Yellow Rice and Peas


I promised Stacie I'd tell her about yellow rice and peas although there's really not much to tell. I buy it pre-made in the store and it makes itself in like 20 seconds. Yes, one can make their own Mexican-style saffron rice but I've never had good luck with the recipes. I think it's the turmeric. Turmeric and I do not get along.

So Vigo brand it is, Goya also makes a nice mix. For the last five minutes of cooking I throw in half a bag of frozen peas. Redman is very passionate about yellow rice and peas, it's one of his very favorite things for dinner. I love it for sheer convenience but also because it goes with just about anything: it can be the backbone of a vegetarian meal, or it cozies nicely up to roast chicken, breaded chicken, grilled fish, grilled shrimp, meat loaf, tuna cakes. It's the little black dress of your pantry.

I have a soft spot for rice and peas myself. My junior year of high school, I went for two weeks to La Rochelle, France on an exchange program. My host student was named Christophe Roland. He had a reputation as a punk and I didn't know how we were going to get along. We had zero in common yet within two days we were brother and sister. He loved American music and I spent many an hour mooching his cigarettes and translating lyrics for him.

"Listen, what is this," he said, putting on Modern English. "These words...making love to you was never second best. What does that mean?"

I gave him a look. "What does making love mean?"

"I know what making love means, stupid," he said, laughing out a cloud of smoke. "What does he mean was never second best?"

Christopher was something of a loner within the Lycée. His best friend was in his twenties and lived alone in the center of La Rochelle. Christophe took me to his apartment one night and the two young men cooked for me. I was not allowed to help. They were like Oscar and Felix. It was hilarious, and also touching, to watch them collide and bicker in the kitchen, earnestly working to make this meal. Finally they marched out, beaming, bearing grilled fish with a side dish of rice and peas. I was seventeen and felt I had arrived among the ultra hip.

That dinner was not second best.

Coconut Rice

Long time ago, in a kitchen far away, Martha Stewart Living had an article about Jamaican jerk chicken, which I'm not a huge fan of. The article also featured Jamaican rice and peas, and that looked very very interesting because it was made with coconut milk. She was going for a sweeter, milder version of the dish to counter the spiciness of the jerk.

We love rice and beans as a side dish at my house, so I tried her version. It was delicious—the coconut milk really made it something special—but a little labor intensive for a weekday (click here for the recipe).

The next time I reached for a bag of Vigo black rice and beans, I decided to apply Martha's twist. Rice and bean mixes usually call for 3 1/4 cups of water. I used a can of lite coconut milk which is right about 2 cups, and then topped off with water. Instead of butter or olive oil, I used coconut oil. A huge success and now I make packaged rice and beans no other way.

One night as I was making this, our Horizon Meat delivery man Tony showed up at the door. It was cold and it was late and he's a great guy so while he was chatting up Jeeps I put a couple spoonfuls of rice and beans into a ramekin and brought it over to him. His eyes lit up, he took a bite and then his eyes got even bigger.  

"There's coconut milk in here! How do you know to use coconut in rice and beans?"  

I was shocked that he'd picked that up right away and he told us his ex-wife was West Indian. This was the only way he knew rice and beans to taste, he was just shocked that, pardon him, a white girl would know. It was a good laugh and some nice validation.

I'll use coconut milk to make plain rice as well. After a lot of trial and error, I find that it's best to use more liquid than you typically would when making regular rice, more of a 3 parts liquid/1 part rice ratio. I also add a tablespoon of coconut oil because it's just so damn good. The rice will be very creamy, almost sticky. If you wish, grate in some lime zest before serving.

If you have leftover coconut rice, or any kind of rice for that matter, try mixing it with an egg and some chopped scallions, parsley or cilantro. Form into patties and fry in olive oil until golden on both sides.   Quick and delicious with a salad or soup.