For their brief appearance during the midsummer gearing towards the end of the season, fresh beans in the pods are somewhat of a gem these days. Honestly, one week later, they were all gone from the stalls at the fresh produce market. That said, it is probably not surprising though since, for sheer convenience, their canned or dried versions are by far more popular. However, if you are lucky enough to find some fresh beans in the pods in your area, you sure would do right to grab a few handfuls of them. For their meaty toothsome appeal, fresh beans have this vibrant aliveness that makes their canned or dried counterparts pale in comparison. They can most certainly be used pretty much the same way — either to complement or as the main ingredient in a lot of dishes from simple soups, salads, dips to comfort pasta dishes or hearty sauces, stews and curries.
Cracking open and unzipping the pods, then plucking the beans out of their shells, remind me of lazy Sunday afternoons where my sister and I would sit outside basking in the sun with baskets of bean pods.
As kids, this was pretty fun. From time to time, we would find a magnificent green or striped caterpillar peacefully munching on a succulent bean inside the pods. "How awesome must it be to be biting on food that is actually bigger than you," I thought to myself, as a child. "Why can't humans have food that big to eat". In my child mind (and probably still up to now), I wished I was as small as this caterpillar so that I could experience eating a giant bean! Caterpillars are one creature that never cease to fascinate me. Whenever I would find one as a kid, I would put it in a large jar filled with edible leaves and some of the vegetable I found it on. Then, I would cover the jar with a piece of lace or tuile fabric to allow air to go through but still keep the creature in. I'd put fresh food in and clean the jar everyday until the caterpillar would start to turn into a cocoon hung from the fabric cover. At this stage, I would not disturb it and leave it to mature as I would patiently watch everyday. Then one morning, I would see the most beautiful butterfly fluttering about in the jar. It is really an exhilarating feeling! I'd immediately grab the jar and release the butterfly outside on the flowers. And it would flap its majestic wings leaving me in awe!
Nowadays, I would just set the caterpillar free outside and let nature take care of it. Although with all the pesticides that are added in the vegetables, I almost never see live caterpillars in store-bought produce, even the organic ones which leave me to wonder about how organic they really are. Sadly, butterflies are very few too. There were a time when there were dozens of them flying around during Summer.
Back to the cooking pot, today these fresh borlotti beans are going into a delectable Mauritian stew (which is called Daube). The Mauritian Daube is an adaptation from the classic French Daube Provençale which I have talked more about in a previous recipe.
Apart from borlotti or pinto beans, you can also use red kidney beans, white beans, butter or broad beans which are the most common ones available in pods. Buying beans in the pods means that you'll need more in terms of weight to provide enough beans. A little over a pound of borlotti beans yielded about half the weight in beans.
If you can't find fresh beans, you can certainly use dried beans that have been boiled or canned ones too, however you will need to add them at a later stage in the recipe. Since this is a stew, I skipped blanching the fresh beans and added them directly into the sauce to cook. They do take longer to cook than pre-boiled beans but not as long as dried ones. The peculiar thing about borlotti beans is that they lose all their marbled patterns once cooked; they turn a uniform beige colour. If you are getting the canned version, most of the time the label shows them already cooked, so you won't see the lovely bi-coloured patterns. That doesn't take away their delicious taste though.
Butternut squash add a hint of sweetness which makes this stew all the more appealing. I do not think it is necessary to peel butternut squash as once cooked, it becomes soft and creamy. In fact, keeping the skin on prevents the squash from disintegrating into the sauce as they are really quite delicate. Pumpkin certainly makes a good substitute too although, contrary to butternut squash, you would want to peel them.
A pinch of sweet paprika, as a personal twist to this otherwise classic stew, intensifies the flavour to bring out more of the mild sweet taste from the butternut squash while contrasting with the subtle hot base sauce.
Watch the recipe video.
Borlotti (or Pinto) Beans and Butternut Squash Daube (Mauritian Stew)
Ingredients (serves 4 - 5)
2 tablespoon coconut or vegetable oil
1 3/4 cup [260 g, 9 oz] fresh borlotti beans (from 550 g, 19 oz in the pod)
1/2 medium-size [350 g, 12 oz] butternut squash, cubed (no need to peel)
2 medium-size [600 g, 21 oz] white or red potatoes, peeled and quartered (cut about 200 g into much smaller pieces for the sauce)
3 - 4 large [500 g, 17 oz] Roma tomatoes
1 tablespooon minced ginger
1 small onion (optional), finely chopped or sliced
2 cloves of garlic (optional)
1 cinnamon stick
6 - 8 curry leaves (fresh or dried)
5 - 6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 - 2 green or red chili, coarsely chopped or just slit in half
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garam masala (or equal mix of ground cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, cloves)
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 cup frozen green peas
5 - 6 stems [50 g, 1.7 oz] coriander (cilantro)
Salt to taste
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet on a medium heat. A cast iron pan is my preferred choice for this as it gives a nice braised coating to the potatoes.
Add the potatoes and stir to evenly coat with oil. Once the potatoes pick up a golden brown coating and they are cooked up to 75%, remove them from the pan.
Do the same for the butternut squash but cook them just half-way through. The squash will cook rather quickly, so remove them as soon as they are lightly crispy and golden on the outside.
While potatoes are cooking, you can prepare the other ingredients, like plucking the beans out of the pods (if using fresh beans), chopping the butternut squash and the tomatoes.
In a deep pot on medium-high heat, place 1 tablespoon of oil. Add in the ginger, garlic and onions (if using). Cook for 2 - 3 minutes. Then add the spices: garam masala, paprika and cumin. Roast for about 1 - 2 minutes, constantly stirring to avoid burning. This will release the aroma and intensify the flavour.
Then add in the chopped tomatoes followed by the curry leaves. Add the potato that has been chopped into small pieces. Then add the thyme, the chilies and about one and a half cup of water followed by the cinnamon stick. Next add the fresh beans. Cover and simmer on medium heat for 35 to 40 minutes or until the beans are soft.
If you are using pre-cooked beans, add them in followed by the pre-cooked potatoes and butternut squash all at the same time. Once potatoes and squash are added, add a little water and some salt to taste. Stir and then cover and simmer for another 10 minutes until potatoes are cooked. Add the frozen green peas and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes. Then garnish with the coriander leaves or cilantro and turn off the heat.
Serve accompanied with rice or some fresh French baguette.