Infused with coconut milk and Caribbean herbs and spices, this Jamaican Pigeon Peas and Rice recipe is comforting and flavorful. It’s the ultimate side dish.
Growing up in Jamaica, gungo peas and rice was a dish frequently served during family dinners and special events alongside curries and stews.
This particular recipe is a take on my Jamaican Rice and Peas dish, substituting the kidney beans with the pigeon peas or gungo peas in this version.
Almost every ingredient is made from scratch, including the coconut milk! Usually, it would take my family several hours to prepare this dish. However, I’ve made a few adjustments to speed up the cooking time for convenience without sacrificing any flavor.
A pressure cooker is a great way to cook the pigeon peas quickly to obtain a perfect tender texture in a short amount of time. Then, finish cooking in a pot (preferably a dutch pot) to absorb all the great flavors from the herbs and spices.
Key Ingredient Notes
- Dried pigeon peas – also called gungo peas. Soak overnight for quicker cooking. Fresh pigeon peas are sometimes used as well. These don’t require soaking. A 15-ounce can of gungo peas is a good substitute if needed.
- Long grain white rice: regular or Jasmine rice works well.
- Unsweetened dried coconut meat or coconut flakes – used to make coconut milk. A can of unsweetened coconut milk or cream can also be used.
- All-purpose or mild jerk seasoning – for added flavor without the spiciness.
- Scallions or escallions – These have a more robust flavor than green onions. The Jamaican variety have purple-colored roots.
- Fresh thyme – gives the best flavor but dried thyme can be used.
- Allspice – also called pimento. Whole allspice, manually ground at home is best but pre-ground can be used.
- Scotch bonnet pepper: Choose one that is whole, uncut, and unbruised to manage the spice levels.
How to Make Jamaican Rice and Pigeon Peas
1. Prepare the Peas
- Soak dried pigeon peas in water overnight. Place in a bowl and set on the counter at room temperature. Cover with a kitchen towel.
- Add the peas to a pot or pressure cooker. Fill with water until 1 inch above the peas. Cover with a lid.
- Cook for one hour in the pot or 20 minutes in the pressure cooker. If needed, add water to the pot to maintain a level of 1 inch above the peas.
2. Make the coconut milk
- Blend unsweetened coconut flakes with warm water for 2 minutes.
- Strain the mixture to extract as much liquid as possible.
- Set the coconut milk aside.
3. Prepare the cooking broth for the rice
- Add the pigeon peas and cooking liquid to a fresh pot. If using a can of peas, add them to the pot with their liquid.
- Add the homemade coconut milk to the pot.
- Stir in jerk seasoning, scallions, garlic cloves, thyme, allspice, scotch bonnet pepper, salt, and black pepper.
- Cover the pot and bring it to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer until the liquid is reduced.
4. Wash the rice and add to the pot
- Wash the rice until the water runs clear.
- Add drained rice to the pot of peas and broth. Ensure the broth level is 1 inch above the rice. Add water if needed.
- Cover with a sheet of aluminum foil and a lid. Cook for 12 to 15 minutes until tender and all the liquid is absorbed.
- Set it aside to rest for 10 minutes.
- Remove the strands of scallion, thyme branches, and scotch bonnet pepper. Fluff with a fork and serve.
Key Tips to Follow
- Soak dried pigeon peas overnight for faster cooking. It would take a few hours to cook unsoaked peas. Soaking them for at least 8 hours overnight shortens that cooking time significantly.
- Use a pressure cooker to speed up the cooking time further. The result is perfectly cooked peas in a third of the time compared to a pot of boiling water!
- Use warm water when making coconut milk. The warm water helps extract the natural oils in the coconut flakes for a more flavorful end product.
- Handle scotch bonnet pepper with care. Add it to the broth in whole form to manage spice levels and extract flavor from the skin. Most of the spice is in the seeds—Wash your hands well after handling.
- Use fresh thyme and freshly ground allspice for a depth of flavor. Dried thyme and pre-ground allspice are good alternatives if the aforementioned is not available. However, for the best flavor, follow the recipe exactly.
This dish keeps in the fridge for up to 3 days in an airtight container. It may spoil or become sour if stored longer due to the fat in the coconut milk becoming rancid.
To freeze this dish, store it in an airtight container for up to a month.
How to Reheat
To reheat rice and peas stored in the fridge, microwave for a few minutes in a heatproof dish.
Thaw in the fridge or warm it directly in the microwave to defrost. It helps to add a splash of water to rehydrate the rice.
