Vegan Jamaican Split Pea Curry
This delicious, satisfying curry is healthy, totally vegan, easy to make, and made with simple ingredients. It’s also quite budget-friendly.
Thanks to the InstantPot, it can be made in about 1 hour with no stirring. And no need to soak the peas overnight! Easy, peasy! 😜 It freezes and defrosts well, too!
If you don’t have an InstantPot, no worries. Stovetop directions here, too. (Just add 2 hours to the time.)
My Partner, Andrew, grew up in Jamaica and moved to the Bronx when he was 9 years old. He told me of the delicious foods from his childhood, such as Jamaican goat curry and chicken curry. But he hadn’t had any for years since he became Pescatarian.
I grew up in Kansas, and curry was not a part of my culture back then. So I googled Jamaican fish and shrimp curry recipes, and they were easy and delicious. We try to eat vegetarian much of the time and vegan at least once or twice a week. Hence my inspiration to experiment with Vegan options.
My first inclination was to look to the Chickpea, since I was familiar with this legume from my forays into Indian cooking. Chana Masala is often on my meal rotation. But I found the Chickpea adds a slightly sweet flavor to the curry that didn't work for me. To my palate, the chick pea sweetness took away from the Umami of Jamaican Curry. Then it struck me to try Split Peas! It was a match made in heaven.
Admittedly, the final product is kind of a funny color. But the actual dish is soooooo delicious, satisfying, comforting and spicy. And Legumes are packed with heart-healthy protein and fiber.
Enter the InstantPot
My first experiments with making Jamaican Split Pea Curry were unexpectedly laborious. It turns out, Split Peas really like to stick to the bottom of the pan. Something to do with the breakdown of starches in the cooking process. Online cooking times claimed split peas cook in 30 to 45 minutes. This has not been my experience! Despite several attempts, it routinely took at least 3 hours--start to finish--to get this curry from the bag of peas to the table, and required almost constant stirring. This meant I would only make this occasionally on a Sunday when I had a flexible schedule. (This is a good time to call a friend or listen to a podcast!) Thank goodness this curry freezes well, so I can make a large batch once every month or two and thaw it out for lunches or quick dinners.
For Christmas 2020 Andrew/Santa blessed me with an InstantPot and everything changed! No more stirring! Much more relaxing!
If you don’t have an InstantPot or pressure cooker, you can still enjoy this healthy, tasty curry. Just be prepared to stir a lot. (And enjoy a podcast.)
Jamaican Split Pea Curry—InstantPot or Stove Top
1 lb Yellow Split Peas
3 large organic potatoes
1c fresh carrot coins
Lots of fresh thyme (or freshly dried--see cooking notes)
8 tbsp Grace Jamaican curry (I like to use a combination of Mild and Hot)
8 cups of water
1 large or 2 small scotch bonnet peppers (optional)
1-3 tbsp Vegetable or Canola Oil for sautéing aromatics
Do not add salt!
1/2 tsp black pepper
Serve with Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce at the table, for the people who like their curry extra hot (Andrew’s family makes their own scotch bonnet sauce. I haven’t tried that yet! I use Spur Tree brand.)
Sort your split peas, removing any rocks that may have ended up in the bag. Rinse them well and set aside in a strainer.
Wash and cut potatoes and carrots. Potatoes should be in 1-2 inch-sized pieces. Carrots cut into coin shapes. Set aside. Measurements don’t need to be exact, as they will break down into the soup.
--If you have an immersion blender, or don’t mind occasional potato skins, leave skins on. Skins have vitamins, and it saves a step. If that’s gonna bug you, peel the potatoes.
Finely chop onion, scallion and scotch bonnet pepper. (Or use mini food processor.)
Destem at least 3 sprigs of thyme. (I like to use more.)
Cook on the Stove
Heat a large pot or Dutch oven and add 1-2 tbsp oil
Start sautéing the onions. When they are half done add the scallion. When they are almost done, add the scotch bonnet, and thyme.
