White Bean Stew with Cumin and Ginger


My friend Aparna—she of “reading Christie during the lockdown” fame—recently acquired a kalchatti, a traditional soapstone pot used in parts of South India. Ever since then my life has become a living hell. She goes on about it in a nauseating manner on Whatsapp, with hourly odes to its glory, each accompanied by 32 photographs (on average). I have decided to purchase one of my own just so I can shut her up. The problem is it costs the fucking earth to have one shipped from India and the only one I can find in the US at a reasonable price will require me to season it before use—a process that involves a daily sensual massage of the damned thing with turmeric and castor oil for anywhere between 10-25 days. Yes, who am I kidding, I will almost certainly buy it and anoint it in this kinky manner. Until then, however, I have been inspired to break out a far inferior stoneware pot I purchased several years ago from a local Korean store and start cooking in it again on the regular. I made a traditional Kerala-style fish curry in it last week and yesterday I improvised a stew in it with ayocote blanco beans from Rancho Gordo that came out rather well. Herewith, the details.

I’ve posted a number of Indian-style bean recipes before. Most fall in the more traditional heavily-spiced end of the continuum. This one falls on the other side (see also this recipe for Black Beans with Cracked Spices). I soaked the beans before going to bed and put them on the stove after putting on my morning cup of tea 8 hours later. After drinking my tea, and while the beans were cooking, I made the simple wet masala. And because these are Rancho Gordo beans, the whole thing was done within 90 minutes. And for a dish made with very few ingredients this is—if you’ll excuse the puffery—bloody good. A very nice balance of tangy, sweet and mildly hot, and the ginger and the cumin give it a warmth that’s great in the winter—though I’d happily eat it any time of the year. See for yourself.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Rancho Gordo Ayocote Blanco beans or similar
  • 1 medium yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 tblspn freshly grated ginger
  • The following ground together to a fine powder: 1 tblspn cumin seeds, 1/2 tblspn black peppercorn, 1 Kashmiri chilli (see below)
  • 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
  • 2 tblspns balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tblspn jaggery or brown sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tblspns neutral oil (these days I use avocado oil)
  • Water

Preparation

  1. Rinse and soak the beans in your bean pot of choice, overnight or for 8 hours.
  2. Add enough water to the soaked beans to cover by a couple of inches and bring to a rapid boil and hold it there for 10 minutes, Add more hot water from a kettle to cover by a couple of inches again, lower to a simmer, cover and cook till the beans are almost done. Keep adding water as necessary. When done the the tops of the beans should just barely be peeping over the liquid in the pot.
  3. While the beans are cooking prepare the masala as follows:
  4. Heat the oil over medium heat in a small skillet, add the sliced onion and saute over medium-low heat till the onions are soft and nicely browned.
  5. Add the ginger, raise the heat to medium and saute for another minute or so.
  6. Add the powdered spices, the haldi and the salt, mix in and saute for another minute or two.
  7. Add the vinegar and the jaggery/brown sugar, reduce the heat to medium low again and saute till the oil separates. Take care not to let the onions scorch.
  8. When the beans are almost done add the contents of the skillet to the bean pot, mix in thoroughly, raise to a high simmer and cook for another 10-15 minutes.
  9. Take off heat and let it sit for 15-30 minutes to let the flavours combine fully.
  10. Serve in a bowl or with steamed rice or with a hot tortilla or chapati or two.

Notes

  1. The only reason I’m not calling this a curry is that I ate it right out of a bowl just by itself. It would probably be very nice with steamed rice or a chapati too though—maybe with a little carrot pickle on the side.
  2. You could, if you like, garnish this with a bit of chopped dhania/cilantro—but don’t get carried away.
  3. Do let it it sit for a while. You’ll find the cumin, jaggery/brown sugar and vinegar will develop a subtle pickled flavour.
  4. Though I used ayocote beans here this would be good with any white bean or any mild bean whose pot liquor is not too assertive (for example, the alubia blanca or the cassoulet). You want the flavour of the masala to come through.
  5. The Kashmiri chilli is used more for colour than heat. If you don’t have any and don’t have a desi store within reach, you can get some from Amazon (affiliate link); or you could sub a tspn of paprika; or use an ancho chilli if you have one.
  6. I used balsamic vinegar here but sherry vinegar or Chinese black vinegar would work just as well. For more of a tang you could certainly soak a small ball of tamarind and use the strained pulp/solution instead.
  7. You know there was another note I was going to make. But my dog demanded to go out and now I can’t remember what it was.

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