When Yunus Peer attended the University of Hawaii in 1977, he and other international students had little money.
“We would have $20 left at the end of the month after paying bills and rent. So I would make Indian curry beans and ask others to bring bread and a salad, and 10 of us could eat dinner,” said the South Africa native. “It’s an inexpensive dish and very nutritious.”
Now, at his home in Waimanalo, he still makes this curry often, even though he has more spare change as a social studies teacher at Punahou School.
This hearty dish with plenty of zing has become a favorite of friends and relatives. It also satisfies his vegan friends.
His signature recipe uses canned soft beans such as cannellini, white, butter beans or pinto. Hard beans like garbanzos don’t fit this dish.
Often, he will start with dried beans or red lentils, but Peer said most home cooks don’t have the time to prepare dried beans from scratch. Canned beans, convenient and inexpensive, are a practical substitute.
The beans are seasoned with Indian spices that merge to create a party in your mouth. They include cumin, coriander, ginger, garlic, turmeric, fenugreek seeds, black mustard seeds, cinnamon, cloves and dried red chili peppers. Find them at health food stores and Asian markets.
In his yard, Peer grows fragrant curry leaves and adds a handful to the dish. To “gild the lily,” he also adds garam masala halfway though, even though the mixture contains many of the same spices he started with.
IN THE LATE 1800s, Peer’s grandfather landed in Durban, South Africa, from Gujarat, India, on a five-year indentured labor contract, bringing with him the bean curry recipe. Peer’s mother taught her son the dish, to which Peer has added a few ingredients, creating his own delicious recipe.
One such item is diced tomatoes with green chilies. Peer likes the heat it adds to the wonderful spiciness of dried red chilies and optional cayenne. As a finishing touch, he often adds Thai sweet chili sauce, which he says rounds out the flavor.
This dish is cooked in three stages. The first, simmering onions and a few spices, is not to be skipped, said Peer.
The second step includes the addition of more spices and the tomatoes, and the third has the beans simmering with more spices.
The entire dish can be made within 90 minutes on the stove.
The dish can also be made in a slow cooker. After the initial step of simmering the onions and spices, all the ingredients can be combined in the crock. Add an extra cup of water, then simmer on low for eight hours.
Either way, said Peer, like any stewed dish, “the beans taste even better the next day.”
He also noted that chicken makes a delicious addition to the pot, allowing meat eaters to enjoy the dish.
INDIAN CURRY BEANS
By Yunus Peer
- 6 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil (enough to cover bottom of pot)
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon fenugreek seed
- 1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds (substitute yellow seeds)
- 1 whole cinnamon stick (substitute 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder)
- 2 dried red chilies (substitute 1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes)
- 3 cloves (substitute 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves)
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can stewed or diced tomatoes, preferably with green chilies (substitute any canned tomatoes)
- 1 teaspoon rock salt
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- 2 (15-ounce) cans soft beans such as pinto, white, cannellini or butter beans; drained
- 1 cup water
- 1 handful fresh or dried curry leaves
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 3 tablespoons sweet chili sauce (optional)
- 4 to 5 chicken thighs (optional)
- Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)
In a large Dutch oven or cast-iron pot, add oil, chopped onions, fenugreek, mustard seed, cinnamon, dried chilies and cloves; stirring constantly, cook over medium for 10 to 15 minutes, until light golden brown.
Add stewed tomatoes with liquid and salt, ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, turmeric and cayenne pepper, if using. Cook over medium until spices and tomatoes blend, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Add drained beans, water, curry leaves and garam masala. Add sweet chili sauce and chicken, if using. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Stir, then reduce heat to just above a simmer. Let sauce thicken, stirring occasionally, with pot lid slightly ajar. Cook until chicken is done, about 30 to 40 minutes. Add water as needed.
Garnish with fresh cilantro, if you like, and serve with rice or fresh bread. Serves 4 to 6.
Approximate nutritional information, per 1 heaped cup serving (based on 6 servings): 340 calories, 16 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, no cholesterol, 900 mg sodium, 39 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 8 g sugar, 10 g protein.
Lynette Lo Tom, author of “Back in the Day,” is fascinated by old-fashioned foods. Contact her at 275-3004 or via Instagram at @brightlightcookery. Nutritional analysis by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.