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Taste of the Caribbean: Jamaican Gungo Peas and Rice Makes Christmas Nice

Taste of the Caribbean: Jamaican Gungo Peas and Rice Makes Christmas Nice
Jamaican Gungo Peas and Rice/SBPR

There are many great flavors of the Holiday Season in Jamaica, but arguably none is more cherished than Gungo Peas. The hearty green (when raw) legumes ripen just in time for the Christmas period, providing a sure sign of the gift-giving, fetes and fun soon to come. Typically prepared with rice, or in a soup with ham, Gungo Peas are a staple of Christmas meals here.

But, this is not true in Jamaica alone.

I may not be Jamaican, but I can sure remember what the site of these peas ripening in our yard in St. Croix meant to me. Like most other places not named Jamaica, we called ‘em Pigeon Peas. As a kid, I used to love plucking them right off the bushes and eating them raw. Even more fun was harvesting them. We’d spend hours at a time picking the pods, removing the peas and trying not to eat them all, our parents scolding us along the way to save some for the Holiday meals to come.

In my Mom’s Trini style of cooking, Pigeon Peas would be stewed separately with ham or beef and served atop a bed of rice, usually with macaroni pie and callaloo when we were good. Sometimes, it would also be curried like this.

In Jamaica, though, Gungo Peas and Rice is a singular dish, prepared all together in one pot. At least that’s the way I had always heard it was prepared there, though I hadn’t tried my hand at cooking up a batch ’til tonight. Here’s the recipe I followed…

Ingredients:
  • 2 Cups Cooked Gungo Peas
  • 2 Cups of Rice
  • 2 Cups Coconut Milk
  • 1 Onion, Minced
  • 1 Hot Pepper, Chopped
  • 2 tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • 4 Cups of Water

Heat your vegetable oil in a frying pan, add the onions and sauté until they’re golden brown. Combine your onions, chopped hot pepper, coconut milk, salt, pepper and rice into a large, heavy pot, add four cups of water and bring your mix to a boil. Next, turn down the heat, cover your pot and allow your mix to simmer for about 30 minutes. Once done, your rice should be nice and tender. Finally, mix in your pre-cooked Gungo Peas and serve.

This is a good, quick and easy recipe, perfect for busy parents like me, especially if you can find a can of Gungo Peas at your local grocery store. The Publix near my house in Fort Lauderdale had them just a couple shelves up from the Ting and DG Ginger Beer.

Of course, the flavor was not the same quality as what you’d get if you had fresh Gungo Peas growing in your yard, but it worked out okay just the same.

As another tip, I highly recommend you come strong with the pepper, and maybe even add a little Kuchela for a kick of spice and added flavor. On its own, this recipe skews a bit on the bland side, but with the right add-ons, it really sings.

Give it a try and enjoy a truly irie Christmas.

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  • Gillian Anderson

    This recipe is good but you seem to be short 1 cup of rice. Rice needs to be cooked on a 2 to 1 ratio. Two cups water to 1 cup rice. I think thats why your rice looks a little mushy in the picture. I’m Jamaican and we always add garlic and green pepper finely minced and fresh thyme to the pot. In no way am I disrespecting your recipe but I thought it might be food for thought.