Bento filler and staple: Sweet stewed haricot, navy or white beans (Ingen no nimame)

nimame.jpg

Nimame (煮豆 にまめ), or stewed beans, are a standby item for bentos. They are usually rather sweet, though not dessert-level sweet, and serve the purpose of a hashi yasume or “chopstick rest” (see anatomy of a Japanese meal), a little something that contrasts in flavor and texture from the rest of the bento.

While it takes rather long to cook these, like most bean dishes, this is a terrific staple item. The beans keep for at least a week in the refrigerator, and freeze well in small batches too. Tuck in a spoonful in any bento for something a little sweet, a little salty, and good for you.

You can make nimame with any kind of dried beans, but here I’ve specified white or navy beans, or haricot beans, which are widely available and inexpensive. You could use cannellini beans instead.

You’ll notice that the only remotely exotic ingredient used here is soy sauce, so anyone can make this! Yes it’s still authentically Japanese. (It’s another one of my mom’s recipes.)

Recipe: Sweet stewed haricot, navy or white beans (Ingen no nimame)

  • 200 g / about 7 oz. or 2 U.S. cups of dry white or navy or haricot beans
  • 50g / about 1/4 cup raw cane sugar or sucanat; you can use white sugar or your preferred artificial sugar substitute here
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda (重曹 じゅうそう juusou in Japanese)
  • About 1 Tbs. soy sauce
  • A drizzle of honey (optional)

Sort through the beans and take out any broken ones or small stones, etc. Rinse the beans and cover with plenty of water in a large pot or bowl. Leave for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Drain the soaking water away, and put the beans in a pot with fresh water to cover. Bring to a boil, then throw away the water. This gets rid of much of the surface scum on the beans. Rinse the beans again, and fill the pot with more fresh water. Add the baking soda to the water. (The baking soda helps to make the beans more tender, but you can omit it.)

If you’re cooking the beans conventionally, bring the beans to a boil, lower the heat, and cook for about 40 minutes to an hour until the beans are firm but tender. You can tell when they are tender by taking one out and eating it!

You can also use a crockpot or slow cooker in the same way, though it may take longer to cook.

If using a pressure cooker: Close the lid, and heat the pot until it’s up to pressure, then lower the heat and cook for about 5 minutes. Release the pressure until you can open the lid. (Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.)

Add the sugar to the pot, and simmer for about half an hour. This gives them that caramel color. Add the soy sauce and the honey, and simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes. (You can add these with the sugar if you want to save some steps, but the beans won’t be as shiny and burnished.)

Use a paper or aluminum foil otoshibuta

This is optional, but if you want really perfect beans, you’ll want to use a temporary “lid” made of a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil, crumpled up to fit right on top of the beans in the pot, with holes poked in it, for the second stage of the cooking process (when you add the sugar) onwards. This is called an otoshibuta (落としぶた)and the rationale for using it is explained in this recipe for stewed eggplant.

Using undried fresh beans

If you can get a hold of undried fresh beans, you can use them instead of dried beans. You don’t need to soak them in advance. Here my mother is holding up a bunch of coco rouge, a type of fresh bean that is available in the markets in Provence from mid-summer to fall. (I believe they are borlotti beans or cranberry beans, or very close to them.) Yep, she really loves her beans, which is why she’s looking so happy! (Well that and the sun, weather, and whole vacation thing.)

Cocos rouge

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And visit our sister site, Just Hungry for great Japanese home recipes and more.

18 comments

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Soy sauce?

Hi Maki! I'm delighted to see this post. My host mother in Kyoto often made sweet stewed beans like this, though she always used black beans. I wonder how different 黒豆 are from dried black beans I can get at the super market here in the States? Are they the same?

I don't quite understand the last paragraph of the recipe, though. It looks like the soy sauce gets added twice? And what two steps are you supposed to separate if you want good shiney beans?

Thanks!! I hope you keep posting wonderful delicious things for a long time to come~

Bailey

Re: Soy sauce?

oops, that was a typo - you only add soy sauce once! Sorry about that, I've corrected it.

The normal kuromame you see in Japan are bigger than the black beans you see in the US or Europe, but the black beans you get here can be cooked in Japanese ways quite successfully, so I use them all the time. (There are black soy beans but they are different) I find it's a lot easier not to get hung up on getting *exactly the same* ingredients, but to just look for similar things, and it all works out! That's the whole philosophy behind my sites really :)

Re: Bento filler and staple: Sweet stewed haricot, navy or ...

Your mum looks so cute! *n_n*

Re: Bento filler and staple: Sweet stewed haricot, navy or ...

This may be very...like...sacrilege to say, but can you use canned beans and skip the whole...long process?

Re: Bento filler and staple: Sweet stewed haricot, navy or ...

Well the problem with using canned beans is...canned beans are very soft to begin with, so that cooking time needed to make the flavors penetrate would turn them into mush. Good mush maybe...but still mush.

Re: Bento filler and staple: Sweet stewed haricot, navy or ...

I regularly use pinto beans (being from the Southwest USA) in my bento lunches. I make a huge pot in my crock pot and my husband and I have them for dinner as a vegetarian meal and then I will freeze some of them and mash the rest and freeze as homemade refried beans to serve with enchiladas, tacos, and various other meals.

My husband is Australian (we live in Australia) and he loves the southwestern flavour. When I can get artificial smoke flavouring U make them totally vegetarian. Or I either put a piece of smoke pork in then take it out before serving or just eat them vegetarian (pinto beans and onion only) serve with extra onion and shredded cheese and salsa.

As I like beans in general I'll have to try your version too!

