A spicy 30-minute meal full of Caribbean flavor, this easy Jamaican rice and pigeon peas recipe with coconut milk will transport you to the islands. A delicious addition to your "rice and beans" repertoire using either canned pigeon peas or homemade.
Rice and peas is a vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free Jamaican meal that is typically served on Sundays and for special occasions. Pigeon peas and red kidney beans are both authentic legumes to include.
🧄 Ingredient notes
Most of the ingredients for this recipe are familiar. Let me focus in on a few potentially unfamiliar ingredients.
- Pigeon peas - Pigeon peas are a small, round bean that are grayish brown in color when dried. Fresh, they are green in color and often called gandules or gungo peas. For this dish, it is traditional to use either green or brown pigeon peas, as long as they are already cooked. Homemade, canned or frozen pigeon peas will all work, but canned or homemade are best, because you can add that flavorful broth to the dish. You can find pigeon peas in Caribbean or Indian grocery stores, online on Amazon or in the Latin American section of well-stocked grocery stores. Make your own pigeon peas in the Instant Pot at home.
- Basmati rice - The fragrance and texture of fluffy long grain basmati rice goes well in this dish
- Coconut milk - Use canned culinary coconut milk. Give the can a good shake before opening it. Coconut milk has a high percentage of fat, so I recommend using the reduced fat coconut milk for this. You can also use regular canned coconut milk, but do not use coconut cream. Coconut cream is very thick and works well for desserts.
- Scotch bonnet pepper - Traditionally, a whole scotch bonnet pepper is used in this recipe. If you can find them, use it! Do not cut it. Just gently add it to the pan to cook, whole, along with the rice and peas. Then, discard it before serving. Scotch bonnets are very hot, so be careful not to break it while stirring. If the seeds escape into your dish, it will be incredibly spicy. I have trouble sourcing scotch bonnet peppers, so I'm using scotch bonnet pepper powder instead.
📋 Substitutions and variations
Like with most iconic, well-loved dishes, there are as many recipes for Jamaican rice and peas as there are Jamaican cooks. A huge thank you to my friend Kim for helping me understand the ins and outs of rice and peas!
Here are some suitable substitutions for the ingredients:
- Pigeon peas - substitute the same amount of cooked red kidney beans for this recipe.
- Basmati rice - use long grain white rice instead of basmati rice. You could use jasmine rice or standard long grain white rice.
- Coconut milk - use canned coconut milk (reduced fat or regular) for best results. Instead of coconut milk, you can use vegetable broth, vegan no-chicken broth or vegan no-beef broth.
- Onion - instead of diced onion, you can use what is more a more authentic aromatic for this recipe: smashed scallions
- Scotch bonnet pepper - instead of a whole scotch bonnet pepper, use a whole uncut habanero pepper. If you can't find either of those, use scotch bonnet pepper powder or cayenne pepper powder for the spiciness.
- Spices - instead of dried thyme, use whole fresh thyme sprigs, which is more authentic. Also, some recipes include whole or ground allspice and sliced or minced ginger.
- Nut-free - make this coconut-free by using unsweetened, unflavored soy milk or vegetable broth instead of coconut milk
- WFPBNO - make this whole food plant based no oil by using brown rice, increasing the water by 1 cup and extending the cooking time by 20 minutes. You may also want to use vegetable broth or soy milk instead of coconut milk, since it is very high in fat.
- SOS-free - make this SOS-free by omitting the salt, cajun salt and using salt-free vegetable broth instead of coconut milk, which is high in fat
Jamaican rice and pigeon peas, using pre-cooked pigeon peas, cooks up in less than 30 minutes, so it makes an easy weeknight dinner. Here's how to make rice and peas, step by step.
To get started, heat a medium pan that has a tight-fitting lid over high heat on the stove.
Add 4 cups of liquid TOTAL to the pan, including the coconut milk, broth/liquid from peas and water.
Next, add the peas, onion, garlic and all the spices, salt and pepper.
Finally, add your rinsed rice. Stir one last time, reduce heat to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid and let cook for 15 minutes.
Do not uncover until 15 minutes has passed! This will allow the steam that is cooking the rice to escape.
When your timer has gone off, check your rice for doneness, especially around the edges of the pan. If the rice is not done, cover and cook another 5 minutes.
🥡 Make ahead and storage tips
Prepared rice and pigeon peas will keep stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days and in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Any leftover pigeon peas alone can be frozen as well! You can freeze the cooked peas dry in a plastic zip-top bag.
To use them, just add to a dish frozen. No need to thaw. They will thaw quickly, like frozen green peas.
Or, you can freeze the cooked pigeon peas with their broth/liquid in an airtight glass or plastic container. Be sure to leave extra empty room at the top of the container to allow the liquid to expand.
To use them, allow to thaw in a refrigerator overnight.
👨👩👦👦 Serving suggestions
Here are some meatless ideas for what to serve alongside your Jamaican rice and pigeon peas:
- Vegan sour cream (to counteract the spiciness!)
