These spicy, stewed African beans served with baked plantain and rice make a great vegan or vegetarian dinner or side dish.
What is African bean stew?
Beans are a staple food of millions of people across Africa.
The types of beans used, the cooking method and the spices added vary across the continent so in one sense there's no such thing as African bean stew.
The Ghanaian bean stew known as red red, is perhaps one of the most well known.
My vegan kidney bean stew is based upon a recipe from Uganda. My brother and his family used to live in Uganda and many years ago I went out to live with them for six weeks.
During this time I volunteered at a local school and ate lunch with the children every day.
The veggie food I ate in Uganda
The children were given a meat stew, posho - a kind of fluffy pancake made from corn meal, and beans. Sometimes they had matoke (a kind of mashed plantain) as well.
Being vegetarian at the time I declined the meat stew (as did a number of the children who were Muslim).
Instead I had a large plate of beans and posho for lunch every day.
At first I found it boring eating the same meal every day. But I soon came to love Ugandan beans and I enjoy making my own version at home now.
What are plantains?
Plantains look a lot like bananas but they're quite different.
They might look like a banana but they're treated more like a vegetable and appear with savoury dishes.
Plantains can be bought ripe or unripe and both types can be eaten. They're are usually cooked before they're eaten.
Green, or unripe, plantains are starchier, yellow ones are a tiny bit sweet, and very ripe ones - with a black skin, are sweet.
Plantains are common in African, Caribbean and south American cuisines.
They are a good choice for vegans as they contain lots of vitamins, especially potassium.
Why baked plantains?
For this recipe I used yellow plantains, which I baked. I chose to bake them so I didn't need to use so much oil, therefore making them healthier.
Plantains are often fried and while they taste great that way I prefer them less oily.
Pin African bean stew with baked plantain and rice for later
This recipe is made with kidney beans - you can substitute another type if you like. For best results use dried beans.
This recipe uses the cooking water from the beans, which is full of flavour. If you substitute tinned beans you will need to make some vegetable stock but you won't get the same depth of flavour.
In Uganda this bean stew is made with a flavouring called mchuzi mix. An alternative to this is Maggi cubes.
It is possible to get this in the UK, especially if you live near an international supermarket.
However, to make it a bit healthier and to make it easier for those of you who can't find it I have used a mixture of spices, soya sauce, and yeast extract (marmite) in an attempt to recreate the mchuzi flavour!
How to make African beans
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African bean stew
For the beans
- 300 g dried kidney beans
- 1 tablespoon sunflower oil
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic crushed
- 400 g tinned chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tomato puree
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon garlic granules
- ½ teaspoon chilli powder
- 3 cloves
- 1 tablespoon Marmite or other yeast extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- black pepper
For the plantains
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
- 2 plantains
- 450 g rice cooked to packet instructions
- handful parsley chopped
For the beans
- You will need to start this dish the night before you want to cook it. Rinse the beans, cover with cold water and soak overnight.
- Drain, rinse and cover again with clean water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for around 1 hour until soft - the time varies depending on the beans.
- Drain the beans reserving the water to add back to the pan.
- Rinse the pan, then heat the oil.
- Add the onion and fry until golden brown. Add the garlic, stir and cook for a minute before adding the chopped tomatoes.
- Add the tomato puree and stir.
- Add the spices, soya sauce and marmite, and slowly add the bean water until you have a soupy texture.
- Spoon in the cooked beans and simmer for a few minutes. Check the seasoning and add extra salt and pepper if needed.
For the plantains
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan)/200°C/gas mark 6.
- Peel and slice the plantains into 1cm thick slices.
- Place on a lightly greased baking tray and brush lightly with oil. Bake for 10 minutes, turn and repeat for a further ten minutes. Check the softness of the beans with a fork - if not soft return to the oven for a further ten minutes.
- Serve the beans and plantain with rice and sprinkled with chopped parsley.
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