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This easy coconut rice and red beans recipe is a delicious way to bring the flavours of the Caribbean into your home.
It features subtle, sweet coconut milk that pairs perfectly with the fluffy rice, sautéed onions, red peppers and earthy red beans.
With its satisfying combination of protein and carbs, rice and beans is a popular comfort food in Caribbean, Cajun, Creole and Latin American cuisine.
This version hails from Livingston in eastern Guatemala near Zacapa where our family lives.
In this region, coconut is a key ingredient of the traditional food of the Garifuna people, black Caribs of St. Vincent who settled on the Caribbean coast of Central America in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras in the late 1600s.
Enjoy this crowd-pleasing side dish at family dinners, at summer barbecues and at special events such as Christmas and other holidays.
Why You’ll Love This Coconut Rice and Red Beans Recipe
- Rice and beans are rich in plant protein. It’s naturally vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free.
- Beans are high in fiber, which can help regulate blood sugar, lower cholesterol and aid digestion.
- This recipe can be doubled or tripled to serve a crowd.
- It’s easy to make and virtually fool-proof.
- This recipe features dried kidney beans so is especially economical.
- It travels well which makes it perfect for potlucks or meal prep for camping or the cottage.
- Easy clean-up is always a selling point when planning a meal. This recipe doesn’t require special equipment or additional tools from your pantry.
- Unlike other Caribbean rice and beans recipes like Jamaican rice and peas, this version doesn’t contain Scotch Bonnet peppers or jerk spice. So, it’s great for serving all-ages. As with many other traditional Guatemalan recipes, bottled hot sauce or a chirmol salsa can be served on the side for those who crave heat.
Why Use Dried Red Beans?
As with other traditional Guatemalan dishes, this recipe calls for dried beans. Whether it’s black bean soup or arroz negro (black beans and rice), I’ve never seen my Guatemalan mother-in-law use canned beans.
So, I follow her lead when cooking Guatemalan food. The extra time and planning to use dried beans is worth it!
Dried beans provide a firmer texture and have less sodium than canned beans. In this recipe, the cooking liquid also serves to add colour and flavour to the rice.
However, to save time, I use canned coconut milk rather than make fresh coconut milk. The traditional way to make coconut milk is to grate the meat from a fresh coconut and extract the milk using cheesecloth.
And that’s what I when making Tahitian Poisson Cru — a fish ceviche where all the ingredients are raw. But in this cooked dish canned coconut milk works just as well.
Ingredients in Guatemalan Coconut Rice and Red Beans
Dried Red Kidney Beans: In Guatemala, red beans are typically small, oval-shaped beans with a slightly nutty flavour and soft, ruby-toned skin. Red kidney beans are a good substitute.
Vegetable Oil: Lard is often used as a cooking oil in traditional Guatemalan recipes. I usually opt for vegetable oil as it’s lower in saturated fat and makes the recipe vegetarian-friendly. Avoid using olive oil, because it has a distinct flavour that can overwhelm the coconut milk.
Long Grain White Rice: Long grain American or Basmati rice is what helps keep the rice light and fluffy rather than soggy. Short and medium grain rice absorb too much moisture and won’t produce separate, distinct grains when cooked.
White Onion: Provides a tangy, yet mild onion flavour.
Garlic: Fresh garlic adds depth and pungency. Use a clove of fresh garlic rather than bottled as it contains no preservatives. I prefer fresh garlic from Spain, North or South America as it isn’t as bitter as Chinese garlic.
Red Bell Pepper: The red bell peppers add colour and a sweet freshness that complement the coconut flavour.
Fresh Thyme: Fresh thyme adds a nutty, earthy essence. It’s an especially excellent garnish. But in a pinch you can use dried thyme.
Coconut Milk: While Guatemalan coconut rice and red beans is traditionally prepared by grating fresh coconut and squeezing the meat to extract the coconut milk, this recipe is made with canned coconut milk.
Be sure to use canned coconut milk rather than coconut milk in a carton. It contains no added processed sugar, synthetic vitamins, artificial flavours or preservatives. Look for a premium brand of canned coconut milk such as Thai Kitchen, Grace Foods or Everland Organic.
Cooking Liquid From Beans: Using some of the cooking liquid helps incorporate the flavour from the beans into your rice.
Step by Step Instructions – Arroz con Frijoles y Coco
Scroll down to the recipe card for full method and quantities.
1. Sort the dried beans to remove any stones. Rinse the beans and then combine them with 4 cups of water and salt in a large pot.
2. Add the clove of garlic, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until tender but not mushy (45 minutes to to 1 1/2 hours). Replenish water as needed to keep beans covered while cooking.
Tip: The time it takes to cook the beans depends on the age of the beans you have and the actual variety. Test the beans to see if they’re done by mashing one against the side of the cooking pot or by taste. They should still be slightly firm as they will cook further in the rice.
Discard the clove of garlic and remove beans from heat when done. Don’t drain the liquid as you’ll be using some of it to cook with the rice!
3. Heat the vegetable oil in a deep skillet over medium high heat. Add the rice and toast very lightly, stirring frequently so the rice doesn’t burn or stick.
4. Add the sliced onions and chopped red pepper to the rice in the skillet. Reduce heat to medium, add the dried or fresh thyme leaves, salt and pepper.
