Sunday just wouldn’t be Sunday without Rice and Peas.
I once read that “if Ackee & Saltfish is the National Dish of Jamaica, then Rice and Peas should be named the Coat of Arms”*. That succinctly states the importance of this dish to the island and Jamaicans everywhere.
Like most Afro-Caribbean dishes there are deep roots of the dish back into slavery and beyond. The tradition of using herbs and seasonings to enrich a dish comes from the culinary traditions of West Africa and the peas traditionally refer to the gungo or pigeon peas also from the region.
Whilst prevalent in Jamaican cuisine it is also to be found throughout the Caribbean. Many types of peas (beans) are eaten across the islands with rice. In Jamaica the preference is for kidney beans, gungo peas or pigeon peas. In Cuba moros y cristianos is a common dish using black beans instead. This the result of the Spanish cooking influence where black beans are often used. Similar recipes can be found in the British Virgin Islands and across the West Indies.
Rice and Peas is a slow cook recipe. The peas need to be put to soak the night prior to cooking to soften and release the all important flavour. It is a rich, flavourful, dish which acts as the side accompaniment to the main of fish or curry. However, if truth be told, for a quick eat there’s nothing like a little rice and peas on it’s own with some seasoned steamed leaf greens and gravy.
Starley Red Pea is a variety that was bought from Jamaica to the UK with the Windrush generation in the late 1940’s and 1950’s. It’s been grown successfully for the past 60 years by allotment owners of Caribbean origin. Each year these Caribbean allotmenteers have been growing and harvesting the seed for growing again. Over time this has led to a pea acclimatised to UK conditions making it a great reliable bean crop with a good harvest. Like all beans it’s tender and should be treated like a French bean. This was my first year growing and cooking with it and it’s really fabulous. For the recipe I did mix the Starley Red with some kidney beans as I didn’t have quite enough to cook and to save seed. However, I’m hoping for another great crop next year in order to build up the quantity I have for the pot.
To buy the peas I recommend Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library. These seeds have been grown by Caribbean allotment owners and continuing to grow them helps to continue this effort and preserves the history, heritage and culture of this Caribbean crop. You can check out their website to learn more about this seed.
The recipe below is my favourite way to eat rice and peas, which is just straight-up using herbs and seasonings. It is also commonly cooked with coconut milk which is well worth a try as it utterly delicious especially with baked okra and steamed greens.
Starleys Red Rice And Peas
- 2 cup Starley’s Red Peas (if mixing with traditional kidney beans use 1 cup of each)
- 3 cups water
- 1 1/2 cup long grain rice (thoroughly rinsed and drained)
- 3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
- 1 large onion (or 3 Jamaican scallion) chopped
- 1 tbsp of fresh thyme
- 1 tsp sea salt (or salt to taste)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter (you can try clarified butter or coconut oil if you prefer)
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 vegetable stock cube
- 1 scotch bonnet pepper (optional)
In a large saucepan put the peas and add the water. Let the peas soak overnight.
The next day add 1 clove of the garlic to the peas.
Bring the pot to the boil, reduce the heat and let the peas simmer for 40 – 45 minutes until the peas are tender.
In a frying pan, add the butter, olive oil and onions and saute until soft. Add the remaining garlic and saute for 1 minute until cooked.
Add the butter, garlic and onion mixture to the peas and bring to the boil.
Add the vegetable stock cube and thyme to the mixture. Stir to bring the ingredients together. Taste the water and add salt and pepper as desired.
Add the rice and stir into the mixture.
If adding, pop the whole scotch bonnet (don’t allow the pepper to burst. We want the flavour not the heat – unless this is what you’re after ).
Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat right down, cover leave a little gap to allow the some of the steam to escape, allow the rice to simmer.
Cook until all the fluid has been absorbed by the rice. This will take around 20 – 25 mins.
Once cooked, remove from the heat. Cover the pot with a lid and let it rest for at least 10 mins before serving.
Tip: If you prefer you can also try brown rice. This adds a slightly nutty flavour and is the rice I personally prefer. If using brown rice I would recommend soaking the rice for 1/2 before adding to the ingredients.