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!