Red Pea Soup

In this installment of Diaspora Dining, Jessica B. Harris' series on foods of the African diaspora, the author and historian shares her recipe for a soup starring kidney beans. Called red peas in Jamaica, this ingredient connects this Jamaican soup with Africa's Caribbean diaspora.

a recipe photo of the Jamaican Red Pea Soup
Photo: Jason Donnelly
Active Time:
20 mins
Total Time:
1 hr 20 mins

A Spoonful of This Red Pea Soup Is Like a Big Hug from Jamaica

As one who has spent time chowing down on red beans and rice in the Crescent City, where they are a Monday dinner tradition (the story goes that the pot of peas was put on to cook while the Monday wash was done), I was delighted to find red beans also figured in what would become my favorite Jamaican soup: Red Pea Soup.

Kidney beans, also known as red beans in New Orleans and red peas in Jamaica, are one of the connectors of the African diaspora in the Caribbean. I wasn't aware of the links until my friend, Cuban culinary historian Maricel Presilla, informed me that Cuba has a line of bean demarcation. Many of us connect black beans with that country due to its notable black bean soup. However, there is a bean dividing line that splits the country. While black beans rule in the area near Havana, in the east of the country (Oriente) there is a tradition of red beans.

That red bean preference continues not only north to New Orleans, where they are a part of the city's favorite Monday evening fare, but east to Haiti in that country's version of red beans and rice, diri kolé ak pwa, and south to Jamaica, where they are an ingredient in one of the island's favorite soups: red pea soup.

I don't remember when I first tasted red pea soup, but as I have been going to Jamaica for more than half a century and even stayed there with a friend during Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, it's sure to have been a while ago. I suspect it was at one of the outdoor eating spots that were along the road crossing the Blue Mountains when going by road from Kingston to the North Coast. I do remember that it was love at first taste.

I was taken by the comforting heartiness of the soup and the satisfying meatiness of the beans. Despite the hot weather, the warmth of the broth was refreshing. As I journeyed over the island, I discovered many variations of the soup in spots ranging from hotel restaurants to friends' kitchens. Sometimes it was served with torpedo-shaped dumplings called spinners (that frankly I can do without—I find them overly doughy); other times it was spicy with Scotch Bonnet chile, but no matter the variants, my love for the soup seemed to maintain. Eventually, I tried my own hand at it, coming up with a version that skips the spinners and trades the more traditional beef and ham or pig tail for chicken. I know it's not the traditional version, but rather it's an homage to the soup that entranced me so many years ago.


  • 1 pound dried kidney beans, soaked overnight

  • 5 cups water

  • 4 cups unsalted chicken broth

  • 2 cups finely chopped cooked chicken

  • ½ cup finely chopped scallions (white and green parts)

  • ¼ cup finely chopped celery

  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic

  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper, plus more to taste

  • ½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

  • 3 tablespoons minced sweet onion, such as Vidalia


  1. Drain beans. Place in a large pot along with water, broth, chicken, scallions, celery, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper and thyme. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat; boil for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, about 1 hour. (Add water or broth if the soup seems too thick.)

  2. Season the soup with more pepper, if desired. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sweet onion.

To make ahead

Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)

245 Calories
2g Fat
34g Carbs
24g Protein
Nutrition Facts
Servings Per Recipe 8
Serving Size 1 1/4 cups
Calories 245
% Daily Value *
Total Carbohydrate 34g 12%
Dietary Fiber 10g 36%
Total Sugars 1g
Protein 24g 48%
Total Fat 2g 3%
Cholesterol 34mg 11%
Vitamin A 120IU 2%
Vitamin C 5mg 6%
Folate 185mcg 46%
Vitamin K 33mcg 28%
Sodium 536mg 23%
Calcium 57mg 4%
Iron 4mg 22%
Magnesium 75mg 18%
Potassium 789mg 17%
Zinc 2mg 18%

Nutrition information is calculated by a registered dietitian using an ingredient database but should be considered an estimate.

* Daily Values (DVs) are the recommended amounts of nutrients to consume each day. Percent Daily Value (%DV) found on nutrition labels tells you how much a serving of a particular food or recipe contributes to each of those total recommended amounts. Per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the daily value is based on a standard 2,000 calorie diet. Depending on your calorie needs or if you have a health condition, you may need more or less of particular nutrients. (For example, it’s recommended that people following a heart-healthy diet eat less sodium on a daily basis compared to those following a standard diet.)

(-) Information is not currently available for this nutrient. If you are following a special diet for medical reasons, be sure to consult with your primary care provider or a registered dietitian to better understand your personal nutrition needs.

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