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Easy Butter Bean Curry

A really easy-to-make tangy spiced butter bean curry that’s also vegan and just needs spices and a few other ingredients for a lip-smacking meal ready in half an hour or less.

Two bowls of bean curry in sauce on white background.

Why you’ll love it

  • It has a tangy mildly spicy sauce that’s not creamy or tomato-ey.
  • If you have the spices to hand, it’s very cheap to make as it’s basically spices, a few tomatoes, onion, and butter beans.
  • It’s easy to dial the spice level up or down to suit your preference.
  • It’s perfect for meal prep.
  • It’s vegan.
  • You can use cooked butter beans (also called lima beans), or if you have an Instant Pot you can alternatively use dried butter beans.

And if you’re a fan of quick legume-based curries, then you might want to also check out my one-pot eggplant lentil curry or this creamy black bean curry.

Ingredients and substitutions

See the ingredients you’ll need at a glance in the image below and scroll down after it to see if any substitutions can be made if you’re short on ingredients.

Labelled ingredients for butter bean curry including onion lemon tomatoes butter beans and spices.

Onion: Use a large brown or red onion (the one in the photo is actually a bit small).

Lemon: You’ll need fresh lemon juice, not concentrate for this recipe. If you don’t have lemon juice you can use fresh lime juice, or tamarind extract to get that sour tangy flavor.

Tomatoes: Use two large tomatoes, any type will do. Don’t use canned tomatoes as they won’t break down into the sauce the same way.

Cumin: Use ground cumin. If you don’t have any ground cumin to hand you can use cumin seeds double the amount and add them in before the onion and allow them to crackle a bit before adding anything else to the pan.

Coriander: Use ground coriander, not coriander seeds.

Oil: You can use any fairly flavorless oil like canola oil, sunflower oil etc.

Turmeric: Use ground turmeric, not fresh.

Black pepper: Use regular preground black pepper, not the type that comes as peppercorns in a grinder.

Garlic: Use large fresh garlic cloves, not frozen or dried granules.

Cayenne: This is optional but highly recommended. A quarter teaspoon will give you a mild spicy flavor, I prefer to use half a teaspoon for a medium-high level of spice, but you do you.

Garam masala: This common spice in Indian cooking is a must. If you don’t have any, then make your own.

Clove: Use ground clove preferably, if you don’t have any ground clove you can use four cloves and add them to fry with the onions instead and remove when the curry is cooked.

Front view of a beige bowl with a brown curry with butter beans in it.

Cinnamon: Use ground cinnamon, or add half a cinnamon stick with the onions if you don’t have any ground cinnamon to hand.

Butter beans: You can use canned or bottled or homecooked butter beans for this recipe, or follow the instructions given further down to use dried beans in your Instant Pot.

Water: I like using vegetable stock instead of water in a lot of my recipes and curries but I don’t recommend it here as you really want the flavor of the spices to shine through.

Ginger: Use fresh ginger, not ground, if you don’t have any fresh ginger then just omit it.

Salt: This recipe does need to be well-salted so if you prefer to reduce sodium because of dietary concerns, I recommend you use a no or low-sodium salt alternative.

How to make it

Butter bean curry is easy enough to make even for beginner cooks, but in this section in case you’re unsure about any step you can check the progress photos and detailed instructions below, or skip ahead to the recipe card if you prefer.

I highly recommend you chop the onion and tomatoes, press the garlic, finely grate the ginger (no need to peel it), and measure the spices before beginning to cook as this recipe moves quite quickly and if you take too long chopping or measuring, it might burn.

  1. Add the oil to a large deep pan and heat on medium-high. When the oil is hot, add the finely-chopped onion and fry for between three to five minutes until the onion is softened and lightly browned. Add the crushed garlic and the finely grated ginger to the pan.
  2. Mix well and fry for one minute more or until the garlic doesn’t smell as raw, then add the chopped tomatoes and half a teaspoon of salt.
  3. Mix well and fry between five to seven minutes until the tomatoes are softened and broken down. Add all the spices to the pan (turmeric, cayenne pepper, garam masala, black pepper, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and ground cloves).
  4. Mix well and fry around three minutes more, stirring to prevent sticking. The spices should be very aromatic.
Collage of four images showing a frying pan with onions and garlic in it, then with tomatoes, then spices, then all fried together.
  1. If using cooked butter beans, add them and the water and mix well. Turn the heat up all the way until the mixture comes to a boil and then reduce to medium-high heat again to maintain at a lively simmer.
  2. Cook for between ten to fifteen minutes or until thickened to your liking – remember that the sauce will thicken even more after cooking due to the starch released from the beans, so leave it a little looser than your ideal. Add the lemon juice to taste (this curry should be tangy, I recommend between 1.5 to 3 tablespoons depending on how ripe your lemon is, personally I use 3 but it’s winter and lemons are terrible here in Paris…). Add salt to taste – I usually add around three quarters of a teaspoon.
Split image with beans in liquid on the left, and in a thickened sauce on the right.

