For a satisfying rice dish that’s both deeply flavorful and weeknight-easy, take a cue from the Caribbean—and combine it with a splash of coconut water.

In Trinidad, pigeon peas and rice are a familiar sight on any table, either as a complement to curried meats and other mains or as a meal unto itself. “It was always in the regular rotation of side dishes,” says Ramin Ganeshram, chef, journalist and author of the cookbook “Sweet Hands: Island Cooking From Trinidad & Tobago.”

The dish is as simple as it is delicious. It starts with pigeon peas: a legume that is an edamame-like green when young, but becomes ­brown—and meatier—as it matures. It has a creamy, toothsome texture akin to pinto beans and lentils.

These are cooked with rice, along with sautéed onions and peppers. A little salt pork or cured ham lends savory depth. Some versions also rely on coconut milk for extra richness. And it all gets a major flavor boost from hot chilies (usually the fiery Scotch bonnet) and often “green seasoning,” a sofrito-like paste packed with herbs and aromatics.

Like Trinidadian cuisine itself, this dish reveals a long history of intermingled roots. Much of Trinidad’s population is descended from the enslaved Africans and Indian indentured servants brought there to work on the island’s plantations. The pigeon peas embody that lineage, as these legumes are thought to have originated in India before making their way to Africa and then Europe, and finally to the New World. “It’s a much older transfer of information and ingredients than even before the Atlantic trade brought this to the Caribbean,” Ganeshram says.

Other variations on this legume-and-rice formula abound: Jamaica has a similar dish that uses allspice and red kidney beans, while in Puerto Rico (where it is known as arroz con gandules), it can be made with sweet ají dulce peppers and a sunny yellow seasoning blend.

For our version, we found that either brown or green pigeon peas worked equally well. From there, we aimed to maximize flavors.

Coconut milk imparts a tropical richness that we love—but it can sometimes weigh down the dish, dulling the other flavors. After some testing, we found that coconut water (which here does double-duty as the cooking liquid for our rice) reliably gave us fresh coconut flavor while keeping the dish light.

In the Trinidadian version, meat generally is a seasoning rather than a main attraction. We followed suit, opting for a bit of bacon to give our dish an umami-rich backbone. We further enhanced the savoriness with a dash of Worcestershire and allspice (both typical Caribbean ingredients) and an aromatic mix of garlic, shallots and bell pepper. A blast of spice from hot chilies completes the dish, yielding a rice side dish complex enough to be a main.