When onions are translucent, turn off the heat and add 8 cups water
Whisk in curry powder & black pepper
Add the split peas and stir it all up
Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer
Simmer for 2 hours total
After an hour or so you will need to stir frequently to keep peas from sticking to bottom of pan
After 2 hours, add potatoes and carrots and simmer another 30-40 minutes until potatoes are tender.
Use a potato masher or an immersion blender to blend into a puree-type soup.
If you left the skins on the potatoes, you might have a few skins here and there. If that bothers you, either peel the potatoes before cooking, or use an immersion blender for sure. The potato masher won’t get those skins.
I would not put the curry in a regular blender, as the turmeric in the curry is likely to stain your blender permanently.
Cook in an InstantPot—cooks in just under an hour
Make sure there are no foreign objects between the heating unit and the pot
Make sure the sealing ring is in the lid, and all other parts are in place
Set the InstantPot to sauté function. I go back and forth between the high and low setting to avoid a burn notice
Sauté the veggies just like you would on the stove.
Turn off the InstantPot.
Add the water
Whisk in the curry powder and black pepper
Add the peas, potatoes and carrots
Stir it up
Set to pressure cook 18 mins (actual cook time about 49 minutes)
15 minutes –It will take the InstantPot 15 minutes come to pressure/preheat
18 minutes actual cooking time
15 minutes natural decompress—When the 18 minutes is up, the InstantPot will beep and switch to warm. Steam will continue to disperse, causing a natural decompression of the InstantPot.
1 minute manual release—When the InstantPot switches to warm, set a timer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, carefully switch the steam valve so any leftover steam can pour out. Keep your face and body out of the way. Also angle the pot away from things you don’t want hot curry steam on.
When the steam calms down, the InstantPot will allow you to take the lid off.
Immediately mash with potato masher or blend with an immersion blender.
Serve and Enjoy!
Enjoy as is, or with a side of white rice, a simple salad -- or Crispy Okra and Scallions. Andrew sometimes eats his with pita bread.
For this photo we picked up some Jamaican Sodas!
Serve with scotch bonnet sauce at the table. The scotch bonnets around here are sometimes ridiculously hot, and sometimes mild. So it is easier to add more spice at the table according to the individual’s desire. My favorite so far is the SpurTree brand. Andrew's family makes their own!
Salt at Table—Grace Curry powders have salt in them, so I don’t add salt while cooking. I find I like a tiny sprinkle of sea salt at the table, but that is up to the individual.
Black Pepper—according to Ayurveda, the Science of Life that comes from South Asia (sister science to Yoga)—we need all six tastes to feel satisfied and enjoy life. Black pepper is said to contain all six tastes within it. So I put black pepper in most of my recipes, unless it really doesn’t make sense. (Not in my morning Purple Rain Smoothies!)
InstantPots usually come with 2 silicon sealing rings for the lid. It is recommended you have one for savory foods and one for sweet foods, since some odors can’t be removed, however much you wash the rings. Curry really sticks to the silicon, so you might want to have a third just for curry. I found that if I wash the ring well, and then hang on a wall with a hook, the curry smell eventually goes away. (But I do notice a curry smell for a week when walking by the ring.)
Green split peas are sweeter. Yellow are less sweet and look better with the turmeric in the curry.
I like to use fresh thyme, but I also like to dry my own fresh thyme so I always have some on hand. Store bought dried thyme is terrible! Fresh-dried thyme is excellent, and is a good back-up if you don’t have time to run to the store for fresh. I wrote more about this in my previous recipe post on Ackee and Saltfish.
Food preparation gloves, or a small food processor is great for handling scotch bonnet peppers, which can burn your hands. I wrote more about this in my previous recipe on Ackee and Saltfish.
This curry freezes very well. I freeze it in serving-sized, freezer-safe bowls, then transfer to a large Ziploc in the freezer. Just put down a bowl or two in the refrigerator the day before you want to eat the curry. The next day you can mash it up in a small skillet or pot and reheat. The texture will be slightly different, but you can whip it with a fork and add a dash or two of water and it’s great.
I hope you enjoy this recipe! If you try it, please let me know what you think!
Andrew and Me at the beach Coney Island, New York