If you’re in the market for a filling vegan side dish, you can stop searching now that you’ve found this Jamaican-Inspired Rice and Peas recipe. This filling, one-pot dish is great, even if you couldn’t care less about veganism. It’s made with fresh ingredients and only one that is processed. Be sure to pin this post to your boards because you’re bound to return to it time and again.
What are Jamaican-Inspired Rice and Peas?
Jamaican rice and peas is a one-pot dish made with white rice and beans. The dish is linked to the West African roots of many of the Afro-Caribbean islands. Jamaicans ate this dish primarily on Sundays since it was their only rest day.
Rice and peas have a subtle coconut flavor, a kiss of spice, and an underlying warmth from unique spices. It’s not a soupy rice dish at all. Instead, this dish has a drier, fluffier texture.
Is Rice and Peas solely a Jamaican dish?
Rice and peas is not exclusive to Jamaica. Many Caribbean islands prepare the same dish, albeit with different ingredients. To my knowledge, Jamaicans are some of the only ones who refer to it as rice and peas, though.
If you search the cuisine of any of the Caribbean islands, you’ll see they have a tradition of combining rice with beans (or peas). This is the influence of their African ancestry, brought to the islands through the slave trade. Many of these islands carry on the West African traditions of their ancestors through dishes like rice and peas. In the Spanish-speaking islands like Puerto Rico, it’s arroz con habichuelas. Cuba even calls one of their dishes “Moro y Cristianos,” or Moors and Christians. The black beans and white rice dish references the Christian reconquering of Spanish lands from the Islamic Moors.
Why do you call it “Jamaican-Inspired?”
I spent 3 years living my life as a Rastafarian. Back then, one of the tenets, or livity, of my faith was that of living an ital lifestyle. The word “ital” is taken from the word “vital.” Because Rastas believe that God resides within them, words were often focused on the letter “I.” Rastas also take care of and pay close attention to what they eat. I was very purposeful in what I put in and on my body. For 3 years, I practiced strict veganism, which means I didn’t even use products that come from animals (no makeup, leather, etc.). Because many Rastas are Jamaicans, I was naturally surrounded by a community of Jamaicans during those years. That’s where I learned how to make this rice and peas recipe. It was the one dish I lived on.
But I call it “Jamaican-inspired” because I’m not Jamaican, so it can’t be an “authentic” Jamaican rice and peas. I also add my Sofrito to this dish, which renders it inauthentic as most Jamaicans use green seasoning. That’s if they add it to their rice and peas at all. So, though I learned the base of this recipe from a very Jamaican elder called Geraldine, I can’t call it authentic because it’s morphed its way into what you have before you.
It’s still good, though.
What do I need to make Rice and Peas?
To make this dish, you need long-grain white rice, Coconut Milk, kidney beans, onion, green onions, garlic, ginger, sofrito, scotch bonnet, a bay leaf, fresh thyme, salt, pepper, and ground allspice. Most rice and peas recipes use whole allspice berries. I use ground allspice because I don’t feel like dodging whole berries when I’m trying to demolish my rice and peas.
This is a true one-pot recipe, so a dutch oven or caldero and a cooking spoon are all you need to cook it.
Why is it called Rice and Peas if made with kidney beans?
I legit have never heard any Jamaican call beans “beans.” All of the Jamaicans I know call beans “peas.” I don’t know why, but I do know that they differentiate between beans and gungo peas. Gungo peas are our gandules (or pigeon peas). If you replace the beans in this recipe with pigeon peas, the dish becomes Rice with Gungo Peas.
Do I have to use dried kidney beans in this recipe?
I prefer to make this dish with dried light red kidney beans. Most times, I prefer the texture of dry beans to beans from the can. You can absolutely take a shortcut and use beans from the can, though. Drain the liquid from the can and give the beans a rinse under cold water before adding them to the pot.
If you want to try your hand at using dry beans, though, check out my Habichuelas Guisadas post for how to prep them. Before you add the dry beans to the pot with the rest of the ingredients, they need to soak and cook until slightly soft. All that means is that you have to factor in a few more hours to get them ready to add to the rice. Using dry beans results in slightly (super slight) drier rice and peas, but it’s not a significant difference.
What can I use in place of the scotch bonnet pepper?
