Navy bean stew

Jr.H tells me that many of her friends bring canned beans to school with toast so they can have ‘beans on toast’. Apparently, it is a very popular dish. Canned dishes do not find my favour considering that they come laden with several additives and preservatives. Jr.H agrees too but the knowledge does not help much when it comes to conquering the craving. This being the situation, I was happy to notice that Satyam’s had come up with the dried version of many beans that were not available to us before. The package carried the name ‘white beans’ and the first thing that crossed my mind was, ‘albino rajmas’, because the beans really looked like albino cousins of the short rajma variety – Kashmiri Rajma.

Normally if Jr.H likes something, Jr.P does not like it, but not when it comes to beans. I make beans to make peace. Despite that they belong to a common family each variety of beans has its own mouthfeel and flavour. Double beans (big beans) are smooth and creamy with a melt in the mouth texture when cooked. Kidney beans (rajma) have a strong earthy flavour and rich texture which makes it a hot favourite in Western as well as Indian dishes.

White beans are also called Navy beans. Interestingly, the name bears its origin to the fact that these beans were the preferred food choice of the US Navy in the early part of the 20th Century. They are considered good source of fiber as well as protein.

Since this was my first time, I played safe and made it into a stew. White beans are not of Indian origin so it seemed right that the gravy should be anything but Indian. My favourite alternate cuisine is Italian so I stuck to an easy pasta sauce and added the well cooked beans to the sauce, let it simmer to meld the flavours, and served it with unleavened gluten free, millet flatbreads – bhakri. The leftover stew would have made a good accompaniment to rice if the children had not finished it off by itself.

Recipe: Navy Bean Stew (Or White Bean Stew)
Yield: 5 cups

Dried white beans (navy beans) – 2 cups, soaked overnight and cooked with salt in fresh water the next morning till soft (3 whistles and cooked for 15 minutes in reduced heat). Drain beans retaining the liquid separately.


Ripe firm tomatoes – 6, blanched, peeled and chopped roughly
Shallots – 10, halved
Basil leaves – 2-3 tbsps.
Chilli powder/flakes – 1 tsp. (or as per taste)
Parsley – 2-3 tbsps. (optional – I used curled parsley as I had only those but would have preferred to use flat leaves. Do they make a difference? I did not notice any.)
Bay leaves – 3
Garlic cloves – 5, crushed lightly
Cinnamon – 1/4″
Raw cane sugar – 1/2 tsp., or 1/4, crushed jaggery
Salt and pepper to taste
[Can also add chives, omit cinnamon, reduce garlic, add asafoetida or ginger as per taste]

Olive oil – 4 tbsps. – 3 + 1


Heat a tbsp. of olive oil and add all the spices. Fry till aromatic.

Add the rest of the ingredients for the sauce except basil. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cover and cook, stirring often till reduced well and flavourful – about 20 minutes. Retrieve the bay leaves and cinnamon, if possible.

Cool and blend in a mixer in batches. If blending hot be careful as heat creates pressure that will pop the top of the jar and you will have liquid splattered all over the kitchen!

Heat a tbsp. of olive oil again in a clean sauce pan. Add the sauce and the beans. Simmer till flavours meld. Add the retained cooking liquid as needed to get the consistency of a saucy gravy. Adjust salt and pepper. Stir and cook for another two minutes.

Serve hot with steamed rice, pulao, rotis, bhakris. Leftover stew tastes better.

That evening my son took a few spoonfuls of the stew in a small bowl and said, “I am going to be a masterchef judge, Mama.” He took one little sip, held up his left had with the index finger and thumb meeting in a big ‘O’, looked thoughtful for a moment, and declared, “I hate saying this (pause) ….. but I don’t think I am going to stop eating this now!” He looked thoughtful in between because he was playing Gordon Ramsay.