More Jamaican recipes
- Vegan Jamaican Curry Tofu
- Jamaican Easter Bun Recipe with Yeast
- Vegan Jamaican Fruit Cake (with Alcohol-free Option)
- Jamaican Vegan Stew Peas
Jamaican Pigeon Peas and Rice
- Pressure Cooker
- Pot for cooking rice
- Aluminium Foil
Baking Recipes: For more accuracy, use Metric measurements and measuring spoons.
- ¾ cup (127 g) dried pigeon peas, presoaked (See Notes)
- ¾ cup (60 g) unsweetened coconut flakes
- 1 ½ cup (355 ml) warm water
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) all-purpose or mild jerk seasoning
- 2 stalks scallion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
- 1 sprig fresh thyme, or 2 tsp dried
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) whole allspice, manually ground (or ½ tsp pre-ground)
- 1 whole scotch bonnet pepper, uncut and unbruised (See Notes)
- 1 ½ teaspoon (7 g) salt, (less if using salted canned peas)
- ½ teaspoon (2 g) black pepper
- 2 cups (370 g) long grain rice
Prepare the dried pigeon peas:
- Add the presoaked peas to a pot or pressure cooker.¾ cup (127 g) dried pigeon peas
- Fill the pot with enough fresh water to ensure the level is 1 inch above the peas (about 3.5 cups/800ml). Cover with a lid.
- Cook on high heat for one hour in the pot (adding more water if needed to maintain the level) or 15 minutes in a pressure cooker.
Make fresh coconut milk (or skip to the next section if using a 14oz can):
- Add the shredded unsweetened coconut flakes to a blender with warm water.¾ cup (60 g) unsweetened coconut flakes ,1 ½ cup (355 ml) warm water
- Blend for 2 minutes. I used an immersion blender for easier cleanup.
- Strain the mixture, extracting as much liquid as possible. I used a nut milk bag which is super fine and much easier to use.
- Set the coconut milk aside.
Make the cooking broth for the rice:
- Once the peas are cooked, allow the pressure cooker to release before opening.
- If you’re using a standard pressure cooker. Place the pot in the sink and run some cool water over it until the pressure fully releases.
- Add the precooked peas with liquid or undrained canned peas to a pot more suitable for cooking rice. If you cooked the peas in the rice pot then no need to remove them.
- Add the homemade coconut milk (or canned coconut milk) to the pot.
- Stir in the jerk seasoning, scallion, garlic cloves, thyme, allspice, scotch bonnet pepper, salt and black pepper.1 teaspoon (5 g) all-purpose or mild jerk seasoning ,2 stalks scallion ,2 cloves garlic ,1 sprig fresh thyme ,1 teaspoon (5 g) whole allspice ,1 whole scotch bonnet pepper ,1 ½ teaspoon (7 g) salt ,½ teaspoon (2 g) black pepper
- Cover the pot and bring to a boil at high heat for 5 minutes.
- Decrease the heat to low and continue cooking for 15 minutes or until the liquid is reduced and has a deep reddish-brown color.
- Key tip: If your pot doesn’t already have a vent, slightly ventilate the lid to prevent any boiling over.
Wash the rice:
- Add the rice to a large bowl and fill with water.2 cups (370 g) long grain rice
- Stir to release the starches that could make the rice stick together while cooking. Drain.
- Repeat the rinsing and draining steps until the water is clear (about 4 to 5 times total).
Cook the rice:
- Once the broth is ready, add the drained rice to the pot.
- Add more water if needed to ensure the level is 1 inch above the rice.
- Cover with a sheet of aluminum foil, then the lid.
- Allow the rice to cook and steam for 12 to 15 minutes or until it’s tender and all the liquid is absorbed.
- Allow it to rest for 10 minutes after cooking. Remove the strands of scallion, thyme branches and scotch bonnet pepper. before gently stirring with a fork.
- Soak pigeon peas for 8 hours or overnight in double the amount of water. Drain and rinse.
- Alternatively, use one 15oz/425g can of dried pigeon peas for this recipe. Add it at Step #3 under “Make the cooking broth for the rice”.
- When using scotch bonnet pepper in this recipe, the goal is to extract the flavor from the skin without the spiciness. Most of the spiciness is in the seeds so it should be fine to use as long as it’s not cut or bruised.
- Scotch Bonnet is one of the hottest peppers in the world (10 to 50 times hotter than jalapeños) so handle with care and wash your hands with soap after using.