A couple of years ago, we ran into some friends at the Festival of Nations. They had already eaten, so we asked if they had any favorites, and they quickly recommended the African honey beans from the Nigerian food stand.
We took their suggestion, thoroughly enjoyed our honey beans, and started counting down the days until the next year’s festival so we could get our fix. In the meantime, of course, we played with the idea of making our own, but neither of our go-to international grocers (Jay’s and Global) carried the beans, a variety of black eyed peas that are inherently sweet.
This year, we visited the Nigerian stand again and asked the proprietor where we could purchase the dried beans. She directed us to Worldwide International Foods and African Grocery, a small store on Olive (just east of I-170) in UCity. The store in question is decidedly outside our normal walkable/bikeable radius, and it’s also not an area we frequent in the car (unlike the suburbs where my in-laws live and the TJ’s/WF shopping area).
Anyway, I attempted a bean pick-up back in early November, when I visited a friend who lived not too far away, but they weren’t open. Still no honey beans.
They fell of my radar until then I saw the article on honey beans in last month’s Sauce Magazine. Interest renewed. I wrote down the store address, called to check the hours, and jotted down the Yoruban name for the beans, “ewa oloyin,” in case that would make my quest easier.
Yesterday, with plans to look at a few houses just off of Olive, I made a second attempt, this time successful (well, sort-of). They were down to two bags of “oloyin” on the shelf, a two-pounder and a ten-pounder. We eat a lot of beans, and it had taken me FOREVER to actually get to the store and buy the beans, so I opted for the ten-pounder. When I checked out, I confirmed with the store clerk that the beans in the bag were, in fact, honey beans, since the label just said “oloyin.” He assured me they were.
With limited time until dinner, I used the quick soak method on the beans and worked on my rendition of the sauce while they cooked. When I tested the beans for doneness, they surprised me with their lack of sweetness — not a good sign.
Either a) the beans I purchased were, in fact, NOT honey beans, or b) they prepare the dish sold as honey beans at the Nigerian food stand with significant added sugar. (The annoying part is I don’t know how to find out if I bought the wrong beans.)
Anyway, I try to keep sugar consumption fairly minimal, especially for Gabriel, so the last thing I wanted was to dump a ton of sugar into the bean pot. I compromised by adding some dates (sugared, not what I usually buy, but this seemed like a good place to use them) to the sauce. The resulting dish, while not identical to what we had at Festival of Nations, was mildly sweet and quite flavorful.
AFRican honey beans
Recipe by Melissa, adapted from recipe in Sauce Magazine
3 c. dry honey beans*
1 c. bean cooking liquid (for the sauce)
1/3 c. chopped sundried tomatoes
1 c. chopped red bell pepper
1 t. onion powder
1/4 c. dates
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 T. butter
2 t. peanut oil
1 T. coconut oil
Soak beans, either overnight or using a quick soak. Drain, rinse, return to pan, add water just to cover, and simmer until tender but not mushy (about 45 minutes for this batch).
When beans are cooked, pour off most of the cooking liquid into a measuring cup and salt the beans. Combine one cup of the liquid with the sundried tomatoes, bell peppers, onion powder, and dates. Blend to a smooth, thick sauce using a hand or regular blender.
Combine all three oils in a small saucepan over gentle heat.** Add bouillon cube, cook for a few minutes, then add the sauce from above. Stir to combine well, then pour over the beans in the pan.
*The beans I was using may or may not have been actual honey beans — I may never know. The good news, if you, too, have trouble locating honey beans, is that you can probably replicate this dish with other beans (perhaps black eyed peas or a small white bean, like navy beans).
**Palm oil would be traditional in this recipe, but the labor and environmental practices around farming palm oil are pretty atrocious. The blend of oils/fats I used here was quite flavorful and worked well in the dish.