Black-Eyed Bean Curry / Chawli Chi Usal

Black-eyed beans (also called black-eyed peas or ‘chawli’, ‘chavli’ or ‘lobia’ in India) are a much-underrated legume. Known as ‘usal’ (pronounced ‘oo-sal’) in the region of India I come from, this dish gives me some mean cravings in autumn when the weather starts to get a bit chilly and damp in the UK. These pale coloured beans (that are not peas) with a large black or brown eye like dot, have a subtle sweet and earthy flavour and are a staple in India. And for good reason – for a start being a legume they’re full of protein and secondly their high fiber content leaves you feeling fuller for longer, thereby curbing the urge for those unhealthy snacks that increase your waistline. So if you’re looking to lose weight, try cooking this wonder legume more often. 

I’d say this legume is one of my favourites alongside horse gram, moth beans and whole toor beans. I have already shared the recipe for usal made with horse gram here.

An Indian thali of spinach and paneer, black-eyed pea usal, beetroot & yoghurt koshimbir, salad and chapati

What’s an usal though?
Put simply, an usal is a Maharashtrian (like me!) curry dish of dried legumes that are usually soaked overnight, then sprouted to enhance the flavour and nutritional value. While usals normally involve soaking the dried legume for a period of time followed by a day to sprout, they’re sometimes cooked without sprouting, like in this recipe. The typical usals you’d find in Maharashtra are those made with moth beans, dried peas, horsegram or even black-eyed beans aka ‘chawli’ or ‘chavli’.

What preparations are needed before cooking this curry?
For making any usal, the legume needs to be soaked for at least 4 hours. In this case, I soaked the dried black-eyed beans overnight. If you’re running short of time, you can soak them in hot water for 1 hour and increase the cooking time to compensate.

Why ‘dried’ black-eyed beans? Can I use tinned?
You certainly can make this dish with tinned beans. Simply sauté and then simmer the curry in a frying pan and skip pressure cooking. However, I think it’s worth taking the trouble to soak and cook dried beans as they are healthier and tastier than the pre-cooked tinned ones. Tinned foods contain various potentially toxic chemicals to preserve the food or the tin itself that I would rather avoid. Tins also consume a lot of material that may or may not get recycled, and more fuel to transport. Dried beans also work out much cheaper than tinned ones.

How do I cook this curry if I forgot to soak the dried beans overnight?
You’re not alone. As it happens,  I often decide to eat beans on the spur of the moment as I am still a rubbish meal planner. I simply soak them in hot boiled water for an hour and increase the cooking time. For example, in the pressure cooker, I allow an extra two whistles and in the Instant pot an extra 7-10 minutes or so.

How do you cook dried black-eyed beans?
Once the beans have been soaked, they need to be pressure cooked either in an Instant pot (like I have done here) or in a pressure cooker. I tend to cook them in Instant pot these days as it saves me time and washing up.

Tinned beans can be cooked straight in a frying pan without boiling. However, that’s not my preference for the reasons explained above.

What is the recipe and how does it taste?
This is a Maharashtrian recipe based on a runny usal gravy that is prepared by grinding coconut and tomato. After sautéing this paste with spices, add a touch of garcinia indica (also known as amsul or kokum ) for tanginess. And then finish by pressure cooking the beans (either in an Instant pot or pressure cooker).

Taste-wise this usal is mildly spiced with a punch of coconut and a very subtle tangy note which works well for my family with their Anglo-Indian palates. My daughter happily polished it off with some broken basmati rice. And the nice thing is that it can easily be made spicier by simply adjusting the chilli powder and swapping garam masala with Maharashtrian kala masala. I add my homemade kala masala to this dish.

This recipe:

  • is made with easily available ingredients. You can easily find dried black-eyed beans and fresh coconut in your local supermarket or sustainable shop. As for garcinia indica aka kokum or amsul, you can find this in an Asian grocery store near you.
  • Comes together in 40 minutes
  • Has all the added health benefits of black-eyed beans.
  • is vegan and gluten-free
  • tastes authentically Maharashtrian, but goes down well with Western palates too.

