake and Festival
Jamaican Rum Punch Recipe
Jamaican Rum Cake (Fruit Cake) Recipe
Jamaican Bread Pudding, Jamaican Banana Bread Recipes
Jamaican Easter Bun Recipe
Traditional Jamaican Desserts - Blue Drawers and Toto
Sweet Potato Pone