This is a shortcut and slightly Americanized version of Jamaican rice and red beans, a traditional favorite, simply called “rice and peas” in the island nation.
I first learned to make this the authentic way from a Jamaican friend named Olive. We cooked the beans from scratch and cracked open and grated a whole coconut. While it was fun project, it was rather time-consuming. Busy families may enjoy this quick route to a satisfying and economical dish.
Olive learned to cook the old-fashioned way—at her mother’s side, on the family farm near Montego Bay, Jamaica. Her mother grew everything the family needed for sustenance, from tangerines, bananas, coconuts, plantains, and avocados to coffee and cocoa beans. Each day, food was freshly picked and prepared. “On Sundays,” she recalled, “we made ‘rice and peas,’ just like every family on the island does.”
The tasty national dish of Jamaica is made with rice, small dried red beans, a whole fresh coconut, and flavored simply with onion and garlic. Sometimes a Scotch bonnet pepper is added to the dish for some heat.
My workarounds in this version are basically using canned coconut milk and canned beans (though you can certainly cook your own, especially if you have a pressure cooker or Instant Pot®).
If you have rice cooked ahead of time, this dish is such a breeze — the kind of simple, warming dish you won’t mind making even after a long day of work. I like to serve this with a green vegetable side dish — leafy greens, green beans, asparagus, or broccoli.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 1/2 to 4 cups cooked brown rice, any variety (see note)
- 3 to 4 cups cooked small red beans or two 15-ounce cans, drained and rinsed
- 15-ounce can light coconut milk
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh leaves)
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro, optional
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Heat the oil in a small soup pot or steep-sided stir-fry pan. Add the onion and sauté over medium-low heat until translucent. Add the garlic and continue to sauté until the onion is golden.
- Add the rice, beans, coconut milk, curry, and thyme. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, or until most of the coconut milk is absorbed. The mixture should be moist but not soupy.
- Stir in the scallions and optional parsley or cilantro. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.
What makes this dish so quick to make is assuming that you have cooked rice on hand. But if you don’t, use 1 1/2 cups long-grain rice and 3 1/2 cups water to cook the rice from scratch.
Or, you can use a 6-serving portion of quick-cooking brown rice. The latter isn’t as good, but it will get your dish to the table in no time.
Sometimes, a Scotch bonnet chile pepper (which is very hot!) is added to the dish. If you'd like to add one or two, or another type of small hot chile pepper, seeded and minced, feel free to do so. Add in step 2.
Amount Per Serving:Calories: 212Total Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 22mgCarbohydrates: 34gFiber: 6gSugar: 3gProtein: 6g
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