This sweet potato and black bean stew is packed full of flavour, nutrition and is 100% vegan. Inspired by Caribbean flavours, it uses a homemade curry powder mix and scotch bonnet puree to give the stew an aromatic kick.
Garlic and Thyme are two ingredients synonymous with Caribbean cooking, but they are often overlooked in favour of more unique ingredients such as allspice, ginger, or scotch bonnet chillies.
Key Ingredients for Sweet Potato and Black Bean Stew
Scotch Bonnet Chillis are extremely hot but are nowhere near the hottest edible chillis. They are small, plump fruits synonymous with West African and Caribbean cooking. They’re related to the habanero Chilli, but Scotch Bonnet Chillies have a sweeter flavour. On the Scoville scale, they rank between 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville heat units.
CAUTION: Scotch Bonnets are extremely hot and must be handled with care. Gloves are advised.
Despite their name, sweet potatoes are not closely related to the common potatoes used to make fries. The name evolved from an old Taino word which sound like the name the first Spanish explorers gave the newfound common potato. Batata for Sweet Potatoes vs Patatas, evolving from Papa, the Quechua word for the common potato.
Sweet potatoes are root vegetables that also contain starch like their namesake. However, they are sweeter and have a creamier texture compared to potatoes. It may at first taste seem as though the sweet potato is less healthy than a common white potato, but it’s much healthier. They are packed with fibre, vitamins A, C, and B2.
Black beans or black turtle beans are small shiny beans that are black in colour. They have a firmer texture which can be described as meaty, making them a popular choice in meat-free dishes. Flavour wise they have a mildly sweet taste with an earthiness reminiscent of mushrooms.
The name may cause confusion since there are other types of beans referred to as black beans such as the adzuki bean used in Korean cuisine. However, most commonly the term “black bean” refers to the black turtle bean. The bean’s name refers to the hard outer shell of the bean, like that of a turtle. Overall, they taste mild which allows them to blend into a dish without overpowering it.
To prepare dried black beans, soak them in fresh water overnight or for at least 6 hours. Soaking the beans will speed up the cooking time which will take around an hour on a rolling boil. However, this sweet potato and black bean stew uses canned, pre-cooked black beans, reducing the cooking time to around 10 minutes or until the beans are piping hot throughout.
Coconut milk is extracted from the grated pulp of the coconut. It’s then soaked and strained to produce an opaque white liquid reminiscent of milk. It’s used in many cuisines across the world including the Caribbean. When added to this sweet potato and black bean stew, it provides richness which tempers both the sweetness of the potatoes and the acidity of the tomatoes.
Curry Powder for Sweet Potato & Black Bean Stew
Caribbean cookery is not only packed with heat but also aromatic spices which are usually added to foods through curry powders. Indian curry powders are not used in India and were introduced to the British Empire through British traders. In Caribbean cookery, however, a curry powder is often used which varies depending on brand or household but has a strong aromatic zing to it.
If you can’t find Caribbean curry powder, you can make it yourself using the recipe below. I make no claims to authenticity and can only speak to flavour concerning this sweet potato and black bean stew.
The spices are similar to those found in most curries around the world with the addition of allspice. Allspice is sometimes called pimento, or Jamaican pepper; such is its affiliation with the cuisine and the region. The Spice is ground from the Dried berries of the Pimenta Dioica tree, native to Mexico and Central America but is now grown all over the world. Its name also suggests its flavour profile. Allspice’s name comes from an old English trader who first imported the spice and thought it tasted like a combination of Nutmeg, Cinnamon, and Cloves.
To make the curry powder, the whole spices listed need to be toasted gently in a pan over medium heat. Then, once they begin to brown remove them from the heat. It’s best to toast the spices individually as they will begin to colour and release their aromatic compounds at varying rates. All the spices listed will turn bitter if toasted for too long.
Sweet Potato and Black Bean Stew
- 1 Large White Onion Diced
- 3 Spring Onions Chopped
- 1 Red Pepper Diced
- 2 Scotch Bonnet Chilli Deseeded and Finely Chopped
- 3 Garlic Cloves Chopped
- 2 Thumb Sized Pieces of Ginger Peeled, Chopped
- 5 Thyme Sprigs
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 1 Tbsp Caribbean Curry Powder
- 1 Tbsp Tomato Puree
- 1 Tin of Chopped Tomatoes
- 500 g Sweet Potatoes Washed and Diced
- 2 Tins of Black Beans Drained
- 1 Tin of Coconut Milk
- 1 Tbsp Coriander Leaves Chopped
- For the Curry Powder
- 1 Tbsp Ground Allspice
- 1 Tsp Cumin Seeds
- 1 Tsp Coriander Seeds
- 1 Tsp Ground Turmeric
- ½ Tsp Black Mustard Seeds
- 1 Tsp Black Peppercorns
- ½ Tsp Fenugreek
- 1 Tbsp salt
- Make the curry powder by toasting the whole spices in a dry pan and grinding in a pestle and mortar. Combine with the ground spices.
- Heat a large pan over a medium heat and add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions, and gently soften them with a pinch of salt. When the onions have begun to soften, add the spring onions, peppers, scotch bonnet, garlic, and ginger. Cook for another minute.
- Add the thyme leaves and 1 tablespoon of curry powder. Cook for 1 minute then add the tomato puree. Add the tinned tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
- Bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Add the potatoes and cook for 20 minutes until the potatoes are almost tender.
- Add the Drained black beans and coconut milk and cook for another 10 minutes.
- Serve garnished with chopped coriander.