You can replace the scotch bonnet in this recipe with a habanero pepper. Some grocery stores don’t carry scotch bonnets, which are fruiter and less spicy than habaneros. Habanero is a great substitute, and though they are a smidge spicier than scotch bonnets, it won’t cause the dish to come out unbearably spicy.
You can also omit the pepper altogether if you can’t find either one. The dish won’t be as nuanced but will still taste great.
Does the scotch bonnet pepper make it spicy?
Prep the scotch bonnet by cutting four slits in its sides. Don’t cut open the pepper since the seeds will fall out. Just poke the tip of the knife into the side and drag it down a couple of centimeters. This allows some capsaicin to release into the rice as it cooks without making the dish overly spicy. Make four slits around the pepper this way.
Adding a scotch bonnet that’s cut like this doesn’t make the rice and peas spicy at all. Unless you’re very sensitive to spice, you probably wouldn’t even know it was there.
How do I keep my rice from being mushy?
Once the oil in the pot begins to shimmer, add the yellow and green onion, garlic, ginger, and sofrito to the pot. Sauté the aromatics in the oil for 2-3 minutes or until they are fragrant and glossy. Next, add the rice to the pot, along with the spices. Stir the rice into the oil and the aromatics to begin toasting the grains and coating them in the oil.
Part of the reason rice comes out mushy is that it wasn’t rinsed properly before cooking. Rinsing rice grains in cold water before cooking removes excess starch from the exterior. Another way to keep your rice and peas from turning out mushy is to toast the rice before you steam it. Coating rice grains in a small amount of oil and toasting them keeps them from sticking together. The rinsing step keeps it from becoming mushy because of the excess starch on the rice.
Can I use canned coconut milk to make my Rice and Peas?
After sauteeing the rice for 2 minutes, pour the water and the coconut milk into the pot. I prefer to use homemade coconut milk because it tastes less artificial. That’s not to say that canned coconut milk is fake. It just tastes processed to me. You can replace the coconut milk in this recipe with canned coconut milk or use water or chicken stock. I would try to use coconut milk or chicken stock since water doesn’t do much in the way of flavor.
After stirring the liquid into the pot, add the beans, sprigs of thyme, the bay leaf, and the scotch bonnet pepper. Bring the liquid in the pot up to a boil.
How long do I steam the rice?
Once the liquid in the pot comes to a boil, give the rice another stir. Allow the rice to continue bubbling until the rice is visible at the surface of the pot.
Stir the rice once more and place a piece of foil over the top of the pot. Press the lid down onto the pot and reduce the stove temperature to low. This foil method is a tried and true technique that seals tons of steam into the pot. That cooks the rice and peas more efficiently and evenly.
Steam the rice over low heat from 30-35 minutes.
Why is my Rice and Peas hard?
After 30 minutes, uncover the pot and fluff the rice with your cooking spoon. Give the rice and peas a taste. The rice should be tender and the beans soft. If your rice is still too hard, add 1/4-cup of coconut milk (or water) to the pot, cover the pot and steam the rice for another 10-12 minutes on low. Usually, hard rice means you didn’t boil it long enough at the beginning of the cooking time, you cooked it at too low of a temperature after covering it, or the beans weren’t soft enough to start with.
Once the rice is properly tender, remove the stems of thyme, the bay leaf, and the scotch bonnet from the pot. You can discard these.
How do I serve this dish?
As I mentioned earlier, this rice and peas recipe sustained me during my days as a Rasta. I ate this 3 or 4 times a week for dinner. You, too, can eat it on its own as a main course, or you can serve it as a side dish.
All you need to do is spoon it out and enjoy it.
What are some entrees that go well with Rice and Peas?
- Ham with Spiced Brown Sugar Pineapple Glaze
- Curry Sriracha Air Fryer Wings
- Chuletas Fritas (Pan-Fried Pork Chops)
You will find that this rice and peas recipe pairs well with more than a couple of entrees. I think it goes exceptionally well with grilled proteins.
How do I store leftovers?
Transfer leftover rice and peas to a food storage container and keep it in the fridge for up to 5 days.
You can reheat the portion you plan to eat in the microwave on high until warmed through. You can also add a larger amount of the rice and peas to a pot with a 1/4-cup of water or milk and reheat it on the stove over medium-low until warmed through.
Can I freeze leftover Rice and Peas?
To freeze leftover rice and peas, let it cool and transfer it to a freezer-safe container. Freeze it for up to 6 months. To thaw, just put it in the fridge overnight or defrost it in the microwave. Reheat per the instructions above and enjoy it.
