It’s amazing how often I try something new and delicious because I’m too lazy to go to the store.
That was the case last Vegetarian Week, when…
Wait, I haven’t told you about Vegetarian Weeks. Let me do that real quick. I decided last December that, starting in 2012, I would cook and eat vegetarian (or, more accurately, pescatarian) for one week a month. Arne was enthusiastic about the idea, and has told me he looks forward to Vegetarian Week each month. To him, it is primarily about personal healthy eating choices – though one of our Vegetarian Week dinners on a tired evening was a plate of nachos. As the diet of many a college vegetarian attests, vegetarianism does not guarantee healthy choices.
My reasoning is more complex than personal health, though I do try to steer toward vegetables, grains, and beans and away from nacho dinners. I deeply respect the choice of a vegetarian lifestyle: I think we need to eat less meat for the sake of the planet as a whole, and I don’t much like to think about the animals who die so I can eat charcuterie. But I love to be open to the whole spectrum of eating experiences, and I frankly enjoy meat. I think I can do more good for the treatment of livestock by buying local and humanely raised meat whenever possible than by abstaining altogether. So going entirely vegetarian is not going to happen. Vegetarian Weeks are a move toward balance.
Anyway, back to my original narrative. It was afternoon, and the vegetable drawer was bare, and I couldn’t fall back on any of the meat in my freezer because it was Vegetarian Week. I was feeling too lazy to go to the store. And I had a fairly new cookbook, Bean by Bean, by Crescent Dragonwagon, who tends strongly toward vegetarian recipes. So I got started reading. And I found a recipe from Kenya, which intrigued me; I’m not sure I’ve had Kenyan food before.
Called Maharagwe (simply “beans” in Kiswahili), the dish is a simple stew of kidney beans, coconut milk, tomatoes, and curry-ish spices. It sounded simple to make and tasty – and best of all, I had everything I needed in my pantry.
As it came together, though, I started to worry. It was by no means terrible, but the flavors just weren’t melding the way I had imagined. Dragonwagon recommended simmering the ingredients together for just 10 minutes, but I followed a hunch and let it stew for more like 25. That made the difference, and after a few bites with brown rice and a fried egg, I decided this was a pretty addictive dish. It’s nothing fancy, but it really is satisfying – starchy, filling, a little bit exotic but also comfortingly familiar.
I made just a couple of small changes, adding a touch of ginger and soy sauce for fuller flavor – and, of course, extending the simmering time.
Kenyan Kidney Beans in Coconut Milk (Maharagwe)
2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
1 very large (softball-size) yellow onion, chopped
1 jalapeno or other green chile, chopped (I used roasted NM green chile)
2 teaspoons turmeric
1.5 tablespoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons sugar
Salt, to taste
2 15-ounce cans kidney beans
1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted
1 15-ounce can coconut milk (regular or lite – I used regular)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Heat the oil over medium heat. Saute the onions in the oil until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add chile, spices, sugar, and a pinch of salt and stir in; cook another 30 seconds.
Drain and rinse the kidney beans and add them to the pot along with the tomatoes with their juice, the coconut milk, and the soy sauce. Stir together and simmer, stirring occasionally, at least 25 minutes.
Serve over brown rice or other grain, and top with a fried egg if you like that sort of thing. (I most certainly do.)