Zanzibar Beans In Coconut Sauce

When I am in the midst of a long week or a stressful time, cooking can always be relied on to restore my spirits somewhat.  I suppose it’s because I view the kitchen as my personal domain, where I feel in control.  Measuring out the ingredients, tweaking a recipe to my personal taste- these things can be quite therapeutic to me.  What’s more, I can focus completely on the task at hand.  It also helps that there’s a finished product at the end:  I go into the kitchen and an hour or two later there’s something delicious to feast upon (barring any disasters, of course), and it’s entirely from my own efforts.  A good cooking session can do a lot to boost my mood and reduce my stress levels.  This is especially true of baking, possibly because of the happy childhood associations or the extra deliciousness of a sweet treat, but I’ve taken a week off baked goods (until Sunday!) and stuck with good vegetarian food.

This is an African dish that I’ve made a few times.  I’ve never been to Africa, nor eaten much of the cuisine besides Moroccan, so I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the flavours.  I have never imagined Africa to be a haven for vegetarians, but if they make a lot of meals like this it might not be quite so bad.  This dish is very hot from the chillies, and there are lots of other good spices in there but they’re not too overwhelming and are well matched with the coconut milk, resulting in a tasty little dish.

Made with black-eyed beans and green chillies

The first time I made it I followed the recipe from World Food Cafe  perfectly, using green chillies and black-eyed beans.  Since then I’ve made it using whatever ingredients I can get my hands on at the local supermarket – generally, red chillies and kidney beans.  This results in a very different colour (and a more attractive dish, to my eyes), but the same spicy taste.  It’s important to chop the sweet potato into small chunks to ensure they cook right through and are nice and tender at the end.

Zanzibar Beans In Coconut Sauce

(serves 4)


2 tbsp oil

450g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes

1 onion, finely sliced

6 garlic cloves, crushed

5cm piece of root ginger, peeled and finely grated

4 black peppercorns, coarsely ground

6 cloves, coarsely ground

4 cardamom pods, split

2 tsp turmeric

6 green chillies, cut into quarters lengthwise (I had to swap to red this time, and I always deseed them – the sauce is still so spicy I genuinely think if you left the seeds in you might set alight!)

handful of fresh coriander leaves

400ml can coconut milk

450g can kidney or black-eyed beans, drained


1.  Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the sweet potato for about 8 minutes until it’s slightly browned and softened.  Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon, and set aside.

2.  In the oil left in the pan, fry the onion, garlic and ginger for about 7 minutes until soft.  Add all the spices with the chillies and coriander and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.  (I couldn’t get hold of root ginger or fresh coriander, so I opted for 1/2 tsp ground ginger, and 1 tsp ground coriander.)

3.  Add the coconut milk, beans and sweet potato.  Bring to the boil then simmer gently for about 10 minutes until the sweet potato is tender.  As you can see from the pictures, the sauce should reduce quite dramatically.  Season with salt, and serve.  I generally eat it with rice, couscous or bread.

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3 Responses to Zanzibar Beans In Coconut Sauce

  1. jules says:

    I came across your recipe as I needed to check the ingredients with those in my memory. I lived on Zanzibar for a number of years and have never had sweet potato in my beans! But I’m going to try and see what they taste like. I occasionally put spinach in, although that isn’t authentic either. Tastes good though. The beans in Zanzibar aren’t kidney beans, but they are the closest and as you say they can be interchangeable with others.The other thing I do is mash some of the beans first as it thickens the sauce. Yum!

    • Jenny says:

      Sorry for the lack of authenticity! I love making foreign food, but it often involves substituting things that are easier/cheaper to find. Living on Zanzibar sounds very exotic!

      • jules says:

        I do exactly the same. And I also think my recipes evolve according to the flavours I prefer! Zanzibar is well worth a visit, if only to eat some of the delicious food.

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