Bean stew: Ordinary food for ordinary people


By Gerhardus Geldenhuis

Aunt Sonia, one of my regular readers, always sends me a nice message about my writing which is definitely good for the ego. She did ask for a recipe for ordinary people and although I understand what she means, I don’t like the description because it can so easily be interpreted as boring.

An ordinary recipe, or a recipe for ordinary people, is really just one whose tastes and techniques are known to us and we cannot determine whether or not it is successful. Aunt Sonia is of course not at all used to it, but I still decided to comply with her request, but with a twist in the cable.

Finances are also tight every now and then and I started making meals that I can prepare in large quantities, that are easy to freeze, that are nutritious and (most importantly) delicious to taste and eat.

I also have little time, so something that heats up quickly is ideal.

Seven bean stew

I use beans that I get ready-made in the shops here, so they are: Haricot, Butter, Borlotti, Red Kidney, Pinto, Cannellini and Black Eyed beans. I was able to find at least four different beans in the shops in South Africa without looking too hard, and if you still want to save money buy the raw beans and prepare them.

If you are preparing raw beans it is important to leave them in water so that they cook faster.

If you pour boiling water over the beans, let them sit for five minutes and then add more cold water, they will absorb water much faster than if you just use cold water.

When you cook the beans, pour off the soaking water and put new ones in the pot. You can add a little salt to the boiling water, but no more than 2% of the weight of the water. The salt helps the beans cook faster but can also give the beans a floury texture, rather than a creamy texture without the salt. Heat spreads faster than water in a dry bean, so if you don’t soak the beans they will eventually cook soft but the inside will be completely mushy by the time the outside is soft.

The soaking and cooking of the beans also has a second purpose, to remove toxins that naturally occur in the beans. The high temperature (above 80 °C) neutralizes the toxins, so if you want to cook the beans long and slow make sure it reaches at least 80 °C for longer than five minutes. Soy, kidney and lima beans are the most likely to contain toxins, these are lectins (lectins) and enzyme inhibitors (protease inhibitors). The “inhibitors” block the work of enzymes that help digest food and the lectins bind to your digestive cells and prevent them from absorbing nutrients.

Please don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and stop eating beans. By boiling beans, you make them safe, you wouldn’t eat a prickly pear with its thorns on, would you?

The other great benefit of cooking the beans for a long time, especially when we make the stew, is that it helps convert the carbohydrates into digestible sugar that would otherwise remain so indigestible and be eaten by the bacteria in your digestive system. If this happens, a lot of extra gas is generated, but if the beans are cooked long enough, you can avoid the red-cheeked moments and you don’t have to sleep with the windows open either.

The first step is to cut up about 4 or 5 brown onions, as coarse or fine as you like, and fry in a cast iron pot until they start to caramelize. Then add a little more oil and drain the beans.

I pour off the water and rinse the beans so that the terribly thick “syrup” does not come together. It’s not essential, just my personal preference. I add at least 6 cans (about 400g per can) of beans and even as many as 8.

Fry the beans until they almost start to burn and they start to smell nice and then add about 600 g of tomato puree. Give everything a good stir, turn off the heat and then add at least 3 cans of tomato paste. For the twist in the cable, also add a container of Harissa (a hot chilli paste), at least 140 g. It’s easy to make, but I’m going to save the making of it for another article.

If you just get Harissa powder, that can work too but it’s not as tasty as the fresh product. If the Harissa is too expensive, a little smoked paprika can also add nice flavor, at least two tablespoons full, but taste and decide for yourself. Now is also a good time to add salt. Taste and if it’s a little too sour, add about 2 tablespoons of brown sugar or apricot jam to get the balance right, or in any case, because it’s delicious.

The second twist, and I’m actually sharing personal secrets here, is to push the pot without a lid into a 180 °C hot oven. Take it out every 30 minutes, give it a good stir and scrape the sides of the pot. The bean stew will bubble and splash to the sides, which undergoes Maillard reaction and helps to add a lot of flavor and to thicken the stew. I usually leave it in the oven for at least about 2 hours depending on how much liquid there was to begin with. I also rinse the cans of tomatoes with a little water which adds a little extra liquid at the beginning.

The final twist in the cable is to serve it with rice. Why is it a twist? The answer is simple, the rice and the beans both have amino acids that the other does not and when you eat them together you get complementary amino acids and your body responds by letting you know that the food is tasty (nutritious).

A typical dinner with the bean stew is to make a pot of rice, steam a small amount of frozen vegetables and thaw and heat the beans, which I have frozen in 50 g portions.

Enjoy the “ordinary” food and the bean stew is a delicious winter dish for the coming winter.

  • Gerhardus lives in England with his heart in South Africa. He regularly prepares large meals for the church, hosts cooking workshops at his home, such as how to make your own miso, and also picks more flowers and fruit every year than he can ever eat himself. So he regularly distributes jam, syrup and other tasty things to friends. He learned to bake bread in a German bakery and is actively involved in the Oxford Food Symposium on Food & Cookery. Send Gerhardus an e-mail