Sunday, November 15, 2009

Maharagwe, a Spicy Kenyan Red Bean Dish with Cashew Curry Rice

Everything about maharagwe makes me happy. The spicy peppers make me euphoric, the red beans remind me of New Orleans, and the coconut tomato broth is pure comfort. And there's that color -  the vibrant yellow ochre the turmeric imparts to the liquid feeds the eyes before the tastebuds even get involved.

Although Kenyan, maharagwe is an example of the influence that Indian culture has had on some of the cuisine of East Africa. The turmeric, tomatoes, coconut milk, cardamom, and green peppers are all things you might find in any number of Indian dishes, but it all comes together with a distinctly East African feel. Typically maharagwe would be served with ugali, a starchy cornmeal mush. But I thought I'd play off of the Indian influence and serve it with a cashew curry jasmine rice.

My version of maharagwe draws on a number of different versions of the dish, along with some touches of my own - instead of the usual kidney beans, for example, I used smaller, brighter Salvadorean red beans.  I also like the distinctive punch that peanut oil imparts to the broth. Adding your own touches to a dish that has such personality isn't only allowed - to my way of thinking, it's encouraged!

1 -11/2 cups dried red beans, soaked overnight and rinsed
2 medium white or yellow onions, chopped
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 green pepper, chopped, seeds removed
1-2 habanero peppers, seed removed, minced
5-6 canned plum tomatoes, hand crushed, along with some juice
1 can of coconut milk (not light!)
2 tsp turmeric
3-4 cardamom seeds
2 cloves of garlic, minced
salt, to taste

Boil the beans in a large pot until tender, 1-2 hours. Drain.
Return the beans to the pot and add about 1/2 - 3/4 cup water, simmer gently until absorbed
Meanwhile, in a deep skillet fry the onions in peanut oil until lightly browned
Add garlic, green pepper, and habanero pepper, fry for another few minutes
Add the contents of the skillet, along with the remaining ingredients, to the pot of beans and simmer until everything is tender and the flavors have come together. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt accordingly.

For the rice:
1 cup jasmine rice
1 3/4 cup water
handful of unsalted cashews, roughly broken up into pieces
7-8 fresh curry leaves, roughly shredded
1 tbsp butter or ghee
a couple of pinches of salt

Melt the ghee over medium  high heat; add the curry leaves and stir for a couple of minutes. Next add the cashews and cook until just starting to brown. Add the rice; toast, stirring constantly,  for about a minute. Add the water and salt, bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, until done - usually about a half hour. 

Maharagwe on Foodista


  1. this sounds and looks so very wonderful...I bet the flavors are out of this world..I will make this...thanks for the recipe my separated twin...

  2. oh, yum, i would love to have a bowl of this tonight. i love those flavors - rich, creamy, savory...mmmmmm! plus it looks fantastic!

  3. this is so colorful and looks like it taste delicious....I love that coconut milk is in there yummmm cant wait to try

  4. Mmmm...I can't pronounce this name (had to wiki it!) but it sounds divine! I love your usage of peanut oil, and I wholeheartedly agree with adding your own personality! After all, experimentation is my name :) I'd be curious to use pinto beans (my fave) and maybe add some eggplants or carrots. Thanks for posting this!!

  5. This recipe is so up my alley. just looks yummy and congrats on cooking somethign so unusual

  6. I am drooling when I saw this dish. Another African dish that I need to try. What a gorgeous and beautiful color.

  7. Oh oh, I've got to try this. The color is wonderful indeed! And do you know that turmeric is packed with antioxidants? That's the thing for me ;-)

  8. Lovely dish! My dad makes something similar with chick peas and potatoes but your version looks gorgeous! This is something I would love to eat sitting in front of a fire and watching tv. Ahh I love comfort food! Great job!

  9. wow! that is one good looking dish with lots of flavors and great spices

  10. This is so pretty, and sounds wonderful. I"m all about coconut milk in broth. Yum!

  11. Very asian indeed, just looking at the ingredients list :) I love turmeric in my food. I think you did a fabulous job making this dish and the rice.

  12. This looks like a perfect flavor balance. Would love to save it to my favorites as I was looking for something to do with red beans tonight, but Foodbuzz is being a jerk right now so I am visiting independently of them. Will have to write it down by hand (I don't have a printer). Blargh... Why did you have to post something that looked good enough to make me do that??

  13. Okay, I have to post another comment so I can share with you that my last clearance word was "galcals." Doesn't that sound like a website concept in itself... One devoted to women who love high-calorie desserts, perhaps?

  14. Thank you for introducing me to this wonderful specialty! I would love to try it, such amazing flavors!

  15. Thanks everybody!
    @experimentalculinarypursuits - I bet carrots would be fantastic in this! I love pinto beans too.
    @Miriam - I do know that about turmeric, but only thanks to a recent post of Divina's!
    @Sanjana - Can I borrow your dad? ; )
    @ChickenlessChick - Galcals the Web site, I love it! It could also be used to mean things that only make women gain weight. As in, "My husband can eat as many potato chips as he wants and not gain an ounce, but it's all galcals to me."

  16. LOL... I will totally use that in a sentence today.

  17. This is so pretty, and the flavors sound amazing. The cashew rice would be a big hit with my older son -- I'm definitely going to give it a try.

  18. Interesting! And it's something truly flavourful and tasty especially with coconut milk in it. yum.... Awesome dish!

  19. this was delicious! we used one can of white beans and one can of red, and added a few cups of kale at the end. thanks for a great recipe!

  20. Lovely recipe, this is also great with chapati/roti/paratta and as you have served it rice. Ugali is was not traditionally eaten by people of the Kenyan coast but they are now eating it due to exchange of cultures. Try add some coriander leaves as well. makes it delicious. And the dish is called Maharagwe ya Nazi. Maharagwe is simply just beans which can then be prepared in many ways. so when you add "Ya Nazi" that is in coconut.

  21. As Wangeci says. Maharagwe ya nazi is never served with ugali, it is traditionally served with Kenyan chapati.