5. Sauté until the onion and pepper are softened but not browned.
6. Combine the coconut milk, the water and one cup of cooking liquid from the beans in a large measuring bowl.
7. Add the coconut milk mixture to the rice, onions and chopped red pepper. Add the drained, cooked beans.
8. Cover, bring to the beans in coconut milk to a boil then reduce heat. Simmer for 15 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked.
Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes.
9. Fluff the cooked rice and beans lightly with a fork. Garnish with sprigs of fresh thyme, strips of red pepper or finely-sliced green onions and serve.
This dish is extra delicious with fresh-squeezed lime on top!
How To Serve Red Beans and Rice with Coconut Milk
- Serve with a bottled hot sauce such as Marie Sharpe’s or a homemade chirmol on the side.
- If you want to stick with traditional Guatemalan style, pair your red beans and rice with carne asada. I like to serve it with Balsamic and Beer Grilled Steak and salsa fresca (pico de gallo) or grilled fish.
- Accompany it with fried rounds of sliced fresh plantain caramelized to gooey goodness.
- You can also enjoy this rice and beans for breakfast (similar to Costa Rican gallo pinto) or roll it up in a tortilla with Scrambled Eggs with Tomatoes and Onions – Huevos Revueltos con Tomate y Cebolla to make an easy wrap.
- For a filling vegetarian meal, serve this rice and beans with Chop-Up, a traditional vegetable mash enjoyed in Antigua and Barbuda.
Tips and Popular Variations
- The age of the dried beans will affect the cooking time. Check the beans while cooking to make sure they don’t overcook and become mushy.
- Use bacon droppings to brown the rice or add a ham hock to the rice when cooking. The meat will boost the flavour but will also add fat and sodium.
- Bump up the kidney beans and increase the protein content.
- Add a whole Scotch Bonnet pepper (or your favourite hot pepper) to the cooking liquid.
- Substitute other types of beans such as black beans, pinto beans or your favourite bean variety. Just note that the cooking time will change.
Coconut Rice and Red Beans FAQs
Can I reheat leftovers?
Yes! I recommend re-heating this on the stove top with a little vegetable oil, so the rice still has the toastiness it has when made fresh. But you can just as easily heat it up in the microwave or in an oven at a low temperature.
Can I substitute dried kidney beans with canned?
Yes, you can if in a pinch. But this dish is best when made with dried kidney beans as the cooking liquid from the dried beans is incorporated into the rice.
Is the rice going to have a strong and sweet coconut flavour?
No, your rice will have a subtle and mild coconut flavor. It’s enough to notice, but is not overtly sweet. The coconut is meant to add a creaminess and lightness to your dish, not overwhelm it.
Can you freeze coconut milk?
This recipe won’t use an entire can of coconut milk, so if you have extra use it up in tapado (a Garifuna seafood soup), mango coconut popsicles, coconut lime sugar cookies or your favourite smoothie.
To freeze canned coconut milk, pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze until solid. Then, pop the cubes out of the tray and put them into a freezer bag. Seal and store for up to 3 months in your freezer.
Easy Coconut Rice and Red Beans
- Measuring Cup
- large pot
- ½ cup dried red kidney beans
- 4 cups water
- 1 small clove garlic
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 cup long grain white rice
- ½ cup white onion thinly sliced
- ½ cup red bell pepper chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves with extra for garnish or one teaspoon dried
- ½ cup coconut milk
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup cooking liquid from beans
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper freshly ground
- Sort the beans to remove any stones.
- Rinse the beans and then combine them with the 4 cups of water and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a large pot. Add the clove of garlic, bring to a boil and simmer until almost tender but not mushy (45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours). The beans should be slightly firm as they will cook further in the rice.
- Replenish water as needed to keep beans covered while cooking.Discard the clove of garlic and remove beans from heat when done. Don't discard the cooking water as you'll need it to cook the rice!
- Heat the vegetable oil in a deep skillet over medium high heat. Add rice and toast very lightly, stirring frequently so the rice doesn’t burn or stick.
- Add the sliced onions and chopped red pepper to the rice in the skillet. Reduce heat to medium, add the thyme, salt and pepper. Saute until the onion and pepper are softened but not browned.
- Combine the coconut milk, the water and the one cup of cooking liquid from the beans in a large measuring cup or bowl.
- Add the coconut milk mixture to the rice, onions and red pepper. Add the drained, cooked beans and 1/2 salt ( or to taste).
- Cover, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed. Add freshly squeezed pepper. Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes
- Fluff the cooked rice and beans lightly with a fork, and serve.
- Garnish with sprigs of fresh thyme, strips of fresh red pepper and a wedge of lime (optional).
- The age of the dried beans will affect the cooking time. Check the beans while cooking to make sure they don't overcook and become mushy. Pre-soaking the beans can speed up the cooking time by a few minutes.
- Garnish with finely-sliced green onions instead of fresh thyme.
- Add a whole Scotch Bonnet or Madame Janette pepper to the rice along with the liquid to add some heat to this dish. Remove it before serving.
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Dividing her time between Canada, Guatemala and Mexico (or the nearest tropical beach), Michele Peterson is the founder of A Taste for Travel. Her award-winning travel and food writing has appeared in Lonely Planet’s cookbook Mexico: From the Source, National Geographic Traveler, Fodor’s and 100+ other publications.
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