Coconut rice with pigeon peas

One of my fondest childhood memories is of being in the terrace of my grandparents’ house with my cousins ​​peeling pigeon peas (guandú for us). It is very likely that at that time, the task seem tedious; but the years and the distance make us see things with different eyes. Don’t you think?

I wish you could smell it!

The pigeon peas came from a small plot my grandfather had just in front of his place or from some friend or relative who brought them from his land.

But there is a problem with these idealized memories and flavors, when you finally manage to put your hands on a few cans of pigeon peas with coconut milk (thanks Aunt Fina!) and cook a coconut rice with pigeon peas… then you realize that it “lacks something” and that it hasn’t reached the level of your expectations.

But I’m going to share with you this recipe anyway. Another typically Panamanian dish and one of my favorites, by the way: Coconut rice with pigeon peas. Of course it would be better made by my mom, but well… it was very good all the same.


The pigeon pea, gandule bean, tropical green pea, etc., is a popular staple in America, although its origin is probably Asian (Indian) and African. Its cultivation goes back at least 3,500 years. One theory is that it traveled from India to East Africa and West Africa. There, it was first encountered by Europeans, so it obtained the name Congo Pea. By means of the slave trade it came to the American continent, probably in the 17th century.

For making this rice, the best results are obtained with fresh coconut milk and fresh and fragrant pigeon peas. However, these canned pigeon peas with coconut milk are perfect for when you are in a bit of a hurry or if, like me, you’re away from your homeland.


  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 3 tbsp. chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cups long-grain rice
  • 2 cups hot water or vegetable broth
  • 1 can pigeon peas with coconut milk of 312g
  • Salt to taste

If you can find fresh pigeon peas, then you will need for 2 cups of rice:

  • 1 cup pigeon peas
  • 1 cup coconut milk


Sauté onion, red bell pepper and rice together for 2 minutes.

Add the can of pigeon peas with coconut milk and two cups of broth or water. Correct the seasoning.

Bring to boil, cover the pot and cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes until rice is cooked.

If you are going to cook the rice with fresh pigeon peas, cook them first with the coconut milk and water until reduced slightly, then add the rice and salt. And continue as said above.


Adapted from Nestle page.

36 Replies to “Coconut rice with pigeon peas”

  1. Childhood memories are the most wonderful to reminisce about and your rice sounds fabulous. I have never heard of pigeon peas before.
    Have a lovely weekend Giovanna.
    🙂 Mandy xo

    1. Yes, they are! These peas are quite common in Panama, but probably not too much outside Hispanic America.
      You too have a wonderful weekend 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

    1. Hi Karen! The brand of the cans I got from Panama is Maggi, which is a Nestle brand. I don’t know if that helps… This dish is a fusion of two recipes: pigeon peas with rice and coconut rice. Two for the price of one 😉
      I posted a recipe for the pigeon peas with rice before, here’s the link:
      I hope you find them, because I know you’ll like it!
      Thanks for your comment 🙂

    1. Así es MD. Estoy segura de que lo encontrarás un día de estos en alguno de tus viajes a esos Mercado tan interesantes de los que nos hablas en tus post. Y si no, en Barcelona seguro que si, en una tienda de productos hispanoamericanos.
      Thanks for your comment!

  2. ah-HA! Is this the pigeon pea in your post? if so, the Ecuadorians call it ‘frijol de palo’ and i have an almost-mature crop in my garden! i bought the unshelled peas at a market and cooked most but planted some of the seeds. how shocked i was when the ‘vine’ turned into a large shrub that continues to climb skyward! it blooms (yellow) constantly and the oldest pods are nearing maturity…

    that is what’s growing in my yard.. is it the same as in your recipe?

    1. ¡¡Ajajá!! Yes. These are our guandúes. I read about this name on Wikipedia. You are so lucky for having one of those in your garden! Do you know if they are fragrant? Because if they are, then you are in for a treat, trust me 😉

      1. they peas are still immature, but they seem sweet to the taste. i have not noticed an aroma from the flowers.

        my friends have planted some in their finca as a test for food for their cattle. i wondered if the leaves are ok to try cooked or as a salad…. hmmm. until someone tells me that it’s tasty and safe, i think i’ll wait on that one!

