November 17, 2010

Jamaican Rice and Peas

Beans and rice is one of my favorite basic food combinations, and when I was planning a Jamaican meal, I knew I wanted to include that island nation's version.  The basic dish - onions, rice, beans and spices cooked in broth and coconut milk - is something common to a lot of cuisines (Indian, Thai, Polynesian, Central American, Cuban), but the Jamaican version stands out largely due to the prominence of thyme and the presence of very hot peppers.  Well, and calling beans "peas."  I don't know where that came from. 

There are a lot of versions of this dish out there, mostly pretty much the same.  Some of them add ginger, and that sounded good to me.  I came up with an idea on my own, though, one I haven't seen in any other recipe for the dish.  Most of the recipes add the whole pepper when adding the liquid that ends up getting absorbed by the rice.  This imparts a bit of flavor to the recipe, but I thought it something of a waste of a potent pepper, so I decided to add it while frying the garlic and rice, which would release more of the flavor and heat into the dish while still not being overwhelming. 

I didn't happen to have a Scotch bonnet chili pepper on hand, unfortunately.  That famous Jamaican pepper is lots hotter than a habanero, but a habanero does the trick just fine in this recipe.   Definitely don't go with anything less spicy than a habanero, though.  Aside from being too mild, jalapeno and Serrano peppers just don't have the right flavor for this dish.

This turned out quite well - tender and flavorful, with an undercurrent of heat - and went well with the other dishes.  It makes for a good side dish, but since the rice + beans combination makes a complete protein, one could make a complete and balanced meal by serving it along with a salad or vegetable side.

Note:  You can use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth to make this a vegetarian dish.

Jamaican Rice and Peas

yield = 6 servings

2       tablespoons vegetable oil
1       small yellow onion, minced
2       cups long-grain rice
2       teaspoons minced garlic
1       whole habanero or Scotch bonnet pepper
1       tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1       teaspoon lime zest
1       15-ounce can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2       sprigs fresh thyme (or 2 teaspoons dried thyme)
2       cups coconut milk
1       cup chicken broth
1       cup water
1       teaspoon salt
1       lime, halved (use the same one the zest came from)
3       green onions (green parts only), cut crosswise into thin slices

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and saute until they just begin to brown. 

Add the garlic, rice and whole chili pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the rice turns a light golden-brown. 

Add the grated ginger and lime zest and cook 1 more minute, then add the kidney beans, thyme sprigs, coconut milk, broth, water and salt.  Bring to a boil then cover and reduce heat to a simmer. 

Cook for 15 minutes, then remove from heat.  Before serving, discard the thyme sprigs, fluff the rice with a fork and garnish with the cut green onions and the boiled chili pepper - but don't eat the pepper unless you have a very high heat tolerance!

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