Red Bean Curry with Coconut Milk

Red Bean Curry with Coconut Milk
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. 

Aren't you glad I took this picture? I know I am

Aren’t you glad I took this picture? I know I am


  • 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
  • Salt
  • 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.

Though not as striking as before they're soaked, these are still quite purty.

Though not as striking as before they’re soaked, these are still quite purty.


  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. Add the ginger and garlic and stir for another minute.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium and add the powdered spices. Stir for another minute.
  5. Add the tomatoes and salt and cook down till you have a thick, aromatic sludge (mmm) and the oil begins to separate.
  6. Add the contents of the pan to the beans, mix thoroughly.
  7. 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).
  8. Add the coconut milk and sugar, stir in, bring the pot to a boil and then simmer until the beans are completely done.
  9. 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.
Curry leaves can be hard to find outside a South Asian grocery but do try to get them.

Curry leaves can be hard to find outside a South Asian grocery but do try to get them.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Next time I’m making this with these large white limas.

Red Bean Curry with Coconut Milk
*Full disclosure, as always: Rancho Gordo proprietor, Steve Sando, is an old pal. I have no financial relationship with him, though at this point he probably should pay me.

15 thoughts on “Red Bean Curry with Coconut Milk

  1. Hi-

    I got the rancho gordo newsletter this morning and went straight to a local Indian store to get everything. I asked the store owner about using fenugreek seeds for this dish and he said absolutely to use the leaves. The seeds unless grounds are rock hard. Wondering whether you put them in a spice bag or took the risk of teeth breaking. I’m going with the leaves since they were available beautifully flash frozen in a bag. I found fresh curry leaves as well so u can’t wait to make this tomorrow!


      • Sorry yes I missed the note about the spice grinding completely reading from my iphone, duh of course. I loved the curry, I will definitely make this again. Scarlet runners are one of my favorite beans and for me, the wonderful taste of the curry overwhelmed the flavor of the beans so I think I will use this curry recipe for a bean that needs the flavor, or for other things like with yams or meat. Great curry.


        • Glad you enjoyed it—did you catch the fenugreek seed/leaves thing in time?

          In general, meat can be substituted easily in most Indian recipes for red bean curries. In fact, when I left for grad school in the US in 1993, my mother, who armed me with a small sheaf of recipes, noted that I should use the same recipe for rajma and meat. Of course, she was simplifying a bit for my idiot, younger self but the general principle holds.


          • Unfortunately I did not, but I thought it was great anyway! I did add 1 cup of chicken stock as well to “thin” out the flavors a bit. Great balance of flavors overall, I’m Italian and cook lots of Asian but mostly vietnamese and Thai so I am much more familiar with those sauces with Keffir lime and lemongrass. So this was fun to try and a keeper for sure!


  2. I made this today and it is easily the best pot of beans I’ve ever tasted. I did it just like the recipe stated (had to pilfer a branch from my S.O’s potted curry tree; felt bad for a brief moment; it was worth it) without any bones and ground everything up in a spice grinder. My first time making scarlet runners–they were so big I was surprised. This is the kind of vegan dish that could satisfy any carnivore. This is now a top recipe for things-I-would-bring-to-a-potluck, so, thank you!


  3. I also made this dish after reading the Rancho Gordo newsletter. I belong to their bean club so there were plenty in my pantry to choose from. We cook Indian food often in our house so I had all the spices including fenugreek seeds. I did have to run to the local Indian spice store for the curry leaves. This dish was awesome! The broth was delicious! My husband considered it a keeper. I’ll be making it again soon!


  4. Over the last few weeks I’ve notice a large uptick in views of this recipe. Given that it was published almost five years ago I assume this means it’s received a second life via a link somewhere (on Facebook?). If that’s true and you’re coming to it from that place could you leave a brief note saying where it is? Unless, of course, it’s a list of “Crappy Recipes No One Should Ever Make”—in that case, don’t tell me.


  5. Hello! Long time lurker finally commenting for the first time to thank you for posting this recipe. I took a lot of shortcuts (canned beans, canned tomatos, ground cinnamon) and didn’t have all the spices at hand, but it turned out DELICIOUS. I’m going to make this again and trying out more of your recipes. I’m also glad to see that you are still writing – your “annoying” opinions are appreciated!


  6. Hello! Long time lurker finally commenting for the first time to thank you for posting this recipe. I did a lot of shortcuts (canned beans, canned tomatos, ground cinnamon) and didn’t have all the spices with me, but it turned out DELICIOUS. I almost skipped the curry leaves but glad I didn’t. Will be making this again and trying out your other recipes! 🙏🏽


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