Jamaican Rice and Peas

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

Seductions of Rice

By Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Published 1998

  • About

Versions of this classic, a first cousin of Hoppin’ John with a Side of Peas, are made all around the Caribbean. As a satisfying one-dish meal, rice and peas is easy to prepare but subtle and distinctive in its taste. (The legumes we know as beans are called peas in the Caribbean.) You can eat it with pleasure over and over again. No wonder it holds claim to “national dish” status in Jamaica.

Basic ingredients are long-grain rice, kidney beans, and usually coconut milk; the rest are a combination of whatever else a particular cook likes to include in her or his rice and peas. We like this version, but you can leave out any or all of the optional ingredients (tomato, bell pepper, hot chile) if you wish. Serve this with guacamole or salsa and a green salad.

Because large legumes like kidney beans and chickpeas take a long time to cook, we like to cook them in large batches, unseasoned, and then freeze them in two-cup portions. If you’re starting with precooked or canned kidney beans (or using a pressure cooker for your beans), this recipe takes less than half an hour.


  • 1 cup kidney beans, soaked overnight in water to cover and drained, or cups cooked or canned kidney beans
  • 6 cups water (1 cup if using canned or cooked beans)
  • teaspoons salt (less if using salted canned beans)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, vegetable oil, or bacon drippings
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • cups canned or fresh coconut milk
  • 1 large tomato, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 red (bell) pepper, stem, seeds, and membranes discarded, and chopped (optional)
  • 2 to 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 Scotch bonnet or habanero chile (optional)
  • 2 cups long-grain white rice, thoroughly washed and drained
  • Freshly ground black pepper


If using soaked and drained kidney beans, place the beans and water in a large heavy pot, bring to a boil, and boil until tender, about 2 hours. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt just as the cooking is completed. If using canned or cooked beans, place the beans and 1 cup water in a large heavy pot over medium heat and simmer until well warmed. If the beans are unsalted, stir in 1 teaspoon salt. Remove the beans from the heat.

Heat the oil or drippings in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add the garlic. When the garlic begins to change color, add the onion. Fry, stirring constantly, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk, the optional tomato and red pepper, and the thyme. Bring almost to the boil, stir well, and add to the cooked beans.

Mix in the optional chile pepper and the drained rice and add enough water so that the rice is covered by ¾ inch. Add the remaining teaspoons salt and black pepper to taste. Bring to a full boil, stirring occasionally to keep the rice from sticking, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Let cook for 20 minutes, then remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Discard the chile and stir the rice and beans gently before serving.