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Jamaican Gungo Peas and Rice Recipe – Taste of the Caribbean

There are many great flavors of the Holiday Season in Jamaica. Arguably none, though, is more cherished than Jamaican Gungo Peas and Rice. 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 in JA.

This, however, is not true in Jamaica alone…

My Mom’s Gungo Peas

I may not be Jamaican, but I can sure remember what the sight 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 for my mom to cook.

We’d spend hours picking the pods, removing the peas, and trying not to eat them all, our parents scolding us along the way to save enough 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. Macaroni pie and callaloo would often accompany the dish when we were good. Sometimes, it would also be curried like this.

My Jamaican Gungo Peas and Rice

In Jamaica, though, Gungo Peas and Rice is a singular dish, prepared all together in one pot… Most of the time. 

My personal preference is to prepare the gungo peas separately from the rice and combine it all at the end. It’s a small difference that likely rates my Gungo Peas and Rice a little less authentic to some. To me, though, the variance take nothing away from the savory magic that is the sum of all the Gungo Peas and Rice ingredients once blended together.

Here’s the recipe…

Ingredients:
  • 1 Can (15 oz) Cooked Gungo Peas
  • 2 Cups of Parboiled Rice
  • 1 Can (15 oz) Coconut Milk
  • 1 Onion, Minced
  • 1 Hot Pepper, Chopped
  • 2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • 4 Cups of Water

How To Cook Up My Jamaican Gungo Peas and Rice

Step 1: Grab a small saucepan. Empty your can of pigeon peas in there. Season with salt and pepper to taste and warm it up over medium-high heat.

Step 2: Heat your vegetable oil in a separate large, heavy cast iron or cast aluminum pot. Add your minced onions and sauté until they’re golden brown.

Step 3: Throw your chopped hot pepper, coconut milk, salt, pepper, and rice into the pot with your golden brown onions. Add four cups of hot water and bring your mix to a boil.

Step 4: Turn down the heat, cover your pot, and allow your mix to simmer for 30 minutes. Once done, your rice should be nice and tender.

Step 5: Mix your pre-cooked pigeon peas into your nice, tender rice and serve.

This is a great quick and easy recipe, perfect for busy parents, especially if you can find a can of gungo peas (or pigeon peas) at your local grocery store. The Publix near my house in Fort Lauderdale had them just a couple shelves up from the Ting soda and DG Ginger Beer.

Of course, the flavor was not the same quality as what you’d get if you had fresh pigeon peas growing in your yard, but it works out great just the same.

As another tip, I highly recommend you come strong with the pepper. My wife and kids love spicy food, so I usually opt for a half-a-habanero or scotch bonnet pepper, seeds and all, of course.

Recommended Sides and Pairings

Jamaican Gungo Peas and Rice pairs beautifully will all manner of meats, fish, and veggies. To keep things as Jamaican as possible, that generally means Jerk Chicken or Pork made with Walkerswood Hot & Spicy Traditional Jerk Seasoning

We keep things spicy Jamaican for our drinks as well with ginger beer. If that’s too much spice for you, then Ting grapefruit soda or Red Stripe are always nice alternatives.

Give the recipe a try and enjoy a truly irie meal, be it at Christmastime or any time you’re craving a taste a Jamaica.

Bon appétit!

Editor’s note: Get more great West Indian recipes in the Naparima Girls High School Cookbook, the most beloved and best-selling Caribbean cookbook.

Last updated by Steve Bennett on .