We just got back from a wonderful trip to Jamaica. This is our third visit, and it’s always such a welcome treat to dip our toes in the sand, feel the warm tropical breezes, hear birds chirping, and see every shade of blue imaginable all in the middle of winter!
And the food! Amazing locally grown coffee from the Blue Mountains; fresh caught conch straight from the sea, tropical fruits dazzle with a rainbow of color, coconuts plucked right from the tree, notched open, and a straw stuck in. Sidenote… I didn’t know until our first visit that not all coconuts are brown and “hairy.” By the time a coconut has reached that point, it is already dried up inside, leaving only the meat. The green coconuts, still hanging on the tree, are full of sweet coconut water, ready for drinking. After you finish drinking the water, the coconut can be completely split open allowing you to scoop the soft flesh enjoying it like custard. My daughter loves it sprinkled with sugar before she digs in!
We ate well everyday… oxtail, curry goat, fish, coconut shrimp, and of course, jerk chicken and pork. Almost every dinner included a side of rice and peas, not green peas, but beans. The rice and peas are steamed in sweet coconut milk with onions, garlic, and thyme; they are perfect to eat on their own or served as a side dish.
I’ve already made Jamaican Rice and Peas since we’ve been home, and it’s definitely going into the rotation. I served it alongside pork tenderloin that had been marinated in a wet rub of jerk seasoning. But again, this dish works with a wide variety of meats and fish, or stands alone with a simple green salad as a complete meal.
Cook’s notes: Check for salt as you go along… the coconut milk is naturally sweet, and combined with the low sodium broth, you may find it necessary to add more salt to suit your taste. The hot pepper isn’t required, but it does add the most lovely hint of fruity heat because it’s kept whole. Allspice is a very traditional component of jerk seasoning and I like bringing that flavor into the dish. This recipe uses canned kidney beans as a matter of convenience; feel free to use dried beans that you soak and cook yourself. If you go that route, be sure to save some of the cooking liquid to use for cooking the rice- just swap out an equal amount of chicken broth. Finally, the cooking method, baking the rice in the oven, is from the New York Time’s Cookbook, “The Perfect Batch of Rice”. It’s hands down my favorite no-fail method of cooking rice.
Jamaican Rice and Peas
2 Tablespoons coconut oil, butter, or extra virgin olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, smashed
2 cups long grain white rice, rinsed and drained
salt to taste
3 cups liquid (1 13.5oz can coconut milk + enough chicken broth to total 3 cups combined)
4 sprigs thyme
¼ tsp allspice or 3 allspice berries
1 scotch bonnet or habanero pepper, left whole
1 15oz can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Heat oil or butter bottom in bottom of ovenproof saucepan. Add the finely chopped onion. Stir and cook until onion wilts. Add the smashed garlic and sauté for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the rice and stir until the grains are coated. Add salt to taste.
Add the coconut milk and chicken broth. Add hot pepper, thyme, and allspice to the rice and let broth come to a boil.
Stir in kidney beans. Cover pan and place in the oven. Set timer for 17 minutes.
Remove pan from the oven. Let stand 5 minutes, then uncover. Remove thyme, scotch bonnet, garlic clove, and allspice berries if using. Gently fluff rice with fork. Check for seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.