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Beans, Peas, and Legumes

Popular varieties and how are they used in Caribbean cooking.


Newcomers to Caribbean cooking often notice the abundance of dishes made with beans or legumes. There are countless varieties of beans in the Caribbean. They are low in fat and cholesterol, and high in fiber, potassium, iron, folate and magnesium. Beans and legumes are also high in protein and when combined with rice make a complete protein. This was very important in Caribbean diets because meat wasn’t readily available and most imported meats were too expensive. Almost all beans (sometimes called peas) and legumes are available fresh, dried, canned, or frozen.

Here are some of the most popular peas, beans and legumes and how they’re used in Caribbean cooking.

Black Beans

Black beans are found in many dishes throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Cubans are well known for their use of black beans in stews, soups, sauces, and moros y cristianos. Black beans are low in fat and calories, high in fiber, and a great source of folate, Vitamin B1, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, and manganese.

Pigeon Peas

Fresh, Dried and Rehydrated Pigeon Peas
Cynthia Nelson
Pigeon peas go by several names: congo peas, gandules, goongoo, cajan, and gungo or gungu peas. These peas are found throughout the Caribbean, but are very popular in Puerto Rico, after all, their national dish is arroz con gandules. Other dishes include soups, stews, and pepperpot. The peas can vary in color from green, gray, yellow and brown. Like most legumes, pigeon peas are high in potassium, protein, fiber and iron.

Red and Pink Beans

Red or pink beans resemble kidney beans, but they are smaller and rounder. Think of these beans as the all-purpose beans. They are cooked in just about every kind of bean dish there is, but are the go to bean for yellow rice and beans or stewed beans to go with white rice. On the French speaking islands they are called pois rouge (red bean).

Black-eyed Peas

Fresh Black Eye Peas
Cynthia Nelson
Most people are familiar with this southern legume, sometimes called cowpeas. It’s no surprise, as these were one of many foods, including pigeon peas, brought to the new world by Africans. Black-eyed peas are used in rice dishes such as cook up rice, fritters called accras, and in salads. The peas are also dried and ground into flour used used as a thickener or an ingredient in accras and flat breads.

Bora Beans

The bora bean is another popular bean found in Caribbean dishes. Other names it’s known by are bodi bean, bunchi, boonchi, snake bean or Chinese bean. In the United States these beans may be called yard long beans, asparagus beans, or noodle beans. These beans look like extra long, thin green beans. In Aruba, the beans are grilled along with lamb kabobs and dipped in a spicy peanut sauce.


Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, are well-known legumes. The Indian immigrant population commonly uses it to make humus, channa, and curry. Trinidad and Tobago are the islands that have the largest population from Indian ancestry, so it is used far and wide in their cuisine.

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