03 July 2008

Jamaican Rice and Peas

When I was in college, there was a little Jamaican restaurant tucked into a deli in Oak Park that I used to frequent whenever I had the taste for that delicious and well-known dish, rice and peas. Of course when most people think of Jamaican cuisine, the ever ubiquitous "jerk" chicken or pork comes to mind, but the frugal and pleasantly spiced "national dish" is the beauty you see above. Great for vegetarians (just substitute veggie broth for the chicken broth/stock) and bean lovers alike, I fell in love with the simple, creamy and earthy flavors that intermingle in this dish. Sage, allspice, coconut, jalapeno, and thyme don't fight for attention but rather join forces. I can recall the first time I ever ordered it, thinking that it would satisfy my taste for peas (my obsession with peas runs deep). Little did I know however that "peas" in Jamaica actually refers to kidney beans and/or pigeon peas. I wasn't disappointed by this discovery since after the first bite the essence of coconut and the creamy yet crisp texture of kidney beans revealed to me nothing short of a miracle. My first words after consuming this dish for the first time? Mazel tov.

Here's my favorite at-home recipe for this great summer dish. I served it with chicken tacos since I was a little tired of serving black bean stew, but it's also a great barbeque party dish since this recipe yields enough rice and peas to actually feed the population of Jamaica. And thankfully, on a hot summer day, this dish does not need to stew in the pot as long as black bean stew.

Jamaican Rice and Peas

Jamaican Beans & Rice

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 chopped red or green pepper (I actually used a yellow pepper)

2 cloves minced garlic

1/2 small jalapeno chili, veins and seeds discarded, minced

1 1/4 tsp. dried thyme leaves (I used fresh from the garden)

1/4 tsp. ground allspice

1/2 tsp. ground sage (again from the garden)

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

2 cups fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth (using chicken stock adds a fuller flavor)

1 can coconut milk (or use 2 tbsp. coconut cream and increase your broth/stock accordingly)

Two 15 oz. cans red beans or black beans, drained and rinsed, or 3 cups cooked dry packaged beans

2 cups cubed and peeled sweet potatoes (1/2 inch cubes) (skip this step if in a hurry but it's worth the time if you have it)

3 Tbsp. lime juice

1 1/2 cups rice (if you can, use brown rice--healthy and no one will notice with all of the colors in this dish)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Heat oil in a large pot or dutch oven. Add onions and garlic almost soft and almost translucent. Add spices, sweet potato and peppers. Stir for a minute. Add broth or stock, then coconut milk and kidney beans. Bring to a boil, and then add rice. Turn heat to low-medium and cover. No peeking! Simmer for twenty or so minutes (or until rice is done) and remove from heat. Add a squeeze of lime juice.

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