Simple Bean Curry

Every time I post a recipe for a curry I hear from friends who wish I would post recipes for Indian dishes that didn’t require too many ingredients they don’t have on hand. I don’t quite understand this complaint. Most Indian spices can be used in a wide range of dishes, it’s possible to get them in small quantities, and in the era of the internet it’s possible to get them easily even if you don’t have a good South Asian store within easy reach. And if you have more than you need just cook more Indian food. Problem solved. All that being said, here is a recipe for the whingers and moaners: it’s for a curry of dried beans cooked a la rajma, but made with very few spices indeed—and with ones that even those who don’t cook Indian food very often are likely to have on hand.  As with all my bean cooking, this was made with my friend Steve’s Rancho Gordo beans. This particular batch was made with the excellent but elusive Snowcap bean. I don’t think they have it available right now but the good news is that you’ll achieve excellent results with beans such as Domingo Rojo, Ayocote Morado, the almighty Royal Corona, and even the cassoulet bean. If you don’t have any of those on hand either, use whatever you have. 


  • 1 packet/1 lb Rancho Gordo beans of your choice, rinsed and soaked overnight.
  • 3-5 pods green cardamom, 1 cinnamon stick, 3-5 cloves.
  • 1 large red onion, chopped.
  • 1-1.5 tspn freshly grated ginger.
  • 1-1.5 tspn freshly grated garlic.
  • 3-5 hot dried red chillies, 1 tblspn coriander seed and 1 tspn cumin seed, ground together into a coarse powder.
  • 3/4 tspn turmeric powder.
  • 1-1.5 lb tomatoes, chopped.
  • 1 pinch brown sugar.
  • Salt.
  • Oil.
  • Water.


  1. Put the soaked beans in a pot, cover with at least two inches of water and bring to a rapid boil and keep it there for 10 minutes. Then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook till beans are almost done, adding more water a bit at a time if necessary.
  2. While the beans are cooking heat some oil in a large wok or similar and add the whole spices.
  3. Once the spices are aromatic add the chopped onion. Saute till the onion begins to caramelize around the edges.
  4. Add the ginger and garlic and saute for another minute or so.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium, add the turmeric and ground spices and stir for another minute or two.
  6. Add the tomatoes, sugar and salt and cook till the tomatoes have cooked down to a thick sludge (“Appetizing!” Ed.).
  7. Once the beans are almost done pour the contents of the bean pot into the wok, mix everything and simmer, covered, on low heat till the beans are completely done.
  8. Serve with rice or chapatis/parathas, or eat out of a bowl with a squeeze of lime.


  • I soaked the beans in this case but with Rancho Gordo beans you can easily get away without soaking; just adjust the cooking time accordingly.
  • I toasted the chillies, coriander seeds and cumin lightly before I ground them but this is entirely optional.
  • Feel free to increase or decrease the number of dried red chillies you use, depending on the heat of what you have on hand or your heat tolerance. Keep in mind that of the chillies in my picture two are byadgi chillies (the darker, more wrinkled ones) which are used more for colour than for heat.
  • Similarly, feel free to use less tomato but don’t use more. I used a lot here because I had a bunch I needed to cook up.
  • If you don’t have whole cardamom, cinnamon and cloves in your pantry (what are you, some kind of animal?) but have a garam masala blend you like, just add 1/2 a tspn of that at the end instead and mix it in for a minute or so before taking the pot off the heat.
  • For a “darker” flavour reduce the coriander seed and up the cumin.
  • You can make this more or less soupy as you like. I like it pretty thick.
  • I’ve garnished the beans with just chopped cilantro here but they’d be good with a bit of minced onion as well over the top.
  • If you’re a hasty young person with an Instant Pot please adapt it for that use and let us know what you did. Or maybe just cook this on the stove-top on a Sunday morning when you have no other plans.
  • For a bean curry recipe with more ingredients, see here.

6 thoughts on “Simple Bean Curry

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