Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jamaican Rice and Peas

Rice and peas is a staple Jamaican dish, steeped in coconut milk and seasoned with thyme, onions and pepper.   My sister taught me how to make it when she was living in Jamaica .  The peas are not really peas, but gungo beans (also called pigeon peas or cow peas).  They’re small red beans that I can’t find here so I use aduki beans.  They’re about the same size and higher in protein than most other beans, but you could also use red chili or kidney beans.   The dish is traditionally made with white rice, but I’ve substituted a long grain brown rice.  A healthier choice.

You can use canned beans to save time but they’re much less expensive if you cook them yourself and you can also control how soft they are.  Because you cook them, a second time, with the rice, it’s better that they’re a little under cooked the first time.
You really should try to find some fresh thyme, it’s an important flavor component.  In Jamaica, green onions were always sold with a few sprigs of thyme tied to the bunch.

When my sister taught me how to make rice and peas, canned coconut milk was not available.  She would grate fresh coconut and mix it with water and then squeeze it in cheese cloth to extract the “milk”.  Canned coconut milk is so much easier, no coconut whacking, scraping, grated or squeezing required.

Aside from green onions and a pinch of salt, the only other ingredient needed is a scotch bonnet pepper, used liberally in most Jamaican dishes.  Since I’m a lightweight when it comes to hot food (and I didn’t have a fresh pepper) I didn’t use one. If you have trouble finding a scotch bonnet pepper, substitute with whatever you like.  Scotch bonnets are very hot, so whatever you can find should be OK.  If you’re using a pepper, don’t chop it up, just throw it in whole on top of the rice, beans and coconut milk along with the thyme and green onion.

This wonderful, aromatic dish, is perfect for a cold winter’s dinner.  
Jamaican Rice and Peas
Serves 6 - Use organic ingredients whenever possible
2 cups cooked red beans (aduki, chili or kidney) or sub 1 can
2 cups long grain brown rice
1 can coconut milk
2 cups + water
1 green onion
3 sprigs thyme
1 chili pepper (optional)
Salt to taste
Rinse the rice in water and drain.  
Put the rice and cooked beans in a heavy pot.
Measure the coconut milk and add enough water to make 2 cups. 
Pour the coconut milk over the rice and beans and add two cups of water.
Break the onion in half and lay it on top of the coconut milk along with the thyme and pepper, do not stir.
Bring the mixture to a boil and turn it down to low and cover the pot.
Cook for 30-40 minutes, or until all of the liquid is absorbed.
Let stand for a few minutes before removing the thyme, pepper and onion.
Season with salt to taste and serve.

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