Pumpkin rice is such a popular Jamaican, it has carved out its own identity among the ‘seasoned rice’ set. To churn out a good batch of pumpkin rice is to end up with something akin to a nice risotto. A good version of this rich creamy flavor filled rice dish requires only a ‘dry’ pumpkin and a few other staple ingredients. Pumpkin (aka calabaza squash) does not refer to the North American version. This pumpkin comes in many shapes and sizes. It is hard to give directions on picking the perfect pumpkin but you can substitute butternut squash for a good pumpkin.
Two of the things I do not miss about my Jamaican childhood are stoking a coal pot or a wood fire for hours, usually on a Saturday afternoon, to cook the peas for Sunday’s Rice and Peas, and grating coconut for milk to boil said rice and peas. Such is the life of a ‘poor’ Jamaican country gal. Thankfully coconut milk is now only as far as the nearest grocery store and outdoor cooking is now a perk of my trade not a part of my daily life.
Few dishes are as closely identified with Jamaican cuisine as rice and peas. Even though there are several variations of Rice & Peas served throughout the Caribbean; foreigners almost always associate this dish with Jamaican cuisine. A lunch and dinner mainstay, Rice & Peas is found on all Jamaican restaurant menus and at most Jamaican (and other traditional Caribbean) gatherings. In recent months I have seen more than a few chefs, some from reputable Jamaican establishments, touting “coconut rice& peas”. Fact is coconut milk is a standard ingredient in authentic Jamaican Rice & Peas. So regardless of what anyone tells you to make this tasty aromatic side dish coconut milk, thyme and scallions, or onion are a must. Rice & Peas can be made with kidney beans or gungo (pigeon) peas.