Caribbean side dishes are the perfect partner for traditional savory foods! If you’re not hungry after skimming this list, you may want to read it again!
Here’s all you need to know about the best Caribbean side dishes, their accompanying foods, and even some easy recipes.
No Caribbean-made meal is complete without the right side dish. Whether you’re having spicy curried channa, smoked turkey neck, coal-stove roasted vegetables, or slow-cooked stew peas, you must prepare something to sop up the gravy, fold in the meat, or otherwise complement the main course.
It's no secret that Caribbean cuisine has always been known for its excellent side dishes. Trust us; if you’re looking for the perfect Caribbean side dish for your next cookout, dinner, or lunch date, this list is for you!
Rice and Peas
Also called “Peas and Rice” in some cultures, this Caribbean side dish may be one of the most popular across the region. Made with your choice of rice and beans or peas, this is a seasoned rice dish that combines complex savory spices with creamy coconut milk to give you a delectable dish you’ll want to have with everything!
But you may wonder, “What can I even pair with this?” Anything really! It all depends on the peas or beans you choose for your rice and peas.
For instance, rice and peas made with pigeon (gungo) peas pair well with curry chicken, dahl, stewed beef, or even escovitch fish. There’s also red peas (kidney beans), rice, and peas that’s often served with stewed or jerk pork, BBQ pigtails, and oxtails.
But even if you have black beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, or any other dried bean, you can make a luscious (or shelly) pot of perfect rice and peas. Here’s a recipe for Jamaican Rice and Peas from vegan Jamaican Chef Jessica Hylton-Leckie. (Yes, this dish is vegan!)
- 1 cup dried red kidney beans, soaked overnight in water or for 8 hours at least.
- 3 cups water, up to 4 cups to cover the peas while boiling.
- 2 cups uncooked long-grain rice (or the rice of your choice, following the cooking instructions).
- 13.5 ounce can of full-fat coconut milk (or coconut milk powder).
- 1 teaspoon sea salt.
- 3 stalks scallion, cut or torn in half.
- 1 scotch bonnet pepper.
- 2 cloves of garlic.
- 1 teaspoon pimento berries/allspice. A few sprigs of thyme.
- Rinse your soaked kidney beans thoroughly in a sieve, strainer, or colander. Discard that water it was soaking in.
- In a large heavy-bottom pot, cover with 3 cups water to cover the kidney beans.
- Bring to a boil, then to a simmer at medium heat for 30 minutes to an hour (taste test after 30 minutes to see if it’s tender. My peas are always finished within 30 minutes. You may need to add up to an extra cup of water while the peas are simmering to ensure enough water is in the pot.
- After your peas are cooked (don't wash the peas nor throw out the leftover water), add in your rice, coconut milk, sea salt, scallion, scotch bonnet pepper, garlic, pimento/allspice, and thyme. Stir to combine.
- Cover your pot with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer at medium heat for about 15 minutes, then to low heat for about 5-10 more minutes until the rice is fully cooked. Just watch your rice. It may cook more quickly or take a little bit longer. You may add an extra ¼ cup of water if the liquid boils out before the rice is fully cooked.
- Remove from heat and let the rice sit; cover still for ten more minutes. Taste test and add anything if necessary. Remove the seasonings, and enjoy! We guarantee you’ll add this Caribbean side dish to your plate every day (not just Sundays!).
You haven’t experienced Caribbean side dishes until you have sunk your teeth into a soft, warm, sweet, but savory Jamaican festival. Often served with fried fish on beaches across the island, it’s not unusual to see people ordering them in stacks! Festivals also taste great as complements for jerk chicken, fish, or pork. Popular jerk centers across Jamaica always have Festival on the menu (if they don’t, you may want to leave.) Plus, they’re easy to make too! Give it a try with pre-portioned festival mixes created by Jamaica’s Festival-making experts. Just add water, knead, fry, and enjoy!
Every Jamaican granny has a recipe for fried dumplings or Johnny cakes, which she swears is the best. Well, Granny, we don’t care what you call it, just don’t call us late for it! And you don’t want to miss these crispy-on-the-outside, pillowy-soft-on-the-inside, cornmeal-infused, mouthwatering dumplings either. Usually, these “cakes” are paired with ackee and saltfish, callaloo, stewed or curried chicken, or mackerel rundown - all traditional Jamaican breakfast dishes. But don’t let us tell you, try it for yourself! Here’s a simple recipe from Jamaican Chef Samantha George:
- 3 cups All Purpose Flour.
- 3 tsp Double Acting Baking powder.
- 3 tsp. Granulated Sugar (or brown sugar).
- 1 tsp. Salt. Water (as needed).
- Add all ingredients into a strainer and sieve into a large mixing bowl. This helps to aerate the flour and more evenly distribute the additives through the flour. Gently mix with a fork.
- Make a well in the center of the bowl. Gently pour in room temperature water, and gently stir the flour into a shaggy dough using a spoon. Follow by using your hands to knead the dough until soft and smooth. Cover with a damp cloth and let rest for 10 minutes. After the dough has rested, divide and shape the dough into 8-10 golf-sized balls - indenting the tops of the dumplings.
- Heat cast iron skillet, wok, or dutch pot. Add oil to heat for deep frying. When oil reaches medium heat, gently lower the dumplings into oil, about half, to not overcrowd the pot, which would reduce the cooking temperature too much. Let the dumplings fry on one side for about 2 minutes, then flip on the other to continue frying for another 2 minutes. Prick one dimpling with a toothpick to test for complete frying.
- Remove from pan and set aside on cooling wrack to crisp up even more.
- Serve and enjoy!
