When making beans my first instinct is to make some version of the classic Punjabi preparation of rajma. This is a good instinct: rajma is one of the great dishes of the world, especially when eaten with chawal/rice along with some pickle. Indeed, you could say that many of the bean recipes that I’ve posted on the blog are variations on rajma. You might say the same about this one as well but it moves a little further afield and into the intersection that exists between South Asian and Mexican cuisines, broadly construed. Both cuisines feature dishes of stewed beans and in general have many ingredients, flavours and textures in common. This recipe, a result of random improvisation in the kitchen has mole in mind along with rajma: one of the key ingredients is dark chocolate, used to thicken the sauce and give it an earthy base. Cumin, coriander seed, cinnamon and red chillies are some of the other crossover ingredients in it. The result is a bean stew or curry that I expect will be more familiar to South Asian palates but might also spark some recognition in Mexican ones. At any rate it’s quite tasty and goes well with rice or chapatis/tortillas or just straight out of a bowl with a big squeeze of lime. Give it a go and tell me what you think.
As with all my bean preps I use Rancho Gordo beans and would suggest you do the same. Between the lower cooking time and the superior pot liquor and bean texture they’re hard to beat. I’ve used their Vaquero and Eye of the Goat beans for this but it would work just as well with other similar beans such as Moro or Yellow Eye. Now Steve will tell me that these beans aren’t all really similar…
- 1 lb Rancho Gordo Vaquero or Eye of the Goat beans or similar, rinsed
- 2-3 tez patta/dried cassia or bay leaves
- 3-5 cloves
- 1 tspn cumin seeds
- 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 tspn freshly pounded garlic
- 1 tspn freshly pounded ginger
- The following lightly toasted in a skillet, cooled and ground to a fine powder: 1 large piece cinnamon, 1 tspn coriander seeds, 1/2 tspn methi/fenugreek seeds, 2 tspns black peppercorn, 3-5 Byadgi or Kashmiri chillies [affiliate links]
- 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
- 1 oz dark chocolate (85%-unsweetened) cut into small pieces
- 1 tblspn balsamic vinegar
- 1-2 tblspns jaggery/brown sugar
- Water, as needed
- 2-3 tblspns neutral oil like avocado or grapeseed
- Lime quarters
- Place the rinsed beans in your bean pot of choice (clay/stone is best), cover with a few inches of water, add the tez patta and cloves, bring to a boil and hold it there for 10-15 minutes. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, cover and cook till the beans are done. Check every once in a while to make sure the beans are covered by the water—top up with hot water from a kettle as needed. When the beans are done they should be just poking over the pot liquor in a bean pot that’s quite a bit taller than it is wide.
- While the beans are cooking, prepare the masala as follows in a skillet:
- Heat the oil over medium heat and when it shimmers add the cumin seeds.
- When the cumin seeds split add the onion and salt, lower the heat to medium-low and saute, stirring often for 15 minutes or so or till the onions are softened and browned nicely around the edges.
- Add the pounded ginger and garlic, mix in and saute for another minute.
- Add the powdered spices and turmeric, mix in and saute for another minute or so.
- Add the chocolate, mix until it is completely melted, taking care that it doesn’t stick.
- Add the vinegar and jaggery, mix in and saute till you have a dark brown sludge in the skillet. Hold till the beans are ready.
- When the beans are yielding to the tooth but not yet completely cooked add a couple of ladles of the bean liquor to the skillet to loosen it up and pour the lot in with the beans.
- Simmer, covered, till the beans are completely done.
- Serve with lime wedges with steamed rice or chapatis/flour tortillas
- Resist the temptation to make this very hot. It is not meant to be hot. Byadgi and Kashmiri chillies are mild. If you don’t have any, use a milder Mexican chile such as ancho.
- I’ve made this with 85% chocolate and with 100% chocolate. It’s very good both ways but depending on how bitter your chocolate is you may need to taste and adjust the amount of jaggery/brown sugar you use.
- You can also choose to add more vinegar—maybe as much as one more tblspn. Just taste as you go to get a sense of what the balance of bitter, sour, sweet and earthy flavours is.
- If you don’t finish this at one meal you’ll find the vinegar gives it a slightly “pickled” flavour as it sits in the fridge. If you were to use tamarind rather than balsamic vinegar as your souring agent this would be even more pronounced.
- No matter how much vinegar you use in making the masala make sure to squeeze some lime juice before you eat. It’s good without but the lime juice really sets it off. I prefer not to add any other garnish but you could of course add a bit of chopped dhania/cilantro, radish and/or red onion.