- Baked or air-fried plantains
- Sliced avocado
- Green salad
- Sautéed greens
- Jerk tofu steaks
- Jerk jackfruit
- Mango chutney or mango salsa
- Tropical fruit punch (with or without Jamaican rum)
- Grilled pineapple
☕️ Tea pairing
This creamy coconut milk rice and peas dish would be delicious paired with jamaican sorrel (hibiscus) tea or a delicate, light and floral jasmine oolong tea or jasmine green tea.
Yes, Jamaican rice and peas is a vegetarian or vegan dish, since no animal products are typically used in the meal. However, if eating at a restaurant, you should always ask first to be sure.
Pigeon peas are actually beans, but are called peas because of their small size. They are about ¼ of an inch wide and are typically light gray when dried. They turn a medium brown after cooking and have a nutty, minty flavor.
Cook pigeon peas (no soaking required) by adding them to the Instant Pot or pressure cooker, covering with a few inches of water and pressure cooking them for 40 minutes. They will be tender and ready to eat in less than one hour. See my full recipe for Instant Pot Pigeon Peas here.
Pigeon peas are called pigeon peas because historically they were used as pigeon fodder in Barbados.
You can find pigeon peas in Caribbean or Indian grocery stores, online on Amazon or in the Latin American section of well-stocked grocery stores.
Yes, but it is not traditionally made that way. Some alternative liquids you can use are: extra pigeon pea broth, vegetable broth, extra water or another type of milk.
Canned pigeon peas work well in rice and peas, although homemade is ideal. Use the cooked, canned pigeon peas, along with their broth in the dish and skip any steps at the beginning that involve softening the beans. This recipe (scroll down) works, as written, with canned pigeon peas.
Yes! Follow the instructions, but increase the liquid by 1 cup and extend the cooking time 20 minutes. A brown basmati rice or brown jasmine rice would both be delicious here.
First, check your ratios of liquid to rice. For this recipe, we are using a ratio of 2:1 liquid to rice. We have 4 cups of liquid total (broth, water and coconut milk combined) to 2 cups of white rice. Second, try cooking your rice covered longer to soak up the liquid. Third, what type of rice are you using? If it is par-boiled or quick cook rice, it doesn't take as much liquid to cook it as regular rice.
🗺 Cultural influences
Pigeon peas are a small, round bean native to Africa, but now widely available in Latin America, the Caribbean, India and Asia. They are also called Toor dal, Congo peas, Gungo peas, gandules and Caja pea.
Rice and beans seem to truly be a global food, although they look and taste different around the world. A few examples:
- Cuba: White rice and black beans, spiced with cumin
- Mexico: Spicy charro beans with tomato infused rice
- Spain: Paella valenciana, a saffron rice dish often including chickpeas
- India: Cumin seed rice (jeera rice) with dal (lentils)
This Jamaican rice and pigeon peas recipe is eaten throughout the island of Jamaica, as well as anywhere Jamaicans have migrated over the years.
There are versions of this in many other Caribbean islands such as Trinidad and Barbados, as well. Arroz con gandules, using green pigeon peas, in Puerto Rico is one example.
A few of my dear Jamaican friends, Kim and Jenae, were kind enough to answer all my questions about this dish, so I could present a mostly authentic, yet accessible version here. I hope you enjoy it!
Check out Jessica in the Kitchen for an authentic rice and peas recipe using kidney beans!
💜 More recipes you'll love
If you loved this rice and peas recipe, try these other vegan bean recipes!
Jamaican Rice and Pigeon Peas
- Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pan with a tight fitting lid
- 1 cup reduced fat coconut milk
- 2 cups liquid/broth from pigeon peas (or extra water, if you don't have enough broth)
- 1 cup water
- 3 cups cooked pigeon peas* with liquid reserved (about 2 cans)
- 1 small onion diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced or crushed
- 1 ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon cajun salt we use Tony Chachere's
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon scotch bonnet pepper powder**
- 2 cups white basmati rice rinsed
- Heat a dutch oven or medium heavy bottomed pan that has a tight-fitting lid over high heat.
- Add coconut milk, broth/liquid from peas and water to the pan. You need 4 cups of total combined liquid (broth/liquid from peas, coconut milk and water) for this recipe. If you don't have a full 2 cups of broth, add extra water to make the total liquid equal 4 cups in the pan. If you have extra broth, use it and reduce/omit the water. Just make sure you add only 4 cups of liquid total to the pan.1 cup reduced fat coconut milk, 2 cups liquid/broth from pigeon peas, 1 cup water
- Add peas, onion, garlic, all spices, salt and pepper to pan. Stir and bring to a boil.3 cups cooked pigeon peas*, 1 small onion, 3 cloves garlic, 1 ½ teaspoon dried thyme, ½ teaspoon garlic powder, ½ teaspoon sea salt, ½ teaspoon cajun salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, ¼ teaspoon scotch bonnet pepper powder**
- Add rice to pan, stir and bring back to a boil.2 cups white basmati rice
- Stir one last time, reduce heat to low, cover with tight fitting lid and set a timer for 15 minutes.
- Do not open until 15 minutes has passed (this will cause the steam to escape).
- After 15 minutes has passed, check on rice and ensure it's done, especially around the edges of the pan. If it's not done, allow it to cook another 3-5 minutes, covered.
- Once done, turn heat off, fluff rice gently and serve.