November 30, 2005

Rice and Beans, Jamaican style

I eat rather a lot of beans, for someone who grew up with beans primarily in chili or occasionally in the Boston Baked family of dishes. I embraced garbanzos for hummus, the Southwestern American tradition of adding black beans to just about anything, black or pinto beans for refried beans at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and flageolets for cassoulet. Got exciting variants, like Romano beans, Cranberry beans, Pink-eyed peas? Anasazi beans? Bring 'em on. I do like beans.

I also eat a lot of rice, partly because I came late to some of the great rice-based cuisines, and am now making up for lost time. The New Orleans classic, Red Beans and Rice, was a happy combination of these two ingredients and led to other discoveries such as Moros & Cristianos, and, at long last, Jamaican Rice and Peas. At first, I was a little concerned about the title "Rice and Peas" because I'm notoriously unfriendly toward the green garden variety of pea (unless a) raw, b) whole, such as snow-peas, or c) as split pea soup). From there, I confess to being a little confused, when the pea-component of the dish turned out to be considerably more bean-like in character, often being made with kidney beans. I'll happily eat kidney beans, so there was no worry about it, but it didn't entirely make sense to me.

Eventually, I discovered that the traditional pea used in Jamaica is the Pigeon Pea, which is a brown, oval bean originating in Africa. At last, I was able to align the Pigeon Pea with the Black-Eyed Pea in my mind, and came to a sort of understanding.

The thing that makes Jamaican Rice and Peas so very appealing is that it is quite spicy, and contains coconut milk, another ingredient I have come to love. Additionally, Rice and Peas is a one-pot dinner, which makes clean-up a quick affair.

There are as many Rice and Pea recipes as there are cooks who make it, like national dishes the world over. This one is adapted from Full of Beans by the delightfully named Violet Currie and Kay Spicer. It's a lower-fat version than many you'll find, but the flavour is fantastic. I use Kidney beans, as the recipe suggests. Pigeon peas are difficult to come by, in this neck of the woods. Usually, I make this as a side dish and omit the ham, which makes it vegetarian/vegan.

Jamaican Rice and Beans
adapted from Full of Beans by Violet Currie and Kay Spicer

1 teaspoon canola oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cooked kidney beans (drained and rinsed, if canned)
160 ml coconut milk plus water to make 1 cup liquid
1 cup diced ham (optional)
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce of your choice (habanero would be very appropriate)
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground sage
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup uncooked rice (I use parboiled for this dish)
1 medium red bell pepper, diced (optional)
sliced green onions to garnish

In a medium pot with a tight-fitting lid, cook the diced onion, garlic in the canola oil until it starts to turn translucent. Add the beans, coconut milk, ham (if using), and spices, and bring to a boil. Let cook, stirring, for about a minute, and then add the rice and 1 & 3/4 cups boiling water. Bring the mixture back up to a boil, stirring, then immediately cover. Turn down the heat to a bare simmer and leave undisturbed (no peeking!) for 25 minutes. When it is done, stir gently and fold in the bell pepper garnish. Sprinkle with green onions and serve.


Michele said...

Ours is a bean family as well, I cannot wait to try your recipe!

Randi said...

yummy, i love rice and beans. My favorite bean is black. We're having a cookie exchange on Saturday and we;re making fajitas for dinner along with rice and beans.

Dawna said...

Let me know how it goes, Michele!

Randi, I love home-made fajitas, especially with a side of Cuban style black beans...

sailu said...

first time commenting here...the rice dish looks so good.Its on my must-try dish..:):)

Dawna said...

Sailu, I hope you try it!

LisaSD said...

I too love coconut milk and the convenience of a one-pot meal! Do you suppose I could use pintos in this?

Dawna said...

Hi Lisa,
You could absolutely use pinto beans, or cranberry beans, or Anasazi, or even black beans. Any bean will probably do, but I think that ones that offer colour-contrast with the white rice look prettiest.

Michele said...

Dawna, I finally made this tonight and it was amazing! I changed the recipe a bit (to tone down the spiciness) and hubby and the kids gave it a thumbs up. Thanks for sharing this!

kickpleat said...

ooh, this looks fantastic! i'll definitely be making this sometime soon. thanks for sharing.

Dawna said...

Michele, that's awesome. I'm so glad you liked it! This is one of those dishes where, when I make it after not having had it for a while, I can't imagine why it's not on the menu every week!

Kickpleat, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Anonymous said...

i was feeling like jamaican food last night so i googled recipes for jerk chicken, rice, beans & plantains. yours was the first i stumbled upon. it killed 2 birds with one stone. IT WAS WONDERFUL! i used a can of black beans plus i added a little extra habanero hot sauce and it was so so so so good! this will now be a staple at my house. THANKS!!!