One of the best things about food is that it can unite people across cultures, languages, states, and even countries. This is especially true for Thanksgiving feasts where, in a non-pandemic world, families like mine would be gathering around long dinner tables, debating over which aunt makes the best mac ‘n cheese. As someone with more cousins, aunts and uncles than I can physically count, I’ll definitely miss indulging in the vast amount of dishes prepared with the type of TLC that I can only aspire to achieve.
But before the table is set and everyone’s seated, the real magic begins in the kitchen, during the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning. Every year, I’d find my aunt going to work on her famous (to me at least) rice and peas alongside my grandma and mom in the kitchen.
I knew after the first time I tried this Caribbean staple it had to make an appearance at every future get-together. Not only does a huge bowl of it taste amazing, but it also lets me experience my aunt’s culture and upbringing through a dish that is special to her. And in this time of separation, there’s nothing I want more than food that reminds me of family.
As traveling by plane continues to come with an added layer of anxiety and uncertainty, I decided I would try to recreate the dish myself in my tiny Brooklyn apartment. To help me, I called up Andre Fowles, three-time Food Network Chopped champion and chef at Miss Lily’s, one of my favourite Caribbean spots in New York.
Fowles was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica around aunts, grandmothers and a lot of extended family. His passion for cooking grew due to his grandmother’s Sunday meals, which of course included rice and peas.
“She doesn’t measure any ingredients and it would always taste and look the same every single Sunday,” he says. “We would typically eat rice and peas every Sunday with whatever meat and vegetables that were available.”
Before taking a swing at hopefully doing justice to my aunt’s cooking and Fowles’ recipe, I did some research on the origins of this popular dish and discovered that it is derived from the Ghanaian dish, waakye, which typically consists of red beans or black-eyed peas, rice, and millet leaves.
Because it’s such a versatile side dish, rice and peas can be paired with literally anything. I’ve only eaten it with traditional Caribbean meats like jerk chicken and oxtail, but Fowles says it also goes well with curry goat, grilled snapper, roasted chicken, or even roasted veggies.
As the true Southern gal that I am, I have a soft spot for recipes passed down and inspired by grandmothers, so it was a no-brainer that I had to get the details from Fowles on how to make one based on one of my favourite meals.
Perfecting the “peas”
One important thing to note is that although the dish is called rice and peas, the traditional Caribbean way of cooking it uses red kidney beans. But if you prefer pigeon peas, you can use those as well.
Depending on how much time you have before dinner-or how hungry you are-you can either soak your peas overnight or boil them the day of. Since I was planning on making this for my Sunday meal, I decided to soak them Saturday night to maximize my time. Then, you’ll want to cook them for roughly 30 minutes until they’re slightly tender.
It should come as no surprise that the pea stock needs to be seasoned. After they’re cooked about halfway, you should start seasoning the water with garlic, chopped ginger, fresh scallions, fresh thyme, and pimenta berries, or allspice.
Fowles suggests only adding half a teaspoon of allspice, as you don’t want to add too much and overpower your rice and peas. It’s better to have to add more later than be unable to take some out when it’s too late. You’ll then let the peas finish cooking for another 15 minutes and at that point, you’ll add in the magic of coconut milk.
“Typically we use fresh coconut milk in Jamaica, but honestly, since I’ve been in New York, I haven’t used much fresh coconut milk,” Fowles says. “I just get it from the can, and that works perfectly fine as well, because it’s hard to use fresh stuff here, as there’s too much processing.”
Once you see all the ingredients coming together in your pot, you can then add in your salt and one whole scotch bonnet pepper that’s green and not too ripe.
I had to search a bit to find fresh scotch bonnet peppers as the larger grocery stores near me didn’t carry them, but I eventually found some at a Caribbean market.
“You want to get that fruitiness from the scotch bonnet, because a lot of people think that scotch bonnet peppers are only about the heat, but it’s a really beautiful flavour that comes from the green chile that’s more fruity and really pronounced, and that gives your stock a really beautiful flavour,” Fowles says.
After you finish cooking the peas and the stock is seasoned to your liking with salt and spices, you can remove the scotch bonnet pepper and pimenta seeds if you’re using the whole berries instead of the ground allspice.
Prepping and cooking the rice
To really take your rice and peas to the next flavour level, use jasmine rice over regular long grain white rice.
“In Jamaica, we use long grain rice but I found that jasmine rice has an extra flavour and it definitely enhances the flavour of the rice and peas,” Fowles says.
But even though it’s a more fragrant rice, you still want to make sure you wash it three to four times to remove the excess starch. After washing it, drain it into a strainer and add the rice to your seasoned stock with your peas.
After an additional 25-30 minutes of cooking your combined mixture on low, you’ll then have a perfect pot of rice and peas!
The cold weather in most parts of Australia coinciding with EOFY celebrations is the closest thing that we’ll get to snowy Christmas vibes. And if you’re in dire need of some festive cheer after the first six months of 2023, grab your ugly sweater and head to your nearest Red Rooster for Xmas in July deals.
From June 29 – July 31, 2023, Red Rooster is serving up free food items, a chance to win $10,000 or one of 10 merch packs valued at $400 and other fun prizes. All you have to do is sign up as a Red Royalty member and spend $5 on at a location near you or online.
Each week there’ll be new delicious deals and prizes to win. The week one deals have already dropped and they’re looking pretty tasty. You can get access to them via your Red Royalty account. The more you purchase, the more chances you have to win.
Spoiler alert: you can get 10 chicken nuggets for free, right now. Brb running to Red Rooster.