We love a good Indian food night on retreat. We’ve even been known to serve curry for breakfast too. While we stayed in a mountain hut in the Himalayas for a month we ate this lovely bean dish.
Once you’ve got into the habit of soaking some beans or grains in advance, this type of cooking is ridiculously satisfying and brings a consciousness to your food prep and consumption that is soulful and deeply nourishing. Grains can be stored in the cupboard and all of these ingredients can be found freshest, very cheaply and abundantly at your local international supermarket.
This dish is great as a stand alone bowl or can be served as a side-dish, in a thali or with rice, chapatti or even idli.
Seeking peace, relaxation, fresh air and a rest from busy India, we found ourselves holed-up in the Himalayas. At over 10000 feet, Jibhi is a tiny, semi-discovered, back-packers dream on a treacherous, twisting mountain road North of Aut and Shimla, in Himachal Pradesh. Roughly 250 kilometres from China, amongst towering pines and scented cedar trees and well into bear country.
The hut we stayed in was hand-made out of cedar wood, dung-wattle and local slate by our mountain neighbour, Naryan. Naryan, and his wife, Bena, also cultivate coriander, mint, bay, apricot, barley, marijuana, apples and beautiful bougainvillea and roses on the dramatically steep and stepped mountainside.
We had no scales or measuring jugs in our little Himalayan hut so these measurements are with my finger in the air, but this is how it should be with bean stew. Rough measurements. Practice the dish. Feel the dish. Know your ingredients. Smell them. Experiment with them. Make mistakes. Tweak the dish time and again to see where your preference lies in terms of sweetness, saltiness, spice, thickness, firmness of bean. Get stuck in. Switch on. This recipe is only a guide for you to make your own experiments.
This is the simplest, most beautiful dish, but it’s success and taste is based on your ability to assess the quality, flavour and balance of the ingredients that you select. Do not leave your brain (or tastebuds) at the door when you are following a recipe, ever. Use all of your senses all of the time. Always consider what you want. How will the actual ingredients that you have effect and temper what you are preparing in terms of taste, smell, texture and colour. Listen to the cooking process. Is this a vigorous fry, a gentle fry? What are you cultivating? Pour your essence into the pot.
This particular garam massala we’re using here is a mixture of (in descending order of weight): cumin, black pepper, dry ginger, cardamon, cardamon seeds, nutmeg, cloves, mace cassia (bark), caraway, cinnamon, coriander, salt and bay leaf.
Luckily the mountains were abundant with fresh produce for this dish. We had red onions growing on the step behind our hut. Coriander two steps down, which was wild and unimaginably tasty. We used the leaves, the taste-packed buds, the flowers and the fibrous stalks to flavour our dishes. Naryan offered us a plate of his garlic bulbs and our curd and pickle was remarkable. The honey is local and supplied from bees that feed on apple, eucalyptus and sunflower.
Just a note, the mung dal here serves as an additional texture. It is interesting to have the two different sized bean and dal in the same pot. Cooked for longer the dal will also break down faster and thicken the sauce.
Serves 2-4 as a main dish or a side dish with rice
Cooking time max 90 minutes (excluding the soak time this dish will actually take 5-10 minutes to prepare and then you just leave it cooking).
1 x 6-8” saucepan
1 x wooden spoon
1 x bent, flimsy, under-spec’d kitchen knife
two cups of black eyed beans (soaked overnight at room temperature)
half a cup of split black mung dal (soaked overnight)
cooking oil (I am using soya bean oil here which is clear, relatively tasteless and has a high smoke point. I also recommend rice bran oil)
a knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
half a red onion, peeled and diced
three teaspoons of garam massalla (or to taste. Important)
2 x teaspoons of turmeric
a teaspoon of cumin seeds (for texture as well as additional sweetness)
a small green pepper, seeded and cut to strips or small squares
2 cloves of peeled, crushed garlic
4 tomatoes, roughly chopped
water, at least two pints
half a bunch of coriander, chopped
half a teaspoon of honey
optional: 1 x dried chilli
To serve: curd, mixed Indian pickle, coriander and lemon. Again, find a curd, a pickle and a coriander supplier where the flavour is right for your taste. Optional: with rice, chapatti or even idli if you’re adventurous.
Note: throughout this method you should be constantly smelling, tasting, thinking, feeling and adjusting. If you make a mistake this time, at least you’ll have a better understanding and critical analysis for next time.
add oil to the pan so it is approximately 5mm deep. You may need slightly more oil when you add the spice dependant upon the volume of spices you will later add. You do not want a dry pan after adding the spice mix. The oily spice mix should be wet and runny.
warm the oil
add the peppers first and fry for 5 minutes until softer and starting to brown
add the onions and ginger and fry for a further 5 minutes until the contents of the pan are now browning slightly in unison
add the garlic and cumin seeds for just 15-30 seconds, not wanting to burn the flavour of the garlic or the seeds
add the garam massalla (and turmeric) and after 10 seconds of heating the spices in the oil add the water to the pan. The oil releases the flavour from the garlic, the cumin and the spices but too much oil cooking will have an adverse effect on these flavours. Adding the water now will arrest the flavour release and ensure maximum flavour without reversibility or deterioration.
add the beans and dal
add half of your coriander and some salt to taste. Here I will be laying the fibrous coriander stalks, flowers and buds into the brew but you may not have this. If you grow coriander yourself you can cultivate these stalks, buds and flowers.
add your chopped tomatoes.
Optional: if you’re adding your chilli do it now.
Now basically heat the water to boil. Then simmer for between 60-90 minutes. If you go over it’s fine. The beans will become softer as you cook them. Some people will have gentler stomachs that may require the beans cooking for longer, if this is the case then you may have to add a little more water as the water evaporates.
As you’re cooking keep an eye on the water level to ensure it’s not drying out and manage your water level by adding some if needed and manage your hob heat level. You want to simmer not blast.
Serve in a bowl with a teaspoon of curd, a teaspoon of mixed Indian pickle and a dressing of coriander. A squeeze of lemon is nice too. Or if you’re serving with rice, chapatti or idli then crack on. This is lovely, warming, satisfying and pretty addictive.
Thank you very much for reading and we hope that you find as much joy in this dish as we found in my mountain hut.