Something I threw together: spiced red bean stew

This recipe is for a dish I threw together at the weekend. We’d had half a bag of red kidney beans sitting in the cupboard for about a hundred years, and I decided the time was right to use them up – for whatever reason I’m itching to clear out cupboards and declutter. I soaked them a few days before (I store the soaked beans in the fridge until ready to cook) and, using various bits in the cupboard and fridge, I threw together a richly spiced, juicy, tomato-tinged red bean stew. It wasn’t going to make it into the blog – since it really was just a spontaneous, on-the-fly meal – until my boyfriend suggested it.

Spontaneous bean stew - I'd already started eating when I took the photo
Spontaneous bean stew – I’d already started eating when I took the photo

“This is amazing!” he said (it is really good – hearty and flavourful). When I told him it was my own recipe, he insisted I blog it: “The baking challenge is fine, but you can find those recipes somewhere else. You can’t find this one anywhere, since it’s yours!” He added that he thought it might be useful for other people putting together a meal based on storecupboard staples. So, I hope it is.

You can serve this with all sorts of extras - pictured with flatbreads (not homemade) and cottage cheese
You can serve this with all sorts of extras – pictured with flatbreads (not homemade) and cottage cheese

This recipe draws on Tex-Mex flavours: the earthiness of cumin, and heat, sweetness and smokiness from two types of paprika and the fresh red pepper. One you have this template in your head to draw on, you could vary it in all kinds of ways: using different beans – black beans would be great if going down the Tex-Mex route – or adding more, or different, vegetables, are the most obvious. You could make it fiery with chilli and add ground meat. But you could also gently shift the recipe’s geographical focus with some other adjustments:

  • dial down the paprika, add grated fresh ginger, a teaspoon of turmeric and sprinkle with chopped fresh coriander at the end, and it would become an Indian-inspired, not-quite dhal, for example (if going down the Indian route you could substitute various lentils for the beans, as well. I’ve made a version of this using urad dhal).Serve with naan bread or steamed rice.
  • To make something more Italian-inspired, use cannellini or butter beans, add two chopped carrots and two chopped celery sticks to the onions, and omit the dried herbs. Chop through some fresh parsley or basil and stir through some lemon juice at the end and serve with parmesan.
  • If you feel inspired by the flavours of Morocco, use chickpeas and add one or two chopped carrots to the onions. If you have any preserved lemons, chop one up and add it to the pot, and stir through some lemon juice at the end. Serve with couscous.

The above suggestions might not be strictly authentic (hence my careful use of the word ‘inspired’), but using these flavour profiles will enable you to put together a dinner based on almost any dried or tinned pulses you may have.

I use a lot of spices in this recipe, because I definitely prefer strong flavours, and I think the starchy, substantial red beans can take a lot of flavour. If you’re baulking at the idea of throwing in spices by the tablespoon, by all means reduce the amounts.

Spiced red bean stew
Serves 4

  • 275g dry kidney beans, soaked at least 8 hours and ideally overnight (you can use less; this was just the amount I had in the house. You can also substitute two tins of kidney beans, drained and rinsed, and dispense with the soaking and cooking)
  • 2 large onions, chopped into medium dice
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 TBS vegetable oil
  • 1 TBS ground cumin
  • 1 TBS paprika
  • 1/2 TBS smoked paprika
  • 1/2 TBS dried oregano
  • 1 400g (or thereabouts) tin of plum tomatoes or chopped tomatoes
  • 1 red pepper, chopped into large dice
  • 1 chicken stock cube (I used a Knorr stock pot)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Drain and rinse the soaked kidney beans. Plauce in a saucepan, cover with plenty of water, and bring to the boil. Let boil for at least 15 full minutes (it’s important to do this as insufficiently cooked kidney beans can contain high levels of potentially toxic lectins, but cooking them correctly denatures these. Tinned beans are cooked sufficiently to denature this toxin). Reduce to a brisk simmer and cook for about an hour, until the beans are soft. Top up the water as needed.
  2. Heat up the oil in a deep frying pan on medium-low heat. Add the onions, season with a little salt, and fry gently for 10 minutes (it’s fine if they colour). Add the garlic and cook for a further five minutes. Add the dried spices and herbs.
  3. Add the tin of plum tomatoes or chopped tomatoes and its juices. If using whole tinned tomatoes, break them up a bit with a spoon. Fill the empty tin with water and add the water to the pan, along with the stock cube.
  4. Add the kidney beans and bring the mixture to the boil. You may need to add a little more water, but go slowly – the end result shouldn’t be soupy. Reduce to a simmer and cook together for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Add the chopped red pepper and cook for a further 10 minutes.
  6. You’re done! Serve with grated Cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream or whatever takes your fancy. This would go well with rice, but we had it with flatbreads.

Nutritional notes (as calculated using Myfitnesspal): 234 calories per portion. Kidney beans are high in protein, and this recipe apparently contains a massive 18.8g of protein per serving. Although I’m not a vegetarian, I rarely eat enough protein on a day-to-day level, so this is handy to know.

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