  3. Going to look for the peas … because this dish talks to me … and I will eat with chicken or grilled fish. Not a plain rice eater, but this talks big time to me. *smile

      1. Not the end of the world … I have totally forgotten .. about this dish – after my mom passed away .. yesterday I cooked for the first time. It has been ready made food.
        Thanks for coming back to me.

        1. I can imagine how these past few weeks have been very hard for you. I’m honestly thankful that you took the time to visit my blog and leave a comment…I’m sure that little by little you will feel a bit better every day. I know things will never be as before, but you are so full of life and good vibes… You inspire me, seriously.
          Have a nice day

          1. In over all I feel quite well, mom was nearly 91 and she didn’t want to be around anymore .. and that is okay with me – I was so upset about her lack of quality life the last year … and with her having a crystal clear mind – I knew she didn’t want to carry on .. she did it because she wanted to know that I was ready to let go of her – she prepared me so well and I smile more often than I cry when I think of her.
            I have been sitting in a great knee.
            Thanks for your kind words and your wonderful support.

  4. You’re always teaching me something, Giovanna. I’d never heard of pigeon peas, so, thanks for todays lesson. I wonder if I’ll find them in any of our Latino markets? Only one way to find out … 🙂

    1. Thank you John! I’m sorry, I thought I already answered your comment, but apparently I haven’t…
      I have learnt so much from your blog already, so now I’m thrill to be able to “teach you” something new 🙂

  5. I love this…such a simple but complete and tasty meal. I’m on the hunt for things like this, especially for summer. I think I may be able to find pigeon peas dried at our International Farmers Market. I’ve bookmarked this to try and thanks for sharing! 🙂

    1. Hi! Yes, that’s the kind of food we like to cook in Panama: simple, complete an tasty! 😉 Thanks a lot for your comment. I hope you find them and let me know how it went 🙂

    1. Hi! thanks a lot for your comment 🙂 I think that you probably could find those at a farmer market or some place like that… or maybe not, because I can’t find them here 😉 But maybe you can adapt it.

  6. I’ve never met anyone from Panama before, or ever heard of pigeon peas, so my thanks to Viveka for introducing me to you. Blue jellybeans is a great name and I love your header, so why wouldn’t I like this recipe? (if I could find the peas) 🙂

    1. Hi Johanna! Thank you very much for your visit and your comment 🙂 Yes, Viveka is a great gal.
      I hope you find those peas and try this recipe, I’m sure you’ll like it.

  7. hola chica, se ve rico se le antoja probar… pero la falta del sabor de cual te acuerdas se ocurre xq hace falta la cebolla verde/china, tomillo, jengibre, el scotch bonnet (o un pimiento q pica mucho)…. se cocina como el arroz y guisantes jamaiquino.
    si le agregas toda esa te sale riquisimo… se q la receta arribo a panama x medio de los obreros jamaiquinos, los q se la llevaba su comida a nueva tierra. echale todas las sazones q he puesto arriva y luego me comentas como te salio

  8. Finally! i can make this! My husband of 20 years is Panamanian and loves this dish. His mother would never really tell me how to cook it, and she just called them “peas”. I didnt know pigeon peas existed. Im so excited im going to make this tomorrow and surprise the whole family! 🙂
    Ps i just stumbled on this site, where can i find more of your recipes or ones that you reccommend

    1. Hola Nicole, muchas gracias por tu comentario! I hope the recipe worked fine and that your family enjoyed he rice with peas 😉 You can start by taking a look at my Panamanian recipes or cuisine category, on the right side of my blog. There you’ll find all the recipes from Panama that I have made during these years, and there are a few! There’s also a site from the news paper “el siglo” and there are very good recipes too.
      Thanks again! 🙂

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