By Anna Harris, Contributing Writer
Jamaican Rice and Peas is a addicting starchy main or side dish composed of the most basic ingredients but packed with long-simmered flavors of garlic, onion and heightened nutritionally by cooking in bone broth. Creamed coconut adds richness and tropical flavor along with a whiff of heat from the scotch bonnet pepper.
I was introduced to Jamaican food for the first time when I went with my husband to his parent’s home nearly 2 years before we married. Not only was the food wonderful and different but so was the welcome into a second family. My mother-in-law, Esmina, happens to be a tremendous, intuitive, and frugal cook. I learned how to properly season meat from her. In my childhood home spices were tossed onto meat moments before baking. In contrast, Esmina used combinations of garlic, onion, mounds of black pepper, thyme, allspice, Jamaican curry (which tastes entirely different from Indian curry despite the East Indian influence in Jamaica) and the infamously searingly hot scotch bonnet pepper (otherwise known as habanero) and literally massaged them into her meat days in advance. No wonder she had earned a reputation for being a good cook! I took notes in the first few years, not only for her meat dishes but also learned her recipes for roti, dahl, fried plantain, ackee, and the staple starch with nearly every main dish, rice and peas. ( I never did take home her recipes for tripe though!)
I couldn’t imagine how something so simple could be so flavorful. Over time I think I learned some of her signature kitchen secrets including salting as you cook, liberal use of garlic and onion, and how more flavor is achieved with patience and time. Interestingly, with her rice and peas, she used pantry items like par-boiled rice, vegetable oil, and canned “peas” but she insisted upon using fresh thyme and creamed coconut – both highly gourmet items to my middle-class palate. Today, my version uses brown rice, not par-boiled, and dry beans for extra nutrition and economy, but the Jamaican flavors remain true. Many evenings her rice and peas were actually rice and beans as Esmina often interchanged small, red kidney beans in place of the more rare, but more authentic, gungo, or pigeon peas. We like the unobtrusive taste and texture of the pigeon peas better but the kidney peas are perfectly delicious as well.
*I prepared the entire package of gungo peas, saving myself a step for another day. The whole package makes about 6 cups of peas after soaking. We only use 2 cups for this recipe.
Cost Analysis: (my costs)
Rice-$2.10 (bought bulk in a 5# bag @ $10.49)
Gungo/Pigeon Peas-$0.59 (bought in a 16 oz bag @ $1.79, Goya brand)
Organic creamed coconut-$1.25 (8 oz package @ $2.49)
Onion-$0.06 (bag of 8 small onions from Aldi @$0.99)
Garlic-$0.07 ( Normally I have organic and amazing garlic from our neighbor, free of cost but this was a package of 3 heads from Aldi @ $0.79)
Fresh thyme sprigs-free (from my neighbor’s bountiful garden and heart)
Sea salt, Pepper-$0.12 (bulk prices)
Chicken broth-free ( from carcass of a roasted chicken, made one gallon for using in just about anything! Alternately, I found organic chicken broth at Aldi, on sale, that would bring the individual cost to $1.15 per serving.)
Total: $4.19=$0.70 per serving
- 2½ cups long grain brown rice
- About ⅓ package/5.3 oz (or simply soak the whole package) pigeon/gungo peas/small red kidney beans
- Soaking Ingredients: 4 tbs. whey, apple cider vinegar, or lemon juice
- 2 tsp. sea salt
- 4 cloves garlic
- 6 cups chicken broth
- ½ of a small-medium onion
- ½ package creamed coconut
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme
- ¼ of a scotch bonnet pepper (just cut the tip/side off)
- sea salt, black pepper
- Soak rice and beans in warm, filtered water with 2 tbs of whey, or acid medium and 1 tsp.sea salt per soaking bowl. Soak 7+ hours or simply overnight.
- Mince garlic. Pour 2 cups soaked peas, chicken broth, and minced garlic into a pot. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat to a simmer until the peas are tender, about 45-55 minutes.
- Strain the peas, saving the poured off broth. It should equal a scant 4 cups. If there is much less than 4 cups add water to make up for it.
- Dice onion into small dice, add to pot along with creamed coconut, thyme sprigs, soaked rice, gungo peas, and remaining broth. Top with piece of scotch bonnet pepper.
- Bring to a boil, season with plenty of sea salt and black pepper, taste broth for a full flavor. Allow to bubble for 5 minutes before turning heat to low and cooking until the rice is tender, about 40-45 minutes.
Anna lives Buffalo, NY surrounded by a cityscape of both blight and hope. She receives inspiration from the next-door urban farm and loves nothing more than to spend a lazy summer Saturday perusing the lush stalls of a farmers market with her two lively children and husband. Cream and butter are two of her most adored ingredients.
She is devoted to sustainable food sourcing and to encouraging others to find the links between simple, beautiful food and thriving health. Some of her major influences include Alice Waters, Sally Fallon, and the More-With-Less cookbooks. She enjoys challenging herself with serving large gatherings, living with intentional restraint, and engaging her children in the creative world of food.
Above all, she values relationships and finds joy in bringing people together around the table.
You can find her blogging at eastsidepicurean.com .