A Caribbean Thanksgiving: Kris Wessel Shares His Recipe for Pigeon Pea Rice

It's a muggy, hot afternoon in mid-November and Santo Domingo's congested streets are packed with whizzing motorcyclists and banged-up taxis. Sidewalks are lined with vendors selling dried-up holiday pine trees. Across the bustling Caribbean city, eateries offer a variety of catered Thanksgiving dinners.

Menus feature classic American staples: roast turkey, pureed sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce. But the most unique -- and probably most popular -- item is moro de guandules (pigeon pea rice). The mixed rice is prepared by restaurants and home cooks alike.

It's the same dish that happens to be on the menu at Kris Wessel's upcoming restaurant, Florida Cookery, at the James Royal Palm Hotel.

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"I learned the use of pigeon peas, or gandules, from a Haitian dishwasher 18 years ago at Mark's Place," he says. "'I've seen the peas cooked alone in various ethnic cultures, as well as in rice. Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Dominicans, they all cook them like beans, and mix them with rice."

For this Thanksgiving, make Wessel's pigeon pea rice. And, if you want to add a little more Dominican flavor, render chopped bacon before toasting the rice. Remove the bacon and then sprinkle it in with the butter and herbs at the very end.

Now that's a Caribbean Thanksgiving.

Pigeon Pea Rice

For the pigeon peas:
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry pigeon peas
1/2 cup red wine vinegar

For the rice:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cups converted or medium-grain rice
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1 tbsp. chopped garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground curry
2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 tsp kosher salt
3 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp butter, unsalted
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup sliced scallions

1. To prepare pigeon peas, add 3 cups of water to a medium-sized pot. Add vegetables (onion, garlic and celery) and bay leaf. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the pigeon peas and reduce to a simmer for 45 minutes. Test peas for tenderness. They should not mushy. Add red wine vinegar and continue to cook for 10 minutes. Strain, don't rinse, and allow to cool.

2. To prepare the rice, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add vegetable oil and rice to a large deep, oven-proof skillet and toast over medium heat on the stove. Add onion and celery and stir for 3 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, curry, pepper and salt. Stir for 1 minute. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.

3. Once boiling, place the skillet in the oven and bake for 17 minutes. Remove from the oven and add butter, thyme and fresh parsley. Fluff rice with a fork and cover until serving. Serve warm.

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