Rice & Peas Recipe, Jamaican Style

Rice and peas with brown stew chicken and steamed vegetables

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.

gungo peas, pigeon peasJamaican rice and peas with gungo peas

You can make Jamaican style Rice & Peas with kidney beans or pigeon Gungo peas. The nutty, creamy flavor of Gungo peas adds extra richness to the flavor of this Jamaican classic which gives a little added luxury to the flavors of Christmas and other celebratory meals.   

Uncooked kidney beans
For making Rice & Peas. A can of pre-cooked dark red kidney beans will do just as well as cooking dried beans from scratch. Italists, vegans and other raw food devotees who follow a no processed food diet may choose to avoid canned beans. To prepare dried beans easily; cover beans with water 2 or more inches of water. Add salt onion and thyme. Bring to a boil. Cover pot securely and let it sit for 4 to 24 hours to soften beans. when you are ready to cook. Boil beans over medium heat for 30 to 45 minutes until beans are soft to bursting.

Cooked kidney beans

combine kidney beans with coconut milk, thyme and scallions

 Jamaican rice and peas

Rice & Peas Recipe, Jamaican Style

Jamaican Rice and peas not to be confused with Bahamian or Spanish Rice & Beans is a Sunday tradition observed by many Jamaicans worldwide. Other Caribbean cultures have their own version of this dish referenced by other names but, the term “rice and peas” is used to describe the Jamaican version. Many smaller Caribbean island like Belize, Trinidad and Guyana have adopted the Jamaican version of this dish as their own. The peas in Jamaican rice & peas refers to kidney beans, though Gungo peas is a popular alternative.

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  • 1 15 oz. can red kidney beans if using dried beans cook until tender
  • 1 13.5 oz. can coconut milk
  • 1 stalk scallion or ½ sm onion (sliced)
  • 2 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 2 Tsp butter/ margarine
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 C water
  • 2 C rice


Add beans and coconut milk to pot. Heat through. Add all other ingredients except rice. Cover pot and simmer 10 minutes over medium heat. Add rice, stir with fork. Cover reduce heat to med- low and let cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Check rice for tenderness. If done turn off heat. If rice grains are still hard add ¼ cup water and cook for an additional 5 to 7 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

traditional Jamaican Sunday dinner
A traditional Jamaican Sunday dinner of rice & peas with steak, salad and fried plantains.

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