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Gungo peas and rice make for the best rice side dish to compliment almost any meal!
My earliest memory of eating rice and peas was as a little girl at my Mimi and Pappy’s house. As true Bajans (Barbadians), their kitchen always smelled of thyme, fish, and brewed tea. However, it was my Jamaican uncle and extended family that sparked my love for Jamaican food.
There’s one side dish in particular that highlights two humble food staples–parboiled rice and beans (or what West Indians call ‘peas,’ in this case pigeon or gunga/gungo peas)–deeply flavored with rich coconut milk, fragrant scallions, onions, thyme, and a touch of Scotch bonnet pepper. Sometimes like to add a dollop of hot pepper sauce and allspice berries for more spiced undertones. The combination of flavors makes this rice and gungo peas recipe the perfect side dish to your favorite stewed, saucy, or meaty main dish.
Furthermore, I must give credit to the seasoned home cook who shared this recipe with me. My lovely mother-in-law, Margaret (a.k.a. Maggie) —a Jamaican-American woman who truly cooks from her heart. Trust me, you can taste the love in this tried and true family recipe. Although Mom’s recipe is perfect on its own, as mentioned earlier, I like to add a little hot pepper sauce and allspice berries to my rendition of this classic Caribbean dish.
What you’ll need to make it: Ingredients & Tools
Here’s the lineup of ingredients. Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with a couple of them. I’ll explain more as you read along:
- Parboiled rice–-not to be confused with white rice, or any other kind of rice
- Dried pigeon/gunga/gungo peas–a 15-ounce will do
- Coconut milk–a 13-15-ounce can; any type of coconut milk will do. It can be thin and watery or thick and creamy, as long as it is coconut milk. Not coconut water or coconut cream alone. A sachet of coconut milk powder may also be used.
- Sea salt
- Pimento seeds a.k.a. allspice berries
- A medium white or yellow onion, cut into quarters (avoid using red onion to maintain the white-ish color of the rice)
- A scallion stalk which you can bruise with the back of a knife or spoon to better release its flavors while cooking
- Thyme–fresh is preferred, but dried will do
- A whole Scotch bonnet pepper -OR- 1 teaspoon of Matouk’s Hot Pepper Sauce* (particularly if you do not have a Scotch bonnet pepper handy)
- A large pot with a lid–preferably non-stick to prevent the starch and sugars from sticking to the bottom of the pot while cooking
- Large measuring cup for
- Measuring spoons
- Sharp knife
- Large spoon for mixing and serving the rice
How to make Jamaican Rice and Peas (Gungo Peas)
Making rice and peas is quite simple. Essentially, it’s a dump, stir, boil, steam, and fluff process. Easy enough, right? Here’s the breakdown…
1. Season the rice and peas with coconut milk, salt, and spices.
Grab that large nonstick pot and dump in the rice, peas, coconut milk, salt, pimento, pepper sauce (if desired), and water. Stir everything together with a large spoon to ensure the ingredients are well combined.
2. Top the rice with the aromatics.
Place the onion, scallion, thyme, and scotch bonnet pepper on top of the rice mixture (to be easily removed after cooking).
3. Boil, simmer, and steam the rice.
Cooking the rice from a high to low temperature and then finishing it with steam is the key to fluffy, tender rice.
Cover the pot with a lid and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Next, reduce the heat to a slow boil and cook for 8 minutes. Lastly, reduce the heat to low, allowing the rice to steam for an additional 12 minutes, until tender. Turn off the heat and leave the rice on the stove, covered, to continue steaming for about 10 minutes. (If the rice is not yet tender, add a little more water and continue steaming until the desired texture is achieved).
4. Fluff the rice.
Once the rice and steamed to perfection, remove the onions, thyme, and whole pepper. Fluff the rice with a fork before serving.
What’s the difference between parboiled rice and white or brown rice?
