Spicy kidney bean curry is layered with the flavors of fragrant Indian-inspired spices in a sweet tomato sauce with lots of kidney beans. Serve this over your favorite rice (or try lemon cauliflower rice) for a satisfying one-bowl dinner.
Layering for the best kidney bean curry flavor
When I took my first cooking course, I learned about ‘layering flavors’. The term was new to me at the time, but I realized that I’d been applying the concept all along. Layering is the process of adding ingredients in stages and allowing the flavors to expand throughout the cooking process. I know when I make oil free Briam for example, the veggies, sauce and spices will have a lot of time to co-mingle and accentuate one another. Layering (in my experience) allows you to add a few ingredients at-a-time, which creates a more complex flavor.
Layering will also free you from potential salt debacles. Salt escalation comes with a ‘no return’ policy - you can’t hide from over-salted food. Speaking of hiding, you can be adding salt without reaching for the shaker. Consider broth, veggies such as celery and ready-made spice blends or condiments like soy sauce. All can add extra salt. If you layer and allow those flavors to emerge, you can then judge at the end of the cooking process if more salt is needed. And of course, you can just leave that decision to the eaters at the table.
First layer toasting
I’ve become quite a fan of toasting spices – especially if I can just keep them in the pan and start adding ingredients. That’s what happens here. In this case, we’ll toast cumin seeds, bay leaves (yes, two of those leaves) and fenugreek seeds. The process is similar to preparing pineapple lentil soup where we first start with toasted spices and then continue adding ingredients.
What is fenugreek?
I think it’s worth a pause in our cooking spree to discuss fenugreek because it might be a new ingredient for you. Fenugreek is commonly used in Garam Masala. It has a sweet taste, like maple syrup. To some folks, fenugreek seeds are more bitter than ground; however, roasting relieves any bitterness and really allows the aroma to shine through.
Fenugreek is a really old spice and has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries (like in ancient Egypt). We’re only using it here to layer the flavor of our kidney bean curry, but it’s always interesting to learn about the intersection of spices and medicine. I’ll leave the proof of any claims to the scientists and get on to the cooking.
Can I substitute ground fenugreek?
Yep. Ground spices are always stronger than whole seeds, so use a ratio of 2 portions whole seeds to 1 ground. This means our 1 teaspoon of fenugreek seeds would be ½ teaspoon ground. That handy rule can also be applied to the cumin seeds.
Layering is as layering does
Once you toast the initial spices, you add the diced onions and jalapenos. The garlic and ginger don’t go in until after your onions and chili have a few moments to release their sugars (when they start to brown). We wait to add the garlic and ginger and for good reason.
Bitter, brown, bad garlic
If you start a recipe by sautéing onions and other vegetables over medium heat, you should always wait to add the garlic. Garlic needs about 30 seconds to a minute to release its flavor and When you are sautéing garlic on medium heat or above, you only want to allow about a minute. If you allow the garlic to brown, it will become bitter tasting. This can seriously ruin a dish.
Because all my cooking adventures do not include adding oil, I recommend adding water a tablespoon at a time if your veggies start to stick. Certainly, one reason is I want all the veg in my mouth and not being scrubbed out of the pan. More importantly, if your pan has gotten a bit hot and the onions have started to brown too much, your garlic will want to follow suit. I don’t advice starting out with added water however, we are sautéing, not simmering.
Layer 4 – the sauce (more spices and something sweet)
Layering for the sauce includes adding tomatoes, but this is also the point to add the rest of the spices. I usually grab a little bowl and premix everything so I’m not standing over a simmering pot, trying to remember which I’ve already added. For this recipe, we are adding fresh tomatoes, but even if you use canned tomatoes for something else, it’s always a good idea to give them a few minutes to break down. It’s the next layer of flavor we’re building. Seriously, it’s just 10 minutes (more if you get distracted), but that can make all the difference. Also, you can mash the tomatoes a bit if you want to make your dish creamier.
Our final step at about 15 minutes into the cooking process, is adding the kidney beans and broth. Don’t fret about adding 2 ½ cups of broth. Simmering for 30 minutes will cause it to reduce. I also recommend mashing some of the kidney beans to give a bit more creaminess to the curry. The result is something between thick a chili and soup – perfect over rice.
Final, finale step (quick squeeze and a taste)
With all those great spices and the care taken to layer and cook up the flavors, squeezing half a lemon before removing the kidney bean curry brings everything together. We tend to like a lot of lemon, so I also serve this dish with lemon wedges.
So now is your salt chance. Dip a spoon into the pot and decide if it’s fantastic the way it is or if there is any need for more salt (or other spices). I always wait until the end to take this step, especially if I’ve used broth as depending on the brand, it may add enough salt on its own. My mantra is when in doubt, just put a shaker on the table and call everyone to ‘come eat!’.
At first glance, layering flavors might sound like a time-consuming gourmet talking point. In practice, layering requires only a few extra minutes to allow individual ingredients to shine. I’ve learned that layering is quite valuable when it applicable. Sure, there are times when tossing everything in a pot is the right thing to do, but there are also times when thoughtfully adding ingredients, allowing their flavors and aromas to build is an opportunity to engage with cooking in a different way. Besides, process like layering bring out your inner chef and why not? Revel in the process, in your skills and appreciate the results you’ve delivered. A bit of cooking TLC. We all need that. Peace.Print
kidney bean curry
Spicy, plant-based, oil-free kidney bean curry is layered with the flavors of fragrant Indian spices, onions, jalapenos and sweet tomato sauce with lemon.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 50 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
- Yield: 6 servings 1x
- Category: Soups & Stews
- Cuisine: Indian
- 2 tsp. cumin seeds
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 jalapenos, diced (remove the core and seeds to keep the heat down)
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 ½ inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 1 tsp. ground coriander
- ½ tsp. turmeric
- ½ tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
- 2 tsp. garam masala
- 4 medium tomatoes, diced (about 4 cups)
- 2 tsp. date paste or another sweetener
- 3 – 15 oz. (400 gm.) cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 ½ cups vegetable broth
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Serve with rice
- Chopped cilantro and extra lemon wedges for garnish
- In a medium soup pot, add the cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds and bay leaves cook until the cumin seeds become fragrant (about 3 minutes). Continuously stir and move the spices so they don’t burn.
- Add the diced onions and jalapenos and sauté for about 7-8 minutes until the onions start to soften and brown slightly. Add water a tablespoon at a time if they begin to stick.
- Add the ginger and garlic and sauté for another minute. Stir constantly to avoid burning the garlic.
- Add the remaining spices (coriander, turmeric, cayenne and garam masala), the tomatoes and date paste. Mix everything, cover the pot and simmer the tomatoes for 10 minutes to allow them to break down. Mash a few of the tomatoes after they simmer to help the sauce thicken.
- Add the vegetable broth and beans, cover and cook for 30 minutes. You can mash a few of the beans to help thicken the sauce if you want.
- Remove from the heat and squeeze the juice of ½ a lemon over the top. Give it a last stir and get ready for some flavor.
- Serve over rice.
- Garnish with chopped cilantro and more lemon wedges.
- If you use ground fenugreek in place of the seeds, add them with the rest of the spices when you add the tomatoes. Use ½ teaspoon ground for 1 teaspoon of seeds.
- If you want a thicker chili texture or the curry is too thin for your liking, increase the final simmering time with the beans and vegetable broth. Likewise, you can reduce the broth to 2 cups (although it will reduce as it cooks).
- Kidney bean curry is wonderful over just plain old rice, but you can use another grain such as quinoa and don’t forget about lemon cauliflower rice. Yummy!
Keywords: kidney bean curry