My days as a Rasta are a distant memory, but I’m thankful recipes like this came out of it. Try this Jamaican-Inspired Rice and Peas, and let me know what you think of it in the comments below. Again, be sure to pin the recipe to your sides board for easy finding later.
Jamaican-Inspired Rice and Peas
- dutch oven
- 1 scotch bonnet pepper
- 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) olive oil
- 1/2 medium (1/2 cup or 80 grams) yellow onion diced
- 3 green onions trimmed and minced
- 3 cloves garlic peeled and minced
- 1 tablespoon (1 inch) ginger peeled and minced
- 2 tablespoons (28 grams) sofrito or green sauce (epis), optional
- 3 cups (630 grams) long grain rice rinsed and drained 3 times in cold water
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt or adobo
- 3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 1/2 cups (625 milliliters) coconut milk
- 1 cup (250 milliliters) water
- 1 pound prepared(455 grams) light red kidney beans or 1 15 1/2 ounce (439 grams) can of beans, drained and rinsed
- 3 sprigs thyme leaves
- 1 bay leaf
Prep the Pepper
- Prep the scotch bonnet by cutting four slits in its sides without cutting the pepper open. You want the seeds to remain contained. Just poke the tip of the knife into the side and drag it down a couple of centimeters. Make four slits around the pepper this way, then set it aside. *Be sure to wash your hands after handling the pepper*
Sauté the Aromatics
- Heat the olive oil in a large caldero or dutch oven over medium-high heat.Once the oil in the pot begins to shimmer, add the yellow and green onions, garlic, ginger, and sofrito to the pot. Sauté these aromatics in the oil for 2-3 minutes or until they are fragrant and glossy.
- Stir the rice to the pot. Follow that with the salt, ground allspice, and pepper. Stir the rice and seasoning into the oil and the aromatics to begin toasting the grains and coating them in the oil.
- After sauteeing the rice for 2 minutes, pour the coconut milk and water into the pot.Stir the liquid into the pot, then add the beans, sprigs of thyme, the bay leaf, and the scotch bonnet pepper. Bring the liquid in the pot up to a boil.
- Once the liquid in the pot comes to a boil, give the rice another stir. Allow the rice to continue bubbling until the rice is visible at the surface of the pot.
Cover and Steam the Rice
- Stir the rice once more and place a piece of foil over the top of the pot. Press the lid down onto the pot and reduce the stove temperature to low. Steam the rice over low heat from 30-35 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, uncover the pot and fluff the rice with your cooking spoon. Give the rice and peas a taste. Adjust the seasoning by adding more salt or pepper to the rice.
- Remove the stems of thyme, the bay leaf, and the scotch bonnet from the pot. and discard.Enjoy the rice and peas on its own as a main course, or serve it as a side dish.
Swaps and Substitutions:
- Replace the light red kidney beans with 1 can drained and rinsed pigeon peas.
- To replace the white rice with brown rice, add an additional 3/4 cup of coconut milk and steam a total of 45 minutes.
- Replace the scotch bonnet in this recipe with a habanero pepper or omit the pepper altogether if you can't find either one.
- You can replace the fresh coconut milk in this recipe with canned coconut milk or use water or chicken stock. Chicken stock or canned coconut milk is recommended because both add flavor.
Tips and Techniques:
- If you're using dried beans, they must first be soaked and par-boiled to soften them before adding to the pot with the rice.
- Rinsing rice grains in cold water before cooking removes excess starch from the exterior.
- The foil method is a tried and true technique that seals the steam into the pot, cooking the rice and peas more efficiently and evenly.
- If your rice is still too hard after steaming it, add 1/4-cup of coconut milk (or water) to the pot, cover the pot and steam the rice for another 10-12 minutes on low.
- This rice and peas recipe pairs well with many entrees, but exceptionally well with grilled proteins.
- Transfer leftover rice and peas to a food storage container and keep it in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- Reheat only the portion you plan to eat in the microwave on high until warmed through.
- To reheat a large amount of the rice and peas, add it to a pot with a 1/4-cup of water or coconut milk and reheat it on the stove over medium-low until warmed through.
- Allow the rice and peas it cool before transferring it to a freezer-safe container.
- Freeze it for up to 6 months.
- To thaw: put it in the fridge overnight or defrost it in the microwave. Reheat per the instructions above and enjoy.