Coconut Rice and Beans is a Caribbean-inspired, easy-to-make side dish that's packed with protein and flavor! Tender black beans and perfectly cooked rice cooked in nutty coconut milk and seasoned with lots of tropical spices. It's great served with grilled meats and seafood, tacos, or eaten as a meal on its own. It's vegan, gluten free, made from mostly pantry ingredients and is one of my favorite sides of all time.
While we're all stuck inside, we might as well make the best of it, right?
For me, that means cooking more than ever. This recipe has been on my list to share forever, and I can't think of a better time than right now to post it. Made with mostly pantry ingredients, it's perfect for quarantine cooking and is sure to brighten up even the gloomiest day.
Jamaican Rice and Peas
This is a Caribbean-inspired recipe that I learned to make in Jamaica, where it's more commonly called Rice and Peas. It's typically made with pigeon peas, which are a small, dark brown dried legumes. They're green when fresh, but difficult to find where I live. I can't usually get pigeon peas in my grocery store, so I use black beans instead. Red kidney beans or pinto beans would also work well.
The difference between this style of rice and beans and others is the addition of coconut milk and distinct Caribbean spices like allspice (called pimento in Jamaica) and Scotch Bonnet peppers. The coconut milk adds a richness and nutty flavor that's almost a little bit sweet, but thyme, scallions and bay leaves keep it plenty savory.
What are Scotch Bonnet Peppers?
Scotch Bonnet peppers are very spicy chili peppers that are native to the Caribbean. They're similar to Habaneros, which are more common here in the US, so I use them interchangeably. Scotch Bonnets are very spicy - far spicier than your average jalapeño. However, they also have an incredible fruity flavor that can be imparted into dishes without overwhelming them with spice.
In this recipe, the whole pepper is added to the pot with the rice and beans as they cook to infuse it with flavor. If you just leave the pepper whole, it really won't add much spice at all. I like to make a small incision on one side of the pepper so that it can release more of its flavor and a little bit of its spice into the dish. You can also split the pepper in half if you want lots of heat.
If you are very opposed to heat and cannot tolerate any, or if you simply cannot find Scotch Bonnet or Habanero chilies, you can leave them out altogether. You can also look for a chili called "Aji Dulce," which has a similar fruity flavor to a Scotch Bonnet without the intense heat. Aji Dulce are not commonly found in grocery stores, but you can often find them at Latin markets.
How do you Make Coconut Rice and Beans?
This recipe is really simple and takes less than 30 minutes start to finish. First, saute an onion with lots of classic Jamaican seasonings, like allspice (pimento), thyme, bay leaf and a Scotch Bonnet (or Habanero) pepper, until fragrant.
Next, add jasmine rice (or any long grain rice) and a can of black beans that have been drained and rinsed. Cover with coconut milk and water, then simmer until the rice is perfectly cooked. Fluff the rice and beans with a fork, finish with a shower of scallions and that's it!
What to serve with Coconut Rice and Beans?
So many things! Personally, I love to keep with the Jamaican / Caribbean theme and serve this with jerked chicken, jerked shrimp or this Jerked Fish with Grilled Pineapple Salsa. It's great with grilled meats and seafood, tacos, fried fish, smothered pork chops, etc. Really, anywhere you would normally serve rice (or risotto) or beans, you can serve Coconut Rice and Beans.
One of my favorite ways to eat Coconut Rice and Beans is actually leftover the next day! I eat it with some grilled or roasted vegetables and a crispy fried egg on top. It's filling, high in protein and can be a meal all by itself!
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