Done!

If you want your curry thicker, simply simmer it longer, if you want it looser and with more sauce, just add a little water and mix well.

Serve with steamed basmati rice and enjoy!

Instant Pot instructions

If you prefer using dried beans and you have an instant pot, adjusting the recipe couldn’t be easier. I recommend soaking the beans overnight as it significantly reduces the cooking time and the beans hold their shape better.

Follow the recipe as is, using the Instant Pot on sauté mode instead of a frying pan, until step five.

Then instead of adding four cups of cooked butter beans and two cups of water, add two cups of dried butter beans, and five cups of water. If the beans are presoaked, seal the Instant Pot and set to cook at high pressure for twelve minutes and then do a quick release, and add salt and lemon juice to taste.

If the beans have not been soaked overnight, you’ll need to cook them on high pressure for sixty minutes and then do a quick release.

Adjust the thickness of your sauce as needed once the beans are cooked. Switch to sauté mode and cook the sauce down further if needed, or add more water for more sauce.

Top-down view of a bowl and gold spoon resting on a thick lima bean curry.

Equipment notes

What you’ll need:

  • A sharp knife.
  • A chopping board.
  • A garlic press.
  • A grater.
  • A large deep frying pan.
  • A wooden spoon or a spatula for stirring.
  • A lemon squeezer.
  • Measuring cups and spoons.

Storage

If you have any leftover curry, you can store it in a lidded container in the fridge for up to five days. The curry will thicken the longer it sits so simply thin it with a little water as needed before heating it up.

Like most bean curries, this one is a cinch to freeze. Simply allow to cool to room temperature and store in a lidded freezer-safe container or a freezer bag and transfer to the freezer. Once frozen, it will keep for up to three months. To serve either defrost and reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop until piping hot, or cook directly from frozen.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are other names for butter beans?

Butter beans are also called lima beans or vaal.

Did you make this dish? Let me know how much you loved it with a star rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐, review, and/or comment below.

Yield: 4 servings

Easy Butter Bean Curry

Two bowls of bean curry in sauce on white background.

A delicious easy-to-make economical vegan tangy curry that you'll be sure to add to your weekly repertoire!

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 27 minutes
Total Time 32 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons neutral oil (canola, sunflower etc.)
  • 1 large onion, chopped finely
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1-inch ginger, finely grated
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • ½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon garam masala
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ Tablespoon ground cumin
  • ½ Tablespoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 4 cups cooked butter beans (21 oz./600g) or 2 cups dried
  • 2 ¼ cups water (540ml)
  • 1½-3 Tablespoons lemon juice to taste

Instructions

  1. First, peel and finely chop the onion, press the garlic, finely grate the ginger, chop the tomatoes, and measure out the spices.
  2. Add the oil to a large deep frying pan and heat on medium-high heat. When hot, add the finely chopped onions and fry for between 3 to 5 minutes or until softened and lightly browned.
  3. Add the pressed garlic and ginger and mix well. Fry for 1 minute.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes and salt and mix well. Fry for 5 to 7 minutes until the tomatoes have softened and are breaking down.
  5. Add all the spices (turmeric, cayenne, garam masala, black pepper, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cloves) and mix. Fry for three minutes, stirring regularly to prevent sticking.
  6. Cooked butter beans, add 4 cups plus 2 ¼ cups water, mix well, increase the heat to high until the mixture boils, then reduce to medium-high to keep at a lively simmer for between 10-15 minutes until the curry has thickened to your liking. Continue to step 8.
  7. Dried butter beans, soak 2 cups overnight, perform steps 1-5 in an Instant Pot on saute mode, then drain and add the beans plus five cups of water and set to cook on high pressure for 12 minutes and do a quick release. Continue to step 8.
  8. Add lemon juice and salt to taste. I like to use around 2 or 3 tablespoons of lemon juice - this curry should be tangy - and three-quarters of a teaspoon of extra salt.If your sauce has thickened too much, simply thin with a little water.
  9. Done. Enjoy hot over steamed basmati rice.

Nutrition Information

Yield

4

Serving Size

1

Amount Per Serving Calories 460Total Fat 51gSaturated Fat 29gTrans Fat 4gUnsaturated Fat 34gCholesterol 244mgSodium 1010mgCarbohydrates 10gFiber 2gSugar 4gProtein 3g

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