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In Jamaica, you know Christmas is ‘around the corner’ when green gungo peas becomes available for sale. Venders can be seen busy picking the precious peas from their pods ready for those shoppers who prefer to buy the ready to cook peas by the pint or quart. It’s cheaper to buy by the pound in the pod but most persons including myself do not like to shell the peas as its very time consuming and usually involves contact with worms. Either way gungo peas is a must have in every Jamaican home at Christmas time.
The most famous dish cooked in Jamaica with the gungo peas is gungo rice and peas. Throughout the year dried gungo peas is used however during Christmas time green gungo peas makes the dish even more delicious. The truth is green gungo peas is an all-time favourite of many Jamaicans and is used to make a multitude of dishes. Stewed green gungo with saltfish, pigstail or chicken foot is to die for. Vegetarians have a field day with green gungo as main dishes or in salads. The ultimate best for many Jamaicans however is green gungo soup with ham bone. After the Christmas ham is consumed the bone is reserved for the most delicious Saturday soup of the year.
Now I keep referring to green gungo peas however maybe I should be saying fresh or undried gungo as not all gungo peas are green in colour. Gungo peas which is also known as pigeon peas is said to have originated from India but is very popular in Jamaican cooking. It grows on a perennial plant meaning that the plant can live for more than two years although the seed yield drops considerably after the first two years. This leguminous shrub can attain heights of 5 to 7 metres. Before the pods appear, the plant bears flowers which are usually yellow but can be streaked with purple or red. Gungo pea pods are flat, usually green in color, sometimes hairy, sometimes streaked or coloured dark purple, with 2-9 gungo pea seeds which are mostly green but can have a variety of colour. The peas are normally harvested at Christmas time and are rich in proteins, minerals and vitamins.
Gungo Rice and Peas
Now like most dishes Gungo Rice and Peas can be made a variety of ways. The main thing is to tweak it to your taste. If a particular seasoning is not to your liking or is dangerous to your health, then don’t include it. Or if you have a favourite spice or herb that you fancy then don’t be afraid to include it. Example I always add a bit of oyster sauce to my gungo rice and peas and I haven’t had any complaints to date. The only ingredients that you must have are gungo peas, rice and water.
· Gungo peas (For 2 cups of rice 1 pint of peas should be great or depending on much peas you like)
· Freshly grated coconut milk
· 1 Small onion or 2 stalks scallion, chopped
· 2 Cloves garlic, chopped
· Piece of ginger
· A piece of fresh green thyme or 1 tsp Dried thyme
· One whole scotch bonnet pepper
· A few pimento seeds
· Salt to taste
· Butter or margarine
· 2 cups your favourite rice (rinsed and drained)
· Place gungo peas and water into a large saucepan to which chopped onion, garlic, pimento, ginger and thyme have been added on high heat. Allow peas to cook. (if tin peas is being used use less water and simply bring to a boil as the peas are already cooked)
· The water level should be reduced by this time. Add coconut milk, salt and pepper and allow to simmer for about 2 minutes while all the seasoning blend together.
· Add rice and butter stirring to allow even distribution of rice and peas. Cover and allow rice to cook.
· Once most of the water is absorbed, turn heat to Low, and cook covered until all water is absorbed
· Fluff with fork before serving.
My grandmother used to make the very best gungo rice and peas in the world. Her secret was to add small bits of pig’s tail to the dish. She would cut some pigs tail into very small pieces and either soak it overnight or boil it to remove the excess salt. The pigs tail would then be added to the pot while the peas boiled infusing the flavour of the pig’s tail. Delicious.
The good news for all those that may not have access to green gungo peas is that they are available in tins. Some of the producers such as Grace Kennedy and Linstead Market have even taken it one step further by adding seasoning to the tin so that all you need to do is add the rice. As for me I normally stock my freezer with green gungo peas to last me for as long as possible. This year I had all the way into October. Once it’s frozen it stay nice and fresh.
If you have never had Gungo Peas I encourage you to treat yourself. It’s easy to prepare and good for you. Enjoy.