The Best Durban Sugar Bean Curry

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Amma’s Durban sugar bean curry was the epitome of a meatless Monday dinner in my childhood home. Made with barlotti beans, this protein-packed legume is first, boiled then simmered in a broth of fragrant spices cinnamon, cardamom and Durban masala. A generous portion of onion, ginger and garlic accounts for the lush gravy in this curry. This dish sometimes contains potatoes. While family recipes vary, Amma‘s Durban-style bean curry often included dry fish. Her typical method for expanding the quantity of a meat curry was to add beans. Sugar beans are also an essential component for making lamb trotters curry and samp and beans. For a Durban-style chilli con carne, add mincemeat. Sugar bean curry is best served with soft roti.

 This post features a few tips on how to cook barlotti beans, how to reduce bloat from beans and the sugar bean recipe in a printable recipe card. To read simply scroll or jump to the recipe.


Fond Memories of Ammas Durban Bean Curry

Growing up in rural South Africa, my childhood memories are filled with the aroma of delicious homemade food and the joy of helping my Amma in the kitchen. One of my fondest memories is the sugar bean harvest season when our backyard garden was filled with an abundance of fresh beans. Amma carefully laid out the beans in the warm sun, ensuring they dried thoroughly. Once dried, she stored them in glass jars, ready to be used whenever the craving for her delicious Durban sugar bean curry struck.

I vividly remember sitting around the table with my sisters, savouring each mouthful of the aromatic sugar bean curry. The tender beans, the fragrant spices, and the love put into every step of the process made it a truly memorable meal. To this day, whenever I make sugar bean curry, I can’t help but reminisce about those cherished moments spent with Amma and the simple joys of rural life in South Africa. The recipe she passed down to me continues to bring comfort and a sense of connection to my roots, reminding me of the importance of preserving family traditions and the flavours of our heritage. Now if only I could convince my son to enjoy it as much as I do.

How to Boil Sugar Beans for Curry

Amma’s secret to making perfect Bean curry was to soak the dried beans overnight, and the next day, they would plump up, ready to be cooked. The slow simmering of the beans in the richly spiced curry resulted in a dish that was hearty, comforting, and bursting with flavours.

Some readers have also requested a recipe for boiling sugar beans- many of you find it tricky boiling beans, either it gets burnt or overcooked. The secret to perfectly boiled sugar beans is that it has to be soaked overnight. Apart from reducing cooking time it also prevents the skin of the beans from peeling off when boiled.

In the case of sugar beans, a watched pot boils best, either cook the beans on low heat or keep a watchful eye so that it does not burn. You can also add a teaspoon of cooking oil to keep the beans from sticking while it boils.

Tips for Boiling Beans:

  • Soak the dried sugar beans overnight or for at least 6-8 hours before cooking. This will help reduce the cooking time and make the beans more tender.
  • If you don’t have time to soak the beans, you can also use the quick soak method. Place the beans in a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, and let them boil for 2 minutes. Then remove from heat, cover, and let them soak for 1 hour before proceeding with the boiling process.
  • Make sure to cook the beans until they are tender but not mushy. Check their doneness by biting into a few beans to ensure they have the desired texture.

1.Start by sifting through the beans to remove stones or chipped pieces. Wash with cold water then soak overnight.


2. The next day-add the sugar beans to a pot half filled with water. Boil on medium heat.

3. Once the water evaporates add more water to keep it from burning.
4. Cook the sugar beans for a maximum of 2 hours. 

5. Remove from heat and rinse thoroughly before cooking the curry.

TIP: Some beans may cook quicker than others; you can test if the beans are ready by pressing one or two with your fingers. If it is ‘half cooked’ (semi-soft) then remove it from the stove. Amma used to say that the beans should be half cooked, this way they can fully cook together with the potatoes in the curry.

 Why Do Beans Give Us Gas?

Beans and other legumes, as well as broccoli and cabbage, are often associated as gas inducing foods. The main reason for this is that they contain a high dose of  raffinose, a complex form of sugar which is not easily digestible. Beans are also in fibre, which when consumed in large quantities can cause bloating and gassiness. You cannot eliminate the raffinose but you can prepare beans to reduce the bloat.

How to reduce Gas from Beans

My favoured method is to soak beans then rinse until the water runs clear or remove as much of the foaminess as possible. Some sources recommend ajwain or epazote to decrease gas production.
reduce gas in beans

Ingredients need for The Best Durban Sugar Bean Curry

  •  onions
  •  tomatoes
  •  ground ginger and garlic
  • curry leaves
  •  cinnamon powder or cinnamon sticks
  • cardamom pods or powder
  • Durban masala  (combine with fresh chillies for a more pungent curry)
  • vegetable or olive oil
  • pre-boiled barlotti beans
  • water
  •  potatoes

How to make Durban Sugar Bean Curry Step by Step with Pictures

1. Pre-boil the barlotti beans according to the instructions listed above.

2. Prepare the onions and tomatoes. I prefer to slice onion fine or grind in a spice grinder with ginger and garlic and a small piece of green chilli. My typical method for handling tomatoes is to remove the peel by soaking in hot water. Slice in half to remove seeds then grate. This results in the best gravy.

best sugar bean curry

3. Braise the onion, ginger garlic and spices for a minute or two until the spice separate from the oil. Add  grated tomatoes then potatoes, followed by water and the barlotti beans.

suagr beans with potatoes

6. Allow to cook on medium heat. When the water evaporates add more water depending on the consistency you would like. If you prefer more gravy then add more water.


7. Once the potatoes have cooked remove them from the stove. Serve with rice or roti.

best bean curry recipe

Durban Sugar Bean Curry Recipe

Spicy Durban Sugar Bean Curry Recipe

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Recipe by Ms Pillay Course: Dinner, LuchDifficulty: Medium


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  • 2 cups 2 dried sugar beans (soaked overnight then pre-boiled)

  • 2 medium 2 onions, finely chopped

  • 3 cloves 3 garlic, minced

  • 2 tablespoons 2 vegetable oil

  • 2 teaspoons 2 Durban masala or vegetable curry powder

  • 1 teaspoon 1 ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon 1 ground coriander

  • 1 teaspoon 1 turmeric

  • 1 teaspoon 1 chilli powder (adjust to taste)

  • 2 medium 2 tomatoes, chopped

  • 1 1 cinnamon stick

  • 2 2 bay leaves

  • Salt to taste

  • Fresh coriander leaves for garnish


  • Boiling the Sugar Beans
  • Rinse the sugar beans thoroughly under cold water to remove any dirt or debris.
  • In a large pot, add the sugar beans and cover them with water, ensuring there is enough water to allow for expansion.
  • Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and let the beans simmer for about 1 to 1.5 hours or until they are tender. Stir occasionally and add more water if needed.
  • Once the beans are cooked, drain them and set them aside.
  • Preparing the Curry
  • Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot or skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the chopped onion and sauté until it becomes translucent and starts to brown.
  • Add the minced garlic and grated ginger, and sauté for another minute until fragrant.
  • Reduce the heat to low, then add the ground cumin, ground coriander, ground turmeric, ground paprika, and ground cinnamon. Stir well to coat the onions and spices evenly.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, and green chilies (if using). Stir and cook for a few minutes until the tomatