Jamaican rice & peas with fresh coconut

Jamaican rice & peas with fresh coconut

V is for Vegan

My neighbour Karen, also a single mum, who comes from a Jamaican background, has started a sideline in selling proper Jamaican food to other mums outside the school gate. She’s named herself Msricenpeas. Parents are flocking to buy tubs of her rice and peas, callaloo and jerk chicken. I can’t blame them – it’s delicious, healthy and, whilst seemingly simple, it’s time-consuming to make properly.

Rice and peas is the mainstay food of Jamaican cuisine. ‘Peas’ are beans, and the further south, the darker the legume. Caribbean islands near to the Southern States of America will often use the black-eyed pea as I have. Jamaicans use the pinto bean. Islands closer to South America will use the small black turtle bean. The smaller the pea, the sweeter it is.

Karen kindly gave me her recipe. A couple of pointers: it surprised me that she soaked the peas with garlic and onion ‘to soften them’. Softening those peas is important. And I had some fresh coconut, so I cooked my peas with a few large slices. It lent a rich depth to the flavour.


Quantity Ingredient
200g dried blackeyed, pinto or black turtle beans
1/2 onion, peeled
2 garlic cloves, peeled, 1 whole and 1 sliced
4-6 pimento berries
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1/2 red pepper, deseeded and sliced
50-75g creamed coconut
2-3 fresh sprigs of thyme
or 1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 scotch bonnet chilli
1/2 fresh coconut, peeled and sliced
2 small slices fresh ginger
500g basmati rice
1 tablespoon coconut oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper


  1. Soak the beans in filtered or cooled boiled water from the kettle, overnight if possible, adding the onion and whole garlic clove halfway through (yes, I have woken up in the night to put onion and garlic in my beans). Drain, discard the onion and garlic and tip the beans into a heavy pot or casserole.
  2. Add the pimento berries and sliced garlic and cover everything with boiling water. Simmer over a low heat for 45 minutes, then add the spring onions and red pepper and simmer until the beans are cooked. Don’t let them get too soft; they should smell sweet and creamy.
  3. Pour just enough hot water over the creamed coconut to dissolve, then add to the beans. You can add more or less if you prefer; I find too much coconut cream makes the rice greasy. Add the thyme, soy sauce, whole Scotch bonnet, fresh coconut and ginger and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Then fish out and discard the whole Scotch bonnet. Wash the rice and, once it is free of starch, add it to the beans and stir with a fork. Add about 1 litre water and the coconut oil. Add salt and pepper to taste and cook, covered, over a low heat (or in the oven at 160°C) until the rice is soft and fluffy, checking on the water levels but without stirring. Enjoy!
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