If you’re looking for a ingredient that is bursting with flavor and nutrient-dense, consider trying out some pigeon peas.
But, with so many other legume substitutes available, it can be confusing to decide which one to choose.
Luckily, learning how to use pigeon peas and the five best substitutes for them can make your menu prep decisions easy.
Whether you are cooking for a family meal or just creating something for yourself the options are nearly endless — enabling you to explore global flavors.
What are Pigeon Peas?
Ah, pigeon peas.
These little wonders are a staple of many Caribbean, Indian and African cuisines.
But if you’re not familiar with this legume, you may be wondering what it is and what its uses are.
The pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) is a type of small beige or brown round bean that has a nutty flavor similar to black-eyed peas or lentils.
It is the small heirloom variety of the traditional millet that was eaten in India for centuries.
When dried and milled, it becomes a flour called “Cajun” or “Toor(Peora)”, similar to garbanzo flour.
It’s an excellent source of protein which can be used as a vegan substitute for meat in many dishes.
Pigeon peas can be found either fresh, frozen, canned or dried in most major grocery stores.
To use the dried form, they must first be cooked before being added to recipes like dal (lentil soup) and curries.
The cooked version may also be mashed and shaped into cakes or patties like those found in Caribbean flavors.
Pigeon peas make great additions to soups and stews thanks to their soft texture as well as their high nutritional value which includes protein, fiber, magnesium, potassium and iron.
The 5 Best Substitutes for Pigeon Peas
If you’re looking for an alternative for your favorite recipes, here are five of the best substitutes for pigeon peas.
1 – Red Lentils
Red lentils should always be your go-to choice when looking for a readymade substitute for pigeon peas.
They have a subtle flavor and can be easily cooked in less time, making them an ideal replacement for pigeon peas in most recipes.
They also contain more fiber, folate, and iron than other pulses-like chickpeas and sky-rocketing their nutritional benefits even further.
Red lentils dissolve into the stews, making them the perfect ingredient in soups and dals where smoothness is required.
Serve red lentils as part of an Indian-inspired meal or use them as an accompaniment to a main dish for extra nutrition.
2 – Chickpeas
Chickpeas are great for dishes that call for pigeon peas.
They’re small and oval, much like pigeon peas, but they’re a darker shade of yellow and are often cooked with spices such as garam masala.
The easiest way to replace pigeon peas in a recipe is to use canned chickpeas.
Simply drain the can, rinse the chickpeas, and cook as directed.
If you want your dish to still have some of that traditional texture of pigeon peas, try using dried chickpeas instead.
Before cooking with dried chickpeas, they need to be soaked in hot water overnight or pre-boiled in water for 1–2 hours.
Once the chickpeas are ready to go, follow your recipe instructions as stated.
3 – Black Beans
Black beans, also called ‘black turtle beans’, are a common substitute for pigeon peas.
They’re widely available and widely used in Latin American cuisine.
Like other legumes, black beans are high in protein, fiber and folate.
They’re slightly less sweet than pigeon peas but work just as well when cooked with spices and herbs or chili peppers.
They also make a great addition to veggie burgers or meatless tacos due to their dense texture.
Since black beans have a shorter cooking time than pigeon peas, you may want to consider soaking them before using them in recipes.
4 – White Beans
White beans, also known as cannellini beans, are a good substitute for pigeon peas.
They are mild in flavor and have a smooth texture when cooked.
When used as a substitute in dishes, you should use an equal volume of white beans to pigeon peas.
However, it is important to note that some dishes may require adjustment of other seasonings and herbs to accommodate the substitution.
White beans can be cooked from dried or canned for convenience.
Dried beans can be soaked overnight before cooking for best results but canned beans can simply be heated and added to your recipe.
5 – Kidney Beans
Kidney beans can be a delicious substitution for the small and flavorful pigeon peas.
They have a much larger size than the pigeon pea, but have a similar texture and taste, with creamy and buttery flavors.
Kidney beans are a great source of protein and dietary fiber, as well as antioxidants such as B vitamins.
Keep in mind that they need to be cooked longer than pigeon peas, so adjust your cooking time accordingly.
Additionally, they also offer more nutritive benefits due to their enlarged size – they can provide up to 3 times of folate, iron, magnesium and zinc than the latter.
In summary, pigeon peas are an excellent source of lean protein and are often used as a nutritious substitute for meat-based proteins.
Their unique flavor profile and texture make them a great choice for soups, stews, and curries.
When pigeon peas are not available, however, there are many substitutes you can use instead.
Each of these alternative legumes offers their own set of nutritional benefits that can be beneficial for improving your overall health.
It is important to remember that the best substitutes for pigeon peas depend on the particular dish you’re preparing.
If possible, opt to use dried or frozen pigeon peas in order to maximize their potential nutritional benefits.
No matter which legume you decide on using in your recipes though, each one offers the potential for great taste and plenty of nutritious goodness.