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.