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Red Beans and Winter Squash Stew

November 09, 2010 | Tags: Deborah Madison , Food , Fruit , Health , Vegetables | Post comment

Red Beans and Winter Squash Stew

I’m always looking for color in my food.  Drab, brown food does nothing for me! In fact, it was the sad appearance of the vegetarian food of the sixties that I had to overcome when I opened Greens to a non-vegetarian public. And it was color as well as flavor that made the food work for everyone.

As fall is the darkening time of year in this dish I went for color by using bright orange cubes of winter squash and deep red kidney beans, plus tomatoes.  It might be somewhat on the garish side, in fact, but you can always tone things down by using pinto beans in place of the kidney beans or some kind of heirloom bean that you like. There are also some warm spices here -- cumin, cinnamon, clove and the more aggressive oregano.

This stew is thick and substantial and there’s plenty of it so make it for Sunday supper and enjoy again later in the week. You might want to serve it with some corn bread.  This recipe makes about 10 cups.

Here are two hints to streamline the preparation:

1. Use a pressure cooker. It means the beans are cooked in 30 minutes.

2. The straight end of a butternut squash is easy to peel and dice. Roast or steam the remaining round end for another meal.


1 1/2 cups dried kidney beans

sea salt and freshly milled pepper to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, diced in 1/2-squares (about 2 cups)

1 pound butternut squash, peeled and chopped into pieces twice the size of the beans

2 bell peppers, red or green, diced in 1/2-inch squares (you can also use poblano chiles if you prefer their heat)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1-inch piece cinnamon stick

3 cloves

2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon puréed chipotle chile or 2 heaping teaspoons smoked paprika

1 teaspoon paprika (omit if using smoked paprika)

1/4 cup chopped cilantro plus additional cilantro for garnish

1 15-ouunce can diced tomatoes


1. Put the beans in a pressure cooker with 10 cups cold water and1-teaspoon salt. Bring to pressure, hold for 30 minutes, then release quickly.  (See below for more instructions regarding pressure cookers.)

2. While the beans are cooking heat the oil in a heavy skillet. When hot, add the onion, squash, peppers, spices, and garlic. Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes. Season with ½ teaspoon salt, plenty of black pepper and add the ground chile (or smoked paprika), cilantro and tomato.  Cook a few minutes longer then add the vegetables to the beans. Add water, if necessary, to make a thick, stewy soup.  Cover and simmer until the both the squash and beans are fully tender, about 15 minutes.  Serve garnished with cilantro.

Using a pressure cooker to cook beans:

Generally a cup of dried beans absorbs about 3 cups of water, so you need to take that into consideration and add extra water if you want to be left with some flavorful liquid.  I usually allow 5 cups water for 1 cup of dried beans, which makes enough broth for a soup. While 30 minutes at high pressure is generally enough time to tenderizes beans and chickpeas, cooking times depend on the age of the beans and the hardness of your water. which is why cooking times aren’t absolute. However, the pressure cooker negates problems with high altitude cooking, which greatly lengthens cooking time when done conventionally.

1. Rinse your beans, put them in the pressure cooker with the appropriate amount of water and some salt, usually ½ teaspoon per cup of beans. You can also include seasonings, such a garlic, diced onion, sage leaves, etc.

2 Turn the heat onto high to bring up the pressure.  When the pressure has risen, lower the heat to maintain it—usually low heat will do the job—then cook for 30 minutes.

3. If you’re not in a hurry, turn off the heat after 30 minutes and allow the pressure to fall by itself.  Otherwise release the pressure and let the steam rush out.  (Watch where you aim it!) 

4. When the pressure has dropped to 0, remove the lid. The liquid will still be boiling. Take a look at the beans. It’s possible that some will still be wrinkled looking, but they will quickly soften.   Next taste a few beans. If they’re really undercooked and you’re not planning to cook them longer, return the lid, bring the pressure back up (it will happen quickly this time) and cook for another 5 minutes. Release and check. Repeat if necessary.