🫘 nhaji / the hyacinth bean

I got a little intimidated by the internet in terms of cooking this legume, which isn’t a regular black bean. Its scientific name is Lablab purpureus, and it is not closely related to the common black bean (also called the black turtle bean) which is a variety of Phaseolus vulgaris. (There are many varieties.) The politics surrounding this bean are described by Carey Baraka on Serious Eats, and this was my introduction to understanding what this leftover ingredient was in my cabinet, abandoned by a former housemate.

Serious Eats itself tried to give the bean a redemption arc, and while I think the recipe is decent (admittedly I didn’t adhere to it, what I did was closer to Kahuli’s recipe), I don’t think I prefer this bean either.

I soaked it for 8 hours in salted water. Not sure what for, but I poured off the water then cooked it in an Instant Pot for 40min, 1:2 volume of beans to water, with some garlic, cumin seeds, and ginger thrown in. Had excess water, which I poured off.

Someone on Amazon reported soaking and pressure cooking for 45min only to have them be rock hard. To my relief, my beans were cooked when I opened the lid, but definitely still on the firmer side — I think any Phaseolus vulgaris would have been mush by this point.

There was no doubt that they had been cooked and were edible, and I was comforted by the prospect of cooking them more through the stewing process. I’m not convinced they changed much in the 15 extra minutes of boiling, but they were a pleasant addition to rice, even if incredibly unexciting when compared to their history and cultural ties.

I was prepared for something polarizing and instead am left with an ambivalent taste. Nhaji aren’t worth extra effort from me to source or cook in most circumstances, but they’re also not deserving of the trash. I wonder if their firm, mild nature could be leveraged instead of fought against. What would that look like?

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