Sunday, November 8, 2009

Beans with Shredded Coconut

Folks who’ve been following along here for awhile know that recipes used to be featured more regularly on Robert Frost’s Banjo—I believe the last recipe post was back in June. But hey, Eberle & I are still taking our daily bread, so I say why not get back to posting some foodie items from time to time!

Today’s recipe comes from my all-time favorite cookbook, The Africa News Cookbook; our copy is very well worn, but still intact—& that’s good because The Africa News Cookbook is out-of-print. I’m telling you folks: if you ever see it in a used bookshop, grab it! It’s great: everything from goat to plantains & lots of stuff in between. It’s also got a fair number of vegetarian dishes for those who swing that way or for those like us who aren’t “real” vegetarians but don’t eat meat very often. & of course as everyone knows, when you live that way, it’s best to become friendly with the bean.

& why not? Beans are a splendid panoply: everything from the delicacy of lentils to the
“meatiness” of the kidney bean; from the delightfully sponge-like flavor absorbency of the northern to the nutty wonder of the garbanzo. In fact, it’s garbanzos we’re talking about today.

Actually, you could make this recipe with any bean, but we always use garbanzos, & why not? They are a truly delicious bean. Also, our parrot Pablo (a much bigger presence in our life than he is on this blog) has a particular yen for garbanzo beans, & they can be used to calm him down when he goes into a screaming spasm (other things that work: tortellini, eggs of any description, & ice cream; but he likes almost all food except carrots & blueberry yogurt).

The subtitle of The African News Cookbook is African Cooking for Western Kitchens, & I expect this recipe has been westernized a fair amount, & my variation on it is even more so. According to editor Tami Hultman, this is based on “recipes from Tanzania’s off-shore islands of Zanzibar & Pemba.” Here are the ingredients:

  • 1 cup (or slightly more) of garbanzos (or other bean of your choice)
  • 2 cups of potatoes (I generally use 4 medium potatoes)
  • garlic, chopped: the book says 3 cloves, but where’s the fun in that? I use 6. Eberle & I are fiends for garlic. I leave you each to your own devices.
  • ⅓ cup of oil – I use olive oil; the book calls for coconut oil, & calls for ½ cup
  • 1 TBSP cumin
  • 1 TBSP coriander
  • juice of 1 lime (or more!)
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 chili peppers or 1 tsp cayenne
  • Per the book: 1 cup of grated fresh coconut meat. OK, I’m a bit of a lazy cook, & I don’t always feel like ambling out to the workshop & getting an electric drill to perform surgery on a coconut. Tho the book expressly recommends against this, I’ve found that the shredded coconut you find in your grocer’s baking aisle works very well, & with much less fuss & muss. My opinion in this has been corroborated not only by Eberle but by at least several house guests who’ve been served this meal—as my old algebra teacher used to say, “the proof of the pudding’s in the tasting.”

I always try to soak the beans overnight to save on cooking time. Bean cooking time is a very
inexact science & is determined by all sorts of variables, including age of the bean & elevation of your kitchen (that is, of your home overall above sea level). The best test for a cooked bean is the tasting. But generally you’re looking at roughly 45-60 minutes. I also boil the potatoes & put them aside. Once the beans are approaching doneness, I heat the oil, & add the garlic & the spices, then once the garlic is golden brown add the lime juice & finally the coconut. Of course you’re stirring all the while (or much of the while), but I give a vigorous stir when the coconut goes in to mix everything up; then I add the potatoes & garbanzos (as soon as they’re done), again stirring vigorously.

How long you let these flavors heat together on low heat is up to you; I’d say a at least 15-20 minutes for the flavors (including bean & potato) to become acquainted is good, & a bit longer won’t hurt. The book recommends serving with rice, but even from one who adores starches, this seems a bit of overkill to me. Were I to use rice, I’d certainly use brown rice with this dish.

It tastes great, & as you can see, it’s quite easy. I prepare it using only two pots—one for the beans, and then I double the potatoes & the final stage in the same Creuset Dutch Oven. A great, savory dish for these autumn afternoons or evenings!


  1. this looks so good...a nice comfort food! Funny, I just saw an African recipe yesterday for ground nut (peanut) soup and it looks fantastic.

    Peace ~ Rene

  2. This looks really yummy, John. I might just have to give this one a whirl!

  3. Does Pablo talk? There is a similar looking bird in the local pet shop that is very eloquent.I like the sound of this recipe but am wondering how strong is the coconut flavour of the final dish and would it ruin it to leave it out?

  4. John, that sounds yummy. I may try it out on my husband. Thanks for the recipe!

  5. Oh John, I found several copies of this book on Amazon... used of course, but seemingly in good condition.

  6. Hi everybody!

    Rene: We make a groundnut stew called Mafe (with an accent over the e)--it's really good.

    Willow: I think you'll like it--nice new avatar!

    TFE: Pablo talks mostly about Pablo. He says "Hello" a lot (esp. when the phone rings) & also hello Pablo, hello bird, & mmmmm! There are a few other phrases that crop up now & again too, as well as lots of sound effects, including the sound of typing on a keyboard. To me the coconut taste is not that strong--there are a lot of spices, but you could certainly make a very tasty dish with garbanzos, potatoes & these spices. Without the coconut, I'd probably add some vegetables--bell peppers, maybe celery, possibly carrots (tho Pablo wouldn't like that!)

    Lizzy: That's great that they're available, & I hope at reasonable prices. It's tempting to me to get a less worn copy myself before they disappear!

  7. That does sound delicious, John. Unsweetened coconut, I imagine? As for ground nut stew - that's one of my favourite dishes.

  8. Hi Sandra: Yes--unsweetened. & big yes on groundnut stew!

  9. Sounds great - I might even make it!

    This is a good one - but thought association reminds me of a friend's worst ever creation: lettuce and baked beans on toast.

    If you don't perform surgery on a coconut, surely you need to get a horse instead.

  10. Dominic: The baked bean sandwich has always struck me as disgusting; actually, my grandmother used to like those! I guess I'll have to look into that horse.

  11. You did it John - I was not hungry - now I want to savor your "Beans with Shredded Coconut." So here I am, dish it out and on!

  12. I am definitely going to make this soon!


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