Jamaican Pigeon Peas and Rice

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Jamaican Pigeon Peas and Rice – Plump pigeon peas, sweet corn, and traditional Jamaican spices simmered in creamy coconut milk. Simply delicious!

Yes, coconut milk. What would I do without it? My pantry is overflowing…So I made this Jamaican rice and pigeon peas with Jamaican curry shrimp. Yum! They are simply delicious and can be eaten with or without meat. And it’s a great option to spice up your regular rice and beans.

And you know I had to break out my smoked paprika! Another of my pantry staple. Seriously, I probably go overboard, but the slightly smoky taste and color it adds are irresistible. Not traditional in any way. If my grandmother were alive, she would probably disinherit me for this. May she rest in peace!

Mouthwatering pigeon peas and rice in a bowl ready to eat with a spoon

What Are Pigeon Peas?

Pigeon peas—cute and round, also known as gungo peas or gandules, are a staple in African, Latin, and Caribbean cooking. Depending on your location and neighborhood, they’re sold canned, dried, or fresh.

Most people refer to green pigeon peas as immature, while the mature ones have a deep brown color and are meatier, just like red beans. And they can be used interchangeably.

Recipe Ingredients:

  1. Scotch Bonnet – This intense chili pepper is a staple of Caribbean cooking and often spices up hot sauces and condiments. It has a sweet and tropical taste but can be 40 times hotter than the average Jalapeno pepper, so watch out! 
  2. Seasonings – Onion (regular and green), bell pepper, thyme, garlic, and smoked paprika provide bold flavors to make sure your food is nothing close to boring.😉
  3. Basmati Rice – The distinctive nutty flavor and fragrant aroma can’t be beaten. But you can use what you’ve got.
  4. Corn – Sweet, buttery goodness goes so well with peas and beans. Fresh is great, but frozen or canned will work too.
  5. Pigeon Peas  This recipe’s base has a nutty flavor, like black-eyed peas (also a good replacement if you can’t find pigeon peas). However, they’ve gained enough popularity that they’re pretty easy to find at your local supermarket.
  6. Coconut Milk – An essential ingredient that adds a rich creaminess and a mild coconut flavor to the dish.
  7. Bouillon – Intensify the flavor or use broth instead of water and bouillon.

How to Make Pigeon Peas and Rice

Prep the ingredients, saute the veggies, assemble, and simmer
  • Wash Rice – Rinse until water runs clear, then drain water.
  • Saute Veggies – Heat oil in a saucepan and add onions, green onions, bell pepper, garlic, smoked paprika, thyme, and scotch bonnet pepper. Sauté for about 2 minutes. (Photo 1)
  • Add Rice – Stir in the rice, followed by pigeon peas and corn. Sauté for about a minute. (Photos 2-3)
  • Add the Rest – Pour in coconut milk, bouillon powder (optional), Creole salt, and about 2 cups of water. Then bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover with a lid, and cook until rice is done, 18-20 minutes or more as needed. Stir from the sides occasionally to prevent burns. Add more water if needed, but not too much, as the rice will become mushy. (Photo 4)
  • Serve – Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!
The Jamaican pigeon peas and rice are almost done and ready to enjoy

Recipe Variations

  1. If pigeon peas are unavailable, black-eyed peas, lentils, pinto beans, kidney beans, and green peas are all great substitutes.
  2. You can use ground hot pepper or hot sauce if you don’t have fresh scotch bonnet pepper. It will give the same heat and flavor, but you won’t have to deal with touching the fresh pepper.

Tips and Tricks

  1. If you love ultra-spicy food, you can dice the scotch bonnet pepper. However, cooking it whole and removing it before serving is kinder to the more sensitive souls.
  2. Avoid rubbing or touching your eyes when handling any hot peppers, fresh or powdered, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap after using it. For extra safety, wear gloves when handling it. 
  3. If you are using dried pigeon peas, soak them overnight for faster cooking.
  4. You can easily double the recipe and serve it with curry or stew.
  5. Soak your peas overnight if you have time. If you don’t, no problem, because it will just take a little longer to cook.

Make-Ahead Instructions

This dish is extremely easy to make and can be thrown together in a few minutes if you have all the ingredients. Nevertheless, you can make this dish a couple of days in advance, store it in the refrigerator, and reheat it when ready to enjoy. 

If you use dried peas, try to soak them 12-24 hours ahead, making them cook faster. You can also cook the peas and rice separately and mix them together later. Then throw them into the pan when ready to make this dish.

If you prefer fresh rice, cook and freeze just the peas. Then when you are ready, defrost them and add them to the saucepan.

Serving and Storage Instructions

This dish is best enjoyed hot off the stove. Spoon it into a bowl and garnish with cilantro and scallions if desired.

Store leftover Jamaican pigeon peas and rice in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. Or you can freeze them for 3-6 months

Enjoy Pigeon Peas


Can I make this in a slow cooker?

Yes, you can. Follow the instructions until you’ve sauteed your veggies, then put all the ingredients in your slow cooker, cover, and simmer on low for 6-8 hours. (You may want to reduce the liquid by ¼ cup.) Or you can cook them in your pressure cooker for 15-20 minutes.

Can I make this dish without coconut milk?

Yes. If it isn’t your favorite or you don’t have any, you can use the same amount of vegetable or chicken broth.

Are pigeon peas healthy?

I’m not a doctor, but experts say pigeon peas are an excellent source of protein, iron, vitamins A and B-6, calcium, and more. So eat more pigeon peas!

What to Serve With Pigeon Peas and Rice

If you would like to serve this dish with fixings, there is plenty to choose from. I make it with Jamaican curry shrimpJamaican curry goat, or brown stew chicken.

If you’re not big on curries or stew, no worries. Try it with these crispy baked drumsticks or these finger-licking good barbecue ribs.

More Tantalizing Caribbean Recipes to Try

  1. One-Pot Caribbean Jerk Chicken & Rice
  2. Caribbean Rice & Beans
  3. Jamaican Callaloo and Saltfish
  4. Bacardi Rum Cake


Bring the Caribbean to your dinner table with this hearty explosion of flavors. What unique twist do you add to make Jamaican pigeon peas and rice your own? Drop a line and let me know! 💥

This blog post was originally published in April 2016 and has been updated with additional tips and new photos.

Jamaican Pigeon Peas and Rice

Plump pigeon peas, sweet corn, and traditional Jamaican spices simmered in creamy coconut milk. Simply delicious!