Easy Stewed Pigeon Peas

25.9.16 | Recipe by Renz

The most delicious of the side dishes is this Caribbean-style stewed pigeon peas dish. Perfect to be paired with any meats or can be eaten alone if you are vegetarian.


I love stewed peas. Or "stew peas" as we call it. It is comfort food. I don't know why pigeon peas (gungo peas) are such a sweet pea and therefore make for a great dish.

Stewed peas in general, is a popular Caribbean dish, but the peas used vary across the islands. It is an integral part of Sunday lunch and is one of those dishes that you know is just going to be "sweet" and satisfying when you eat it.

It can be used to make not just this side dish, but we also make pigeon peas soup and the pea is also used in pelau.

This is an easy cook dish.

Man, I remember the days of having to shell fresh peas. We had pigeon peas trees. And would get lost in there picking buckets full.

It's also not even uncommon to get peas from your neighbor. And I don't mean 5 or 10 peas, I mean buckets and bags of peas, where you have to set aside half a day to sit behind a bucket to shell these peas to put them to freeze.

What are pigeon peas?

As usual, this is not even a pea. It is a bean. But you know how Caribbean people stop.

It is a bean native to Africa but is widely used in the Caribbean. We use it by itself, mixed with rice, to make patties or even in soups.

The scientific name for them is Cajanus cajan. But it's also called gungo peas in Jamaica.

They grow in some small to medium-sized pods that have about 4 to five seeds in them. The colors sometimes are bright green then go-to brown (and splotchy) as it matures.

The taste for me can be described as nutty while the peas themselves are a bit crispy.

These are not to be confused with green peas. Green peas are bright green sweet pea.

Shelling time torture. Everyone tried to avoid it as much as possible. Unfortunately, to get to these sweet peas, it has to be shelled.

We now have the convenience of dry pigeon peas and canned pigeon peas, which cuts down the cooking time tremendously.

You can use either green or brown pigeon peas but I much prefer using brown.


As usual, we build flavors with our dishes. So besides the main item of the peas, we have herbs and spices. And also meat as options.

Ingredients needed for making stewed pigeon peas.

  • Pigeon peas - you can use canned, frozen, or fresh pigeon peas (see notes for additional details)
  • smoked turkey bones (substitute with pigtails, cooked ham) (see notes for other meat options).
  • Coconut milk.
  • Sprigs fresh thyme.
  • Brown sugar.
  • Onion.
  • Pumpkin.
  • Tomatoes.
  • Fresh garlic cloves.
  • Bay leaf (optional) - a great addition to add a new layer of flavor, but it is not needed.
  • Cooking oil.

How to make stewed pigeon peas

Prepare your meat now if using. See notes below for what needs to be done depending on the type of meat you are going to use.

Open the canned peas and rinse them out about twice. We are not using the liquid it comes in in the can and wants to remove as much as possible of any residue of it from there.

In your heavy-bottomed pan, on medium heat, heat oil and add crushed garlic, and fry for 2-3 minutes stirring constantly.

Go ahead and add in the pumpkin, meat, thyme, tomato, coconut milk, sugar, and peas and stir well.

Cover and let this simmer for about 30 minutes on medium-low heat. We are simmering until the peas are tender/soft and for the pumpkin to cook. Make sure and give it a stir every now and then.

Depending on how tender the peas were originally, you might need to add additional cups of water and simmer a little longer. But add additional water in small batches.

As the peas start to get tender, make sure to season with salt and black pepper.

Once peas are tender, you are finished.

A bowl full of cooked stewed pigeon peas with pumpkin and thyme.



Traditionally pigeon pea stew is also cooked with salt meat, specifically pigtails. You can also use salt beef or smoked turkey wings.

I easily find turkey bones at my supermarket already cut up.

If using pigtails, you need to soak them or boil them to remove the salt. Then cut up into small pieces. Add it to the pot with the rest of the ingredients.

If you are a vegetarian, you can easily leave out the meat totally.


If you don't have tomatoes on hand you can use a tablespoon of tomato paste.

What to pair with stewed peas?

The flavor in this is an earthy, sweetness that pairs well with rice for a great weekday meal. Or even dumplings.

For Sunday lunch, it is often joining the lineup with stewed chicken macaroni pie, fresh salad, and some kind of drink like mauby.

The ideal Sunday lunch!!

A spoonful of stewed pigeon peas.


Once cooled, this dish can be kept well in an air tighter container in the fridge for up to a week.

But it freezes really well. I use these as a meal prep option and cook in large batches. I portion out into freezer bags and take out and use as needed. They can be kept for up to six months in the freezer.

From the fridge, I warm up in the microwave really easily.

From frozen, I put a parcel in the fridge and let it defrost overnight. I then add to a deep saucepot, add a little water, cover and on medium heat, let it simmer till warmed through.


Cleaning peas: There is usually debris in the packets of peas. Before soaking them, take your time and for through to get rid of any stones, bugs, weird-looking peas, or even sticks that are sometimes found.

If using dried pigeon peas (the one in the packet), you will need to soak them. Soaking it the night before is recommended. At least 6 hours works best. Then boil them in water to get them tender and continue the recipe as listed. You can also cook this in a pressure cooker to get the pea tender faster.

If using fresh pigeon peas (frozen or not): Just run water on it for a little, then proceed as usual with the recipe.

Just the thought of preparing this for lunch had me excited.

Stewed peas bring me joy.

Have you ever had pigeon peas?

Let me know in the comments.

Here are some more peas recipes: