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Quinoa and Gungu peas When white rice doesn’t respect your waistline

By: Feli Musing

Rice and gungu peas (pigeon peas or gandules) has been one of my favorite side dishes for as long as I could remember.  Love is the marriage of rice, gungu peas and coconut milk penetrating nostalgia.  However, I have found that white rice loves to hold on to my body fat as much as I love to hold on to its aroma in my mind.  During my first successful weight loss journey (there have been several), I started a new love affair with quinoa, though I partake in a little white rice on the side from time to time.  Fun fact: quinoa is not really a grain at all but let us admire it for the protein and fiber power house that it is.  Popular opinion: quinoa is boring and tasteless.  Firstly, what?  Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s take “tasteless” quinoa and plain gungu peas on a savory round-trip adventure to my grandma’s kitchen in Jamaica.  Magic always happened there.

Yield: 4 servings

Prep Time:  10 minutes

(8 hours for soaking dried gungu peas)

Cook Time:  1 hour and 40 minutes when using soaked gungu peas

45 minutes to 1 hour when using canned gungu peas


  • 1 cup thoroughly rinsed quinoa
  • 1 cup soaked or canned gungu peas (pigeon peas or gandules)
  • 1 ¾ cup water
  • 1 cup coconut milk (preferably a Caribbean brand, such as Grace, Jamaican Choice, or Goya for taste purposes)
  • 3 crushed and chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 stalks scallion (green onions)
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon chopped or grated fresh ginger (about a centimeter unchopped)
  • ½ – 1 scotch bonnet pepper or 1-2 wiri wiri peppers
  • 4 pimento seeds/berries (allspice)
  • 2 – 4 pinches of sea salt
  • 1 pinch or sprinkle of ground black pepper

Quick story break!  Years ago, I was on the phone with a friend of mine who was also born in the same parish in Jamaica as me, and we were talking about food as per usual.  She kept mentioning how her boyfriend kept exclaiming how “nice” this thing called, “kinwasy” tasted.  My friend kept asking me if, I “know it?”  After she explained further, I replied, “Yeh mi know it as quinoa” and so the mystery had been solved.  I shared with her just how beneficial quinoa can be for the body, and that you can even make it the same way you make rice and peas (red kidney beans).  We must have stayed on that phone for well over an hour, because she had indeed made the recipe I had given her over the phone.  To my delight, she said it was delicious and it “neva puff up (her) belly like di rice and peas.”  This encounter inspired me to share the recipe with all of you as well.


  1. If using dried gungu peas, be sure to soak them in water overnight because dried peas can take take hours to cook when they haven’t been adequately soaked. If using canned gungu peas, prepare to enjoy your quinoa and gungu peas in record time.
    Whether you’re using canned or soaked gungu peas, give them a proper rinse and set aside.
  2. Wash quinoa with water, strain and set aside.

  3. Bring 1 ¾ cups water to a boil.
  4. Add gungu peas, garlic, scallion, thyme (whole), ginger, scotch bonnet pepper (or wiri wiri peppers), pimento seeds, salt and black pepper to boiling water.
  5. Cover pot with lid. Reduce to simmer on medium heat and allow gungu pea mixture to cook until peas are tender (about 50 minutes to 1 hour and 20 minutes for soaked gungu peas and about 30 to 40 minutes for canned gungu peas), because no tough peas to we ting!  Be sure to stir periodically and ensure that water never dries out completely.
  6. Add coconut milk to gungu pea mixture, stir, and bring to boil. At this point, taste mixture and adjust seasoning to your preference.  Soaked gungu peas have way less sodium than canned ones, so be cognizant of this when adding more sea salt.  A little more scotch bonnet pepper wouldn’t hurt either.

  7. Add quinoa to gungu pea and coconut milk mixture.
  8. Give mixture a quick stir and bring to a boil.
  9. Reduce to low heat before covering with either aluminum foil or a damp plastic bag and the lid of the pot.
  10. Allow quinoa and gungu peas to steam until all liquid coconutty goodness is absorbed. At this point, quinoa is fluffy and translucent.  Don’t forget to turn off your stove!


The measurements of ingredients have been tamed down a bit so that the recipe can be enjoyed by those who enjoy a toops (little) of spice or a whole heap (a lot) of spice.  If you’re a flavor junky like me, double up on the thyme and scotch bonnet or wiri wiri peppers.  I more frequently add a whole pepper to the mix, but I’ve found that this has almost killed those who are not so sweet on the POWER OF THE SPICE.  And let’s be serious, thyme is a top tier herb, so add nuff (a lot) if you want some of my grandmother’s magic in your kitchen.

Now that you have prepared your quinoa and gungu peas, you’re probably wondering what you should enjoy it with.  This dish is filled with so many nutrients and good fats, but it is missing some green glory.  Some of my favorite ways to enjoy it are in a salad or with a side of greens.

One suggestion is to add spice and lime juice to a serving of tail-on shrimp (about 6 medium shrimp) and cook them up in a pan.  Prepare a salad with 2 cups baby spinach, 1 cup arugula, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, and shredded carrots to be mixed with your shrimp and maybe an overflowing cup of quinoa and gungu peas for a new healthy treat.

Another way you can enjoy this Caribbean inspired quinoa and gungu peas is topped with an over medium egg and some hot sauce of your choice.  Add some greens on the side and you have yourself a delicious and nutritious meal without the bloat caused by our beloved white rice and peas.

Whenever this health and fitness thing gets tough, don’t give up on your nutrition.  Nourish heart, body, mind, and soul with culture and you will thrive.  Happy eating!



Disclaimer: All photos taken are owned by Feli Musing.  Kindly cite this blog post upon the use of these images.  Thank you.