White beans cook faster and turn out smoother than kidney beans. I could feel the skin despite the smoothness. I grew up loving rajma but the empty bowl seemed to be telling me that my kids will love these better. No one remembered the toast but me. I know now why kids prefer beans on toast. It is not a fad or aping. Beans were made to coat toasts! They taste good bland or spicy, absorb flavours, are creamy and perfectly complement the crunch of a well made toast.

My son brought me an old wooden board on his way back from school. It is a beautiful piece that carries old polish, has been re-polished and caught some ink too. I used it in the pictures above. He was right. I love it and the stew seemed to love it too. It sat well on the board.


Harini is a vegan food photographer, writer and recipe developer. She also loves feeding birds, reading, watching crime thrillers, and travelling amongst other things.

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  • Thorsten

    I think you can try also a Indian version if you what, it will work perfect. Navy beans are the only beans that exist fresh here in north Germany. Due to this reason, during the short season it use them for almost everything. Indian, Arabic, Mediterranean and of course German recipes. I even replaced chickpeas with them. At least we like it.
    I think it should exist fresh in India as well, because i noting else then the ripe green French bean.
    Fresh is much softer and more creamy then the dried version. Maybe i will have it tomorrow if i can get some at the market. Here is the last days of the season

    • Harini

      Oh yes! It does. I have tried it. 🙂 We have a lot of bean varieties but navy bean is not one of them. I will check up about that. A tropical climate is beneficial that way.

  • Sunshinemom


  • Magpie

    Congratulations on your DMBLGIT win Harini!

  • sanjeeta kk

    Even I thought of Baked beans by looking at the consistency of the stew…mine is always much watery and runny. But this is a good idea for a spread for the breads.
    Love that rustic board, lovely and thoughtful present from your son :

    Lite Bite

  • Sunshinemom

    Kulsum, thanks! Being self taught, your words are really motivating:).

    Sweatha, kya faith hai!! Thanks, but what if I were to meet you? I would be stumped:).

  • Curry Leaf

    I too hate saying this (pause).. Love the stew. I think this is simmer to baked beans itself.Love all the flavours you have added. I will prefer this thick on my toast.

    I too prefer George and Australia and the masterclass. Much Much Much better than the US version I feel.
    Why don't u try for the Indian version Next time or this year? You CAN do it.

  • Priti

    Looks yum ….lovely pics

  • Kulsum

    I love that board – goes so well with the picture but then its your talent that makes it look GOOD. I really can't take baked beans in he can but every other bean in can is in my pantry!

  • notyet100

    luv the picture n the board,.

  • Sunshinemom

    Bellini, I can relate to that one now. This stew is a kind of comfort food!

  • Sunshinemom

    Harini, yes we do:)!

  • Harini

    Hey we share a common name!! And this recipe is a very good find!!

  • Siri

    Love the stew and the best part is its a fusin of Indian and Italian cuisines :-). I am not a huge fan of Gordon Ramsay but liked his show – "Great Escape" which Aparna mentioned. He doesn't use his *swear* word much on this show, I think that is why.


  • Michelle Peters - Jones

    Harini, that stew looks amazing… have to give it a try soon. I cook quite a bit of vegetarian food as my husband and daughter don't eat meat, so am always on the lookout for bean recipes.

    On a separate note, I tried remaking the English version of Heinz beans, do have a look and tell me what you think? They're vegan too.

    Cheers 🙂

  • bellini valli

    We used to have baked beans on toast every Friday night when I was growing up!!

  • Suman Singh

    A perfect protein, carb combo meal..looks great…Love the wooden board..looks awesome.

  • Sunshinemom

    So it does look like the canned version! I haven't watched Ramsay's shows, only browsed through the books in the mall. The recipes were mostly non-vegetarian and did not appeal to me. I liked the way the book was written though.

  • Aparna

    Ah, so that's the piece of board he brought back. It fits very well in the picture. And as soon as I saw your picture I thought "baked beans"! 🙂
    Have to agree that Akshaya and I both liked Masterchef Australia so much better though Ramsay is a lot better here than in Hell's Kitchen!
    Have you seen Gordon's Great Escape?

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