One bite, and you’ll be hooked on these Indo-Caribbean snack ‘dumplings.’ Made with fried, spiced split peas and flour, these dough balls are usually served with chutney but are equally delicious, dipped in curried chickpeas, or served alongside saltfish. Another cotton-soft treat perfect as a stand-alone or side dish, these fried dough balls will have you coming back and shoving them in your mouth by the handful! Don’t believe us? Try it for yourself!
Known for playing a supporting role in Trinidad's famous “Bake and Shark” dish, fried bake is a traditional breakfast bread and the perfect Caribbean side dish. Whether you’re adding salted butter, melted cheese, buljol (saltfish and tomatoes), scrambled eggs, or Trini callaloo to your plate with this fried dough, it’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser. This ‘bread’ is so simple even a kid could make it. That’s what Chef Ria Birju from Trinidad does when she makes fried bake for her family. Try her recipe here:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour.
- 2 teaspoons baking powder aluminum free.
- 1 teaspoon salt.
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar increase to 1 tbs if you like it a little sweeter.
- 1 tablespoon butter at room temperature, optional.
- Warm water, about 3/4 cup.
- 2 cups vegetable oil for frying bake (2 cups).
- 1/4 tsp yeast - optional makes for a more bread-like bake.
- In a large bowl, add flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder. Rub in butter (if using). Mix well.
- While gradually adding water, knead to make a very soft, smooth dough, about 3 minutes - not too long. Do not fold over, and please try to use ALL the water called for in the recipe. It's better to have a sticky dough to add a pinch of flour rather than a stiff, dry dough.
- Form into a large ball (or two) and cover with a wet paper towel. Let it rest for about 15-30 minutes. You can refrigerate for several hours or overnight. This helps to create a fluffier result.
- Divide dough into small “golf” balls. On a lightly floured surface, flatten (1/4 inch) using your hands or rolling pin. If you roll it out too thin, your bakes will be stiff and hard.
- Pour oil into a frying pan on medium heat.
- Working in batches, fry the dough disks, turning once, until golden brown and puffed, about 30 seconds per side. Continuously pour the hot oil on the bake (a basting motion) to help it to rise. Always flip bakes as soon as they puff up and have a golden color.
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bake to a paper towel-lined plate. Overcooking will also make the bakes stiff.
Cassava cakes (Bammy)
This complex flatbread dates back to pre-Columbian times when Arawak Indians would use cassava to make cakes they would serve with fish and other meats. Today it’s a traditional Jamaican side dish perfect for escovitch, steamed and brown stewed fish, and other main courses. Cassava Bammy is often used as a mealtime substitute for bread and biscuits. It’s also the perfect side for soups, stews, ackee and saltfish, callaloo, or simply buttered and enjoyed on its own. If you’re ready to try this tasty Caribbean side dish, shop and ship them straight from the islands. Follow the cooking instructions and enjoy!
Rotis like sada, paratha (buss up shut), and dhalpuri are perfect complements to curries, pumpkin talkari, and mango chutney. With its roots stemming from Indian cuisine, roti is a go-to side dish for many Caribbean friends and fans. Traditionally, roti is prepared using a flat or slightly concave griddle made from cast iron or steel called a Tawah. When made right, this buttery flatbread serves as the vehicle for sopping up savory gravies and chutneys. In Trinidad, “buss up shut” is the most common variation, as this roti resembles a torn t-shirt when prepared. It’s not only excellent finger food, but it’s also finger-licking good! Try this recipe from Afro-Caribbean Chef Imma Adamu:
- 3 cups of all-purpose flour.
- 1 teaspoon of sugar.
- 2 teaspoons baking powder.
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.
- 1 tablespoon ghee butter or oil.
- 1 1/4 cups warm water or slightly more.
- 1/3 cup shortening /butter.
- ¼ cup oil/ghee / melted butter for basting /oiling paratha.
- In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
- Then make a well, add oil and warm water, and knead the dough for about 30 seconds to 1 minute to form a soft and sticky dough.
- Divide the dough into six equal pieces. Set aside and let it rest for 15- 30 minutes. (Resting the dough helps to relax the gluten and makes it easier to work with, which produces tender paratha.)
- Place each piece on a heavily floured board and roll the dough into a circle. They do not have to be perfect circles.
- Using your fingers or knife, rub shortening/ butter (about a tablespoon) on the surface of the dough, and lightly sprinkle with flour.
- Using a knife, make an opening from the center of the dough and roll the dough clockwise to form a cone.
- Pleat the ends into the bottom of the cone and push the cone tip inwards. Place in an oil pan and cover with a damp cloth.
- Repeat this process for the other five pieces - oil each to prevent the dough from drying.
- Let it rest for about 2 hours or more covered.
- When ready to cook, heat the griddle, crepe pan, or tawah to medium heat.
- Gently flatten out each cone and roll it out. Begin rolling out the dough from the center, working outwards.
- Rotate the dough out each time you roll it. This helps to make a perfect circle, about 10-inch circles. Make sure they are thin at the edges.
- Gently place dough on the griddle.
- Heavily oil the other side of the dough, making sure you grease the edges too.
- Cook until tiny bubbles/air pockets appear on the top of the roti, then flip the dough.
- Making the “torn-up shirts” can be achieved in several ways: 1. Crush paratha with two spatulas while still on the griddle. 2. Place paratha in a large bowl with a lid and shake the heck out of it. Or 3. Place in a clean cloth cover and shake it up.
Of course, there are many other side dishes like fried plantains, boiled ground provisions, casseroles, savory pies, and so on. All these make Caribbean-made dishes that much more special. Share your favorite Caribbean side dishes with us below!