Re: Bento filler and staple: Sweet stewed haricot, navy or ...

I followed this recipe this morning [well, started the soak last night...;-) ] and I have one note and a question:

The note: When I was measuring the beans, I decided to do them by weight since I had my scale out anyway. The weight measure you list is much closer to ONE Cup U.S. than Two...

The question: Delicious Mush is what I wound up with. I used Great Northern White Beans. Should I have drastically shortened the first cook period? You had said this would work any kind of dried bean. After 40 minutes, these were edible with just a bit of resistance. By the time they went 30 minutes with the sugar and then another 10 with the soy/honey, it was obvious how things were going to be. (I did use a otoshibuta of parchment paper..)

Since I work from home, I enjoy your posts for the recipes rather than the bento tips (although I love looking at them!). Thank you for inspiring some new food avenues to follow!

Re: Bento filler and staple: Sweet stewed haricot, navy or ...

When cooking white beans, as opposed to black, red, or pinto beans, you don't have to cook them nearly as long. Kind of like when you cook lentils. I found that out from experience myself, too. Very true on the mush description! :)

I look forward to trying this sweet bean recipe, I've only ever cooked beans the savory/non sweet way of seasoning.

Kat wrote:

I followed this recipe this morning [well, started the soak last night...;-) ] and I have one note and a question:

The note: When I was measuring the beans, I decided to do them by weight since I had my scale out anyway. The weight measure you list is much closer to ONE Cup U.S. than Two...

The question: Delicious Mush is what I wound up with. I used Great Northern White Beans. Should I have drastically shortened the first cook period? You had said this would work any kind of dried bean. After 40 minutes, these were edible with just a bit of resistance. By the time they went 30 minutes with the sugar and then another 10 with the soy/honey, it was obvious how things were going to be. (I did use a otoshibuta of parchment paper..)

Since I work from home, I enjoy your posts for the recipes rather than the bento tips (although I love looking at them!). Thank you for inspiring some new food avenues to follow!

Re: Bento filler and staple: Sweet stewed haricot, navy or ...

rosenda in ca wrote:

When cooking white beans, as opposed to black, red, or pinto beans, you don't have to cook them nearly as long. Kind of like when you cook lentils. I found that out from experience myself, too. Very true on the mush description! :)

I look forward to trying this sweet bean recipe, I've only ever cooked beans the savory/non sweet way of seasoning.

About how much shorter or a cooking time? (I ended up with delicious mush as well, I used navy beans)

Re: Bento filler and staple: Sweet stewed haricot, navy or ...

Thanks, Maki. I tried this with some dried pinto beans I happened to have and they are superb! I am kind of a bean-head anyway and this is a new dimension.

Thank you for all your effort on Just Bento and Just Hungry!

jfox

Re: Bento filler and staple: Sweet stewed haricot, navy or ...

What a perfect little recipe! Simple, adaptable and delicious.

I just cooked up a batch with some cannellini beans that had been languishing in the freezer. The result was a little too soft, so I mashed them up. They'll be a perfect dab in a bento, or spread on a piece of toasted baguette. I'm also thinking about making them into tiny balls, rolling them in cornmeal or parmesan, and then frying them.

But I want a batch with that rich caramel color, so I'm going to start soaking some Rancho Gordo heirloom beans. My Nisei mother will be surprised and delighted when I present her with this omiage.

Re: Bento filler and staple: Sweet stewed haricot, navy or ...

That sounds delicious! My mother says that you can also try spreading them on pancakes, sort of like dorayaki but more savory.

Re: Bento filler and staple: Sweet stewed haricot, navy or ...

I love haricots because you never get hungry in the afternoon with them!

otoshibuta

I want to buy otoshibuta on line. Do you know where I can? Have looked everywhere. Thanks. Email me, please.

bean to water ratio?

this is kind of a silly question, but how much water should i use for this? i'm always a little bit confused about ratios with beans and water. i made this with pinto beans, but i think i put in too much water (about 1:3, since they were pre-soaked), because they don't have much flavor and i had to drain them afterward. i think i'm expecting them to be sweet like kuromame, though, which is probably not the case!

oh, and silly question number two: i used powdered sugar because it was all i had. is there a good reason to use granular sugar instead? i know they add a bit of arrowroot powder to the powdered sugar, too, but i figured it wouldn't be enough to affect the cooking.

Re: bean to water ratio?

Usually the water for cooking beans is just given as 'enough to cover the beans' - that means the water level should come up to about 1/2 inch / 1cm or so above the top layer of beans. Also, if you soak them for too long, beans will start to lose some flavor. No these beans aren't very sweet like many other Japanese bean recipes.

Powdered sugar is mixed with other things, like cornstarch or arrowroot and so on to maintain that powdery texture. Besides, it's more expensive than regular sugar! As a sweetener it's ok probaby, but for many recipes where the texture or bulk of the sugar is called on (e.g. many baking recipes, confectionery, etc) it's probably not a good substitute for granulated or whatever is specified.

Re: Bento filler and staple: Sweet stewed haricot, navy or ...

I just got back from Tokyo, and during a visit to Tsukiji market, went nuts and bought a few kg of different types of beans!

Just want to ask... I have tried this with the regular kuromame and it turned out delicious.
I do have 2 packs of irimame (I think that's the name), which is the roasted nuts that can be eaten as it is.. is it possible to use the roasted nut for this recipe?

Re: Bento filler and staple: Sweet stewed haricot, navy or ...

No, irimame won't turn out right...and they are better eaten as-is anyway I think. (Besides, they are more expensive than the raw beans aren't they?)

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