The grand thing about cooking is you can eat your mistakes. -Julia Child

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Jamaican Style Rice and Peas

When I was growing up, there were several "Aunts" of mine who would make rice and peas. For the uninitiated, rice and peas is a dish common to many Caribbean and Central American countries. It is basically kidney beans (or pigeon peas or whatever bean the particular country has available) mixed in with rice and spices. Sounds simple and kinda bland, right? Not so, trust me.

I always looked forward to going over to my Aunts' houses for rice and peas. There were slight variations in them, some were spicier, had more coconut milk, etc., but I liked them all. The rice in each of them was perfectly cooked, not one grain stuck to another. This - I cannot accomplish. I think they may have used a rice cooker; I'll cling to this belief so as to not be a total rice failure.

But I'm okay with my rice failure. I came to this realization when sitting over a bowl of my own take on rice and peas, my "mushy" rice giving the whole thing an almost risotto-esque quality. Probably not true to the original, but tasty and comforting nonetheless. And so I'll share the recipe with you - with a tip of the hat and apologies to my Jamaican/Panamanian/Bajan relatives.

Preparation notes - This recipe can be made using canned beans if you're deciding to make this at the last minute. Just put them in a pot and start from where you add the coconut milk. The texture will be a bit different but it'll taste much the same. For those who have had the dish before, mine is heavy on the coconut milk, thyme, and spice in general. It isn't "spicy" per se (unless you let the scotch bonnet pepper break), but lots of different spices are used to give this dish its full flavor. If you do want this spicy, pierce the pepper once or twice before you put it in the pot. Keep an eye on it to make sure the seeds don't spill out into the rice or else you'll probably want a fire extinguisher handy when you eat.

Jamaican Style Rice and Peas
By Me, Serves 4-6
Printable Recipe

2 cups dried kidney beans (or one 15 ounce can)
1 15 ounce can coconut milk
2 cups vegetable stock (or water)
1 cup white rice (long grain, or whatever you have)
3 scallions, cut into 2-inch strips
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed and coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon allspice
5 sprigs fresh thyme (by sprig I mean small groups of single stems)
1 scotch bonnet pepper (or habanero if not available)

Rinse kidney beans and let soak overnight in a large bowl, covered with several inches of water.
In a large pot, boil the kidney beans in 6 cups of salted water for approximately 40 minutes, or until a bean can be easily crushed. Watch while boiling to make sure some water remains in the pot.
Stir in the coconut milk, vegetable stock, rice, garlic, scallions, garlic, salt, and thyme sprigs. Add the pepper, being sure not to break the skin.
Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for about 30 minutes or until rice is fully cooked, stirring occasionally to prevent rice from sticking.
Remove pepper as soon as you notice its skin has broken. Remove thyme stems before serving. Taste for salt and serve.


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