This is the dream hearty yet easy dish. If baked beans on toast are what chefs eat when they go home, then this is for all my chef friends — a little upgrade that’s both flavourful and comfortingly mild. I fell in love with this dish in Zanzibar; it’s the first thing I ate after travelling 20 hours, a wonderful grounding dish to counterbalance the Vata-aggravating travel, especially by plane. This is a very traditional East African protein-rich dish enjoyed as a main meal with chapatis, mandazi (a type of fried doughnut) or ugali (a kind of porridge made from cornmeal, banana, or semolina and cassava flour). at lunchtime since it takes so long to cook. Nowadays people might use a pressure cooker and the beans are ready in about 30 mins, but I prefer a quick boil and then long, slow and low when cooking bean dishes.

Red beans are used traditionally (as in this picture) but my first taste was with haricot beans and I swear it was just like a tin of baked beans with coconut milk! I’ve now had these every which way, including with black-eyed peas. It reminds me of the comforting Mexican-inspired Black bean soup from East by West (page 169). Sometimes I like it lightly sweetened and — dare I say it —  bland, to balance out other indulgent meals, and sometimes I like it spicy and loud!

Keep the ingredients ready to go in your cupboard for an easy lunch and play around with this dish. As long as you’ve soaked your beans the night before and cooked them until well, well cooked (seriously, no al dente here please!) then you have an easy-to-digest dish that can take any combination of flavours that you throw at it. Try reducing the coconut milk and upping the spices if you’re feeling very Kapha, or go for the opposite if you need to balance out your Pitta, and if you’re feeling very Vata enjoy a bit of both and tweak according to your digestion. You can thin it out a touch to make it less heavy, and I can’t recommend enough adding asafoetida or hing to aid digestion to any bean dish, as well as some ginger if you like. On the regular, though, I’ll be enjoying this with mung beans, which are the easiest of beans to digest and can be eaten every day.

In Africa fresh coconut is used and the very first grating makes the heaviest milk, which can be set aside to garnish the meal. If you like, save some of the coconut milk to do the same. Unless you are living somewhere where fresh coconut is an option, unfortunately the rest of us are stuck with a tin of it (or you can try the coconut cream sold in blocks) but, though I’ve been a fan of the speed of a tin of pre-cooked beans in the past, I cannot urge you enough to start cooking your own beans. It’s cheap and though it requires a bit of forethought to get them soaking and ready for their long cook you’ll benefit from the Prana of a freshly cooked dish, while minimising the amount of toxins you ingest from canned food.



Serves 2-3

1 cup kidney beans (see options below), washed and soaked overnight
1 can of full-fat coconut milk
1 tbsp ghee or coconut oil
2-3 large tomatoes, peeled and deseeded, or 3 tbsp tomato purée
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
¼ tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
½ tsp chilli powder
1 tsp salt
Black pepper, to taste
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tbsp chopped coriander, for garnishing
1 tsp jaggery (optional)
1 tsp fresh or ground ginger (optional)
½ tsp asafoetida (optional)


  1. Boil the soaked kidney beans in plenty of water until almost tender, discarding any of the scum that rises to the top. Drain and set aside.

  2. On medium heat, sauté the onion until softened.

  3. Add the chopped tomatoes or tomato paste, garlic, chilli, spices and salt, and cook for a few minutes until the tomatoes are softened.

  4. Add the kidney beans, coconut milk (reserving some as a garnish if you like) and half a cup of the cooking water.

  5. Stir well and then bring to a slow simmer, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes until the beans are very tender and the consistency is to your liking. Add a little more of the cooking water if it begins to get too dry.

  6. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then serve with fresh coriander and a swirl of coconut cream if you like.

East by West Tip: Alternative beans include cannellini, haricot, black-eyed or mung beans. If you like this recipe, try the Mexican-inspired black bean soup on page 169 of East by West. Got leftover water from cooking the beans? Save as the base for other soup dishes.