My stepdad brought Indian home cooking into my life. He and my mother had been high school sweethearts, American students at an international school in the foothills of the Himalayas where my stepdad had grown up, stuffing himself on dal and pappadums throughout childhood and cultivating a lifelong craving for fragrant vegetarian curries. Thanks to him and to recipes like this mixed bean masala, it's a craving I now share. Quick, healthy and economical, it's an easy recipe to double and freeze in preparation for chilly winter nights, when the scent of onion, ginger and spices bubbling on the stove will warm up the whole house.
This recipe is a riff on chana masala — a curry of spiced chickpeas in a gingery tomato sauce — using any type of cooked bean you happen to have on hand. You can use just one type of bean, but for color and texture variety, I like using a mixture. (I doubled the recipe for the batch pictured above, and used a mix of white beans, black beans and chickpeas.) Although plain white or brown rice is a fine accompaniment, my favorite way to eat curries like these is spooned over turmeric-spiced yellow rice, which looks special, but is just as easy to make as plain rice.
The key to the tomato sauce is blending the onion, garlic and ginger into a smooth paste that is added to the pot after the dry spices have been fried in a little oil. The warmed spices and aromatic paste meld with the tomatoes into a smooth and very flavorful sauce. After adding the beans, some fresh cilantro, and chilies if you like it spicy, you let everything simmer for 30 minutes, just enough time to make a pot of yellow rice, and then dinner is served.
One batch is enough to give my two-person household dinner and enough leftovers for a couple of lunches, but when I really want to maximize my time in the kitchen, I double the recipe and freeze the extra for future meals. The rice recipe can be doubled and frozen too; as long as it is kept separate from the sauce until serving, it won't become mushy, and you'll have a nourishing meal in the freezer, ready to heat when you need it.
Mixed Bean Masala
Makes 6 servings
2 cloves garlic
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt (more if canned tomatoes are unsalted)
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
2 15-ounce cans beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons cilantro, coarsely chopped, plus more for serving
Chopped fresh chilies or red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
Fragrant Yellow Rice, for serving (recipe below)
Plain yogurt, for serving (optional)
Roughly chop the onions, garlic and ginger. Process in a food processor or blender until a smooth paste forms, adding up to 1 tablespoon water if needed.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the cumin, garam masala and coriander. Fry the spices for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until fragrant. Add the onion-ginger paste and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring, until most of the added water has evaporated. Add the salt, tomatoes, beans, cilantro and chilies or pepper flakes, if using. Bring to a boil and lower heat. Simmer uncovered 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning. Garnish with additional chopped cilantro and serve over rice, with a dollop of yogurt on the side.
Fragrant Yellow Rice
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking
Makes about 6 cups cooked rice
2 cups jasmine rice
2 cups water
1 bay leaf
2-inch piece of cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
Rinse the rice 2 or 3 times and drain. Add the rice, water, bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric and salt to a medium size pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, turn the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat and let sit, still covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover and remove the bay leaf, cinnamon stick and cloves. Add butter or oil and stir.
• If you want to substitute another type of rice (basmati, brown, etc.), increase the amount of water and cooking time according to the package directions.
• To freeze, let finished stew cool, then pack into freezer bags or freezer-safe containers and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. Rice can also be frozen in a separate container. To reheat the beans, thaw in the refrigerator overnight or in the microwave, and warm in a pot on the stove until bubbling. The rice reheats best covered in the microwave.
Related: Cheap, Convenient & Better Than Canned: Freezer Beans
(Images: Anjali Prasertong)