Slow cooked pinto bean curry

crockpot curried pinto beans
Serves 8-10

400-500g dried pinto beans, plus soaking/cooking water

1 tblsp olive oil
2 onions
4-5 garlic cloves
2 bell peppers
1/2 tsp crushed chili flakes
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ginger
3 tsp curry powder or garam masala
1/2 tsp salt

1-2 tblsp soft brown sugar
140-180g tomato puree or paste
1 400ml can coconut milk

soaked and cooked pinto beans in the crockpot
Soak the pinto beans in a large pan overnight, with plenty of water to cover.

Drain well, then fill the pan with water to about 2cm above the beans. Bring to the boil and simmer on a low heat, covered, for about 45 minutes. Turn the heat off but leave the pan covered for another hour or two so that it continues cooking.

Drain the beans (keeping the cooking water if you plan to use it elsewhere) and put the beans in the crockpot.

Now slice or chop the onions, and sauté them in a large frying pan for 5-10 minutes. While they're cooking, chop the peppers into smallish pieces, and peel the garlic cloves. When the onions are soft and starting to caramelise, crush the garlic cloves into the mixture, and add the pepper pieces; stir for a minute or two, then add the cumin seeds and chili flakes and stir again to release the flavour.

Add the other spices, salt and brown sugar, stirring all the time, then add the tomato paste or puree, rinsing the can or packet out, if necessary, with some of the coconut milk.

Stir well, then pour over the beans in the crockpot. Pour the rest of the coconut milk into the pan, and stir well to release anything that's stuck to the bottom of the pan, and then pour that over the mixture in the slow cooker too.

Stir briefly with a large metal spoon to combine; if it seems too dry, add a bit more water, or some of the bean cooking liquid to the coconut milk can and pour over.  Put the lid on, and cook on 'medium' for about six to eight hours, or rather longer on 'low'.

Serve with rice or naan, chopped cucumber, mango chutney and other side dishes as preferred.

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I found the basis for this recipes in Lent 2014 when our family experimented with vegetarian eating. Searching online for bean-based crockpot ideas, I came across something called 'Crock pot coconut curry baked beans.' I was a little dubious, but determined to try a variety of recipes, and I very much like pinto beans.

The only change I made when I first tried it was to substitute dried ginger for the recommended minced fresh ginger, and, as usual, to put in more garlic than suggested. Oh, and full-fat coconut milk. It was delicious! The combination of tomato puree, coconut milk and a little brown sugar make the most amazing sauce, and even my omnivore husband liked it. 

The second time I made it, I added in turmeric, since it's currently considered a super-food, and used garam masala as I didn't have any curry powder. We liked it just as much, but being a bit more picky, I felt that it lacked texture. In addition, I like having at least one or two types of vegetable in a curry, as well as the protein. I had some red peppers that needed to be used up, so I added them, and that made it (in our view) perfect. In the batch I photographed, I happened to have orange peppers so I used those. 

Spices can, of course, be adjusted to taste, and you could use canned pinto beans if you run out of time to soak and pre-boil dried ones. This isn't a particularly hot curry, but if you prefer more of a 'bite', you could add more ginger and/or chili flakes.

Different slow cookers have different settings and I find that the 'low' setting on mine doesn't really cook at all, so I tend to use 'medium'. However, some slow cookers only have two temperature settings. If that's the case, I'd recommend using 'low'. 

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