I can’t find garcinia indica locally. What’s the local substitute for this ingredient?
If you can’t find garcinia indica aka kokum or amsul, you can try swapping it with a teaspoon of tamarind paste. Failing that, just squeeze half a lime into the finished dish.

Black-eyed bean usal aka Chavlichi usal

How to cook this dish without an Instant pot?
Although the recipe shown below uses an Instant pot, this dish can just as easily be made in a good old pressure cooker. Simply sauté the spices and coconut in the pressure cooker base before adding the soaked black-eyed beans. Add twice as much water as the quantity of the soaked beans, adjust seasoning and pressure cook for 3 whistles or 15 minutes. Then simply garnish with some chopped coriander and you’re ready to dive in with some hot steamed rice.

How to store this usal or curry?
Simply store in an air-tight container (glassware is preferred to plastic tupperware). It keeps well in the fridge for 3 days. If you wish to freeze, then do so immediately straight after cooking, ideally in a biodegradable freezer bag. (P.S If biodegradable bags are too expensive, try to re-use the freezer bags several times for various purposes before chucking them in the bin). It’ll keep in the freezer for 3 months. When you want to eat, simply thaw it first in a refrigerator for a couple of hours, before heating it thoroughly. Once thawed, the entire portion of the curry should be finished without storing again.

Black-eyed bean curry | Chawli Chi Usal

Recipe by RieethaaCourse: MainCuisine: Maharashtrian, IndianDifficulty: Easy
Servings

7

servings
Prep time

6

hours 

10

minutes
Cooking time

12

minutes
Total time

6

hours 

22

minutes

A delicious black-eyed bean curry cooked in Maharashtrian style in an InstantPot. This recipe can also be made on a stove top. Please check the FAQ.

Ingredients

  • 250g (1½ cups) dried black-eyed beans (or black-eyed peas) aka chavli/chawli

  • 100g (1 cup) fresh coconut (about half a fresh whole coconut)

  • 1 large onion (chopped)

  • 1 large tomato

  • 6 garlic cloves (minced)

  • ½ inch ginger (minced)

  • 4-5 curry leaves

  • 5 garcinia indica (aka amsul or kokum)

  • ¼ tsp asafoetida

  • ½ tsp turmeric powder

  • 1 tsp chilli powder

  • 1 tsp cumin powder

  • 1 tsp coriander powder

  • 1 tsp garam masala

  • Salt to taste

  • 1½  tsp jaggery

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil

  • 3 cups warm water

Directions

  • Soak the dried black-eyed beans overnight or for a minimum of 4 hours.
  • Grind the coconut and tomato to a fine paste.
  • Turn the Instant pot to sauté mode on high (Press ‘Sauté’ then press ‘Start’). Once the oil is hot, fry the onion, garlic and ginger until translucent.
  • Throw in the curry leaves. Add the asafoetida and sauté with turmeric, cumin, coriander and chilli powder. Also, add the garam masala (or kala masala, if you like it spicier).
  • Tip in the soaked black-eyed beans without water (from step 1) and continue stirring in sauté mode for 30-45 seconds.
  • Add the ground coconut & tomato paste (from step2) and continue sautéing for another 30 seconds.
  • Add the water followed by garcinia indica, jaggery and salt to taste. 
  • Put the Instant pot’s lid on and press ‘Cancel’. Then press ‘Pressure Cook’. Set the timer to 12 minutes then press ‘Start’. This will pressure cook on high for 12 minutes.
  • Release the pressure either manually or naturally. Sprinkle some freshly chopped coriander and serve hot with either steamed rice or chapatis.

Top-Tips

  • To make the usal spicier, add kala masala and more chilli to your taste.
  • All the ingredients should be easy to source. Please check the FAQs above for alternatives to garcinia indica.
  • If you can’t find fresh coconut, use desiccated coconut for this recipe.
  • Please check the FAQs above to learn how to cook this dish in a pressure cooker.

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