Parboiled rice refers to the method in which the rice was processed more so than the type of rice that it is (read more about his process here). As compared to white or brown rice, there are significant differences between the color, texture, and taste of parboiled rice. See the chart below:
Differences Between Parboiled Rice vs. White or Brown Rice
|PARBOILED RICE||WHITE RICE||BROWN RICE|
|Color||Light golden hue||White||Brown|
|Texture (when cooked)||Slightly firm||Soft||Hearty|
What are gungo peas? Are they the same as pigeon peas?
Gungo peas, also known as gunga peas or pigeon peas are legumes. You will most likely find them in the Caribbean or Latin section of your local grocery store or on an online store either dried or canned. Something to note is the fact that a can of dried gungo peas sound like an oxymoron. I mean, how can the peas be both dried and canned in liquid? Basically, the canned peas have been reconstituted so there’s no need to soak them for hours before boiling them to make them tender.
What to eat with rice and peas?
Traditionally, you would eat this delicious rice with other classic Jamaican dishes–oxtail, curry goat, brown stew chicken, Escovitch fish, etc. However, please do not feel limited to only eating rice and gungo peas with West Indian food. Treat it like plain steamed rice and top it with your favorite savory, stewed, saucy entrees. This recipe is complementary to many other dishes.
What to do with leftover rice and gungo peas?
When we make rice and peas in our home, we make a big pot of it. I usually freeze the extra for up to 4 months. But most of the time, I do a Leftover Revival with this Crispy Fried Onion & Roasted Carrot Rice with Onion Oil Dressing. It’s super quick and easy to prepare and makes for a unique vegetable and rice side dish.
More flavorful rice recipes
- Crispy Fried Onion & Roasted Carrot Rice with Onion Oil Dressing
- Orange Basil Chicken Fried Rice
- Arroz Verde (Mexican Green Rice)
- Veggie Quinoa Bowl
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Watch how to make gungo peas & rice
- 3 c parboiled rice
- 1 (15 oz.) can dried pigeon/gunga peas, undrained
- 1 (13-15 oz.) can coconut milk
- 3 tsp salt
- 3 pimento seeds (allspice berries)
- 3 1/2 c water
- 1 medium onion, cut into quarters
- 1 scallion stalk, bruised
- 1 bunch of dried thyme (about 6 sprigs) or 2 bunches of fresh thyme (about 12 sprigs)
- 1 whole Scotch bonnet pepper or 1 tsp Matouk's Hot Pepper Sauce*
- Season the rice and peas. In a large pot, add the rice, peas, milk, salt, pimento, pepper sauce (if desired), and water. Stir well to combine.
- Add the aromatics. Place the onion, scallion, thyme, and scotch bonnet pepper on top of the rice mixture (to be easily removed after cooking).
- Cook it. Cover the pot with a lid and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Next, reduce the heat to a slow boil and cook for 8 minutes. Lastly, reduce the heat to low, allowing the rice to steam for an additional 12 minutes, until tender. Turn off the heat and leave the rice on the stove, covered, to continue steaming for about 10 minutes. (If the rice is not yet tender, add a little more water and continue steaming until the desired texture is achieved).
- Fluff it. Remove the onions, thyme, and pepper (if desired). Fluff the rice with a fork before serving.
- Just add a little more water. Typically, rice is cooked with 2 cups of water to every 1 cup of rice. However, rice cookers often require about 2.5 cups of water to every 1 cup of rice since the heat is distributed differently than a stovetop burner. But be mindful that every rice cooker is different, so review the instructions for your particular appliance prior to preparing the rice.
- Red kidney beans are an alternative to dried pigeon peas (also called gunga or gungo peas). Just keep in mind that they will also add a red tinge to your rice.
- Any type of coconut milk will do. It can be thin and watery or thick and creamy, as long as it is coconut milk. Not coconut water or coconut cream alone. A sachet of coconut milk powder may also be used.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 406Total Fat: 11gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 889mgCarbohydrates: 68gFiber: 4gSugar: 1gProtein: 9g
The nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and brands of ingredients used. I am not a doctor, nor a certified nutritionist and make no claims to the contrary. Each individual’s dietary needs and restrictions are unique to the individual. You are ultimately responsible for all decisions pertaining to your health. Please consult your personal physician with any questions you may have regarding your own health and diet.