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Cheap Eats: Welcome to the Austerity Kitchen

twig's picture

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While we wait for the economic recovery to materialize (should be here any day now, right?), we still have to eat. So here, courtesy of my Jamaican neighbor, is a very simple recipe for what's known there as "peas and rice." It's cheap, keeps really well, and you can stockpile most of the ingredients in the disaster preparedness kit, which, I hope, we all have.

A Jamaican cook would use pigeon peas, which should be available in the frozen food section of an ethnic market. If those aren't available, red kidney beans are good substitutes. The beans are cooked with rice and seasonings in coconut milk with a whole Scotch bonnet chile pepper. If Scotch bonnet peppers aren't available, use a habanero, the fiery orange things shown above. Apparently, the word "hot" doesn't quite do either of these peppers justice. Experts recommend cutting them only while wearing plastic gloves and being careful not to touch your face, etc. until you've removed the gloves and washed your hands. Fortunately, cooking the pepper whole (and removing it before serving) imparts a slight peppery flavor to food, without the blistering heat.

Jamaican Rice and Peas


1/2 lb medium-sized red kidney beans or pigeon peas
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup of white rice
one small onion, chopped
one clove garlic, chopped
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp ground Jamaican allspice
1 tablespoon oil
1 Scotch bonnet or habanero pepper, whole

Boil red kidney beans or peas in water until tender. Drain and rinse thoroughly. Return beans/peas to pot, add onions, garlic, thyme, Scotch bonnet or habanero and oil, plus the coconut milk and enough water to make a total of three cups of liquid. Bring to a boil, add rice and stir for one minute. Reduce heat to Med-Low, cover tightly for 20 minutes or until rice is cooked. Remove pepper before serving.

Makes about four servings, but it's easy to double the ingredients and the leftovers taste even better the next day!

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MsExPat's picture
Submitted by MsExPat on

Your pepper picture is beautiful, but it doesn't look like the Scotch Bonnet I know from my years in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and Trinidad and Tobago. That pepper looks more like this:

Also--the recipe is great, but it's missing a key ingredient! Allspice (which in Jamaica is called pimenta). It's that round fragrant berry, and it is what makes Jamaican flavors so distinctive.

Finally, while you certainly can use kidney beans as a substitute, in the Caribbean a cook would use pigeon peas (in Puerto Rican and Dominican Spanish, gandules), which are available oftentimes in the frozen food sections of groceries in Latino neighborhoods.

Enough nitpickin', let's eat...

twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

Someone (forgot who, maybe his wife) told me to get a habanero. It might have been a convenience thing, since habaneros are easy to find here.

Allspice sounds like it would be a big help, because the flavor is a wee bit bland. Is that the same allspice we have here?

Yes, different "peas," for sure, he did tell me that! That reminds me, i was going to write about shopping in ethnic markets -- great produce and about 1/3 the price in supermarkets.

Thanks for the suggestions, MxExPat! I'll update the recipe tomorrow. Yummmm!!

Stephanie's picture
Submitted by Stephanie on

Years ago I bought seedlings of green peppers at the local gardening place. When I bought them I probably thought they were the regular thick-walled, squarish, ordinary green peppers. But someone must have moved those identity sticks, because they turned out to be much better.

They were green, but shaped like the narrow, longish, hotter red peppers, with thinner "walls". They were not as hot as red peppers, but certainly not as bland as regular green peppers. They were pretty much perfect as far as I was concerned.

Any idea as to what variety they were? If so, thanks. If not, thanks anyway and I'll keep searching.

Stephanie's picture
Submitted by Stephanie on

I'm looking into it, they look similar.