I buy a lot of different kinds of beans from Rancho Gordo* but when it comes to Indian preparations I’ve been sort of stuck in variations on this rajma theme; and I generally end up using the same subset of beans in them. This time around I wanted to break out of my bean-profiling ways and make something Indian with a bean I hadn’t used for that purpose before; and I wanted to make it in a way in which I hadn’t cooked beans before. When I looked into the pantry I saw a packet of Rancho Gordo Scarlet Runner beans making eyes at me. It’s a gorgeous bean and I wanted to make it in a way that would show off its dramatic size and colour. Right next to the beans was a box of coconut milk, and inspiration struck: I’d make a vaguely Kerala-style curry/stew with coconut milk and curry leaves. It turned out rather well, Herewith the recipe.
- 1 lb Rancho Gordo Scarlet Runner Beans or similar
- 1 large red onion, sliced
- 1 tspn freshly grated ginger
- 1 tspn freshly grated garlic
- The following ground into a coarse powder*: 1 tspn cumin seeds, 1/2 tspn coriander seeds, 1/2 tspn black peppercorns, a 1″ piece of cinnamon, 1-3 dried hot red chillies, 1/2 tspn turmeric powder, a pinch of brown mustard seeds, a pinch of fenugreek seeds
- 1.5 cups chopped tomato
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 1 tspn sugar
- 2 tblspns minced shallot
- 1 sprig curry leaves
- Pork or ham bones (optional)
*Or if you have a commercial Indian curry powder or “rajma masala” you like, by all means use an equivalent amount of that plus turmeric and ground cinnamon and red chillies. Maybe 1 tblspn of the commercial mix plus the turmeric, freshly ground cinnamon and chillies. MDH, Everest, Shan and Badshah are good brands.
- Clean and soak the beans overnight. In the morning, add enough water to the soaked beans to cover them by 2-3 inches, bring to a boil in a covered saucepan with the bones (if using) and simmer till almost done (1-2 hours, probably with Rancho Gordo beans).
- When the beans are close to being done (test by eating one—it should be easily eaten but still a bit firm in the middle), heat oil in a skillet and add the onions and stir-fry for a couple of minutes till they begin to brown lightly around the edges.
- Add the ginger and garlic and stir for another minute.
- Reduce the heat to medium and add the powdered spices. Stir for another minute.
- Add the tomatoes and salt and cook down till you have a thick, aromatic sludge (mmm) and the oil begins to separate.
- Add the contents of the pan to the beans, mix thoroughly.
- Raise the heat to medium and cook the beans till almost done, and till the sauce has thickened a fair bit (it should still look like a thick stew in consistency, however).
- Add the coconut milk and sugar, stir in, bring the pot to a boil and then simmer until the beans are completely done.
- After adding the coconut milk, heat some oil in a small pan and add the minced shallot and curry leaves. Saute for a minute or so till the shallot has just begun to soften and brown. Pour the contents of the pan over the finished beans, stir and serve.
- The consistency of the finished dish is up to you. We ate it pretty soupy, straight out of the bowl on the first night and it was very good. I then reduced the sauce a fair bit and we ate the rest over rice. Adjust the salt accordingly.
- The pork bones are optional but, depending on the bean you use, add good depth. Still, I added them here mostly because I had them and needed to use them.
- There is absolutely no shame in using commercial curry powder or rajma masala (a curry powder specifically for cooking dried beans with) for convenience. But if you are the kind of discerning individual who plans to cook their way through all my recipes you’ll find that you’ll go through the whole spices quite quickly; and, of course, that way you can vary the spice profiles to your liking and/or desire for experimentation.
- Depending on how hot your dried red chillies are 1-3 may seem like a lot but keep in mind that there are 2 cups of coconut milk coming later to mellow them out. And if you’re not grinding your own dried chillies then please use hot chilli powder from an Indian store; you want bright heat—in my experience the chilli/chile powders sold in regular American groceries are too dull. But please don’t use pre-ground cinnamon of any kind.
- Curry leaves are hard to find unless you go to a South Asian grocery, but you’re going to go to one anyway to get all the spices, right? Well, if you can’t find any, the dish will still be very good. The marriage of coconut milk and curry leaves is a very special one, however.
- Speaking of the coconut milk, I again recommend Aroy-D’s tetrapaks which are pure coconut milk and not at all cloying. And I really should approach them for a contract.
- Next time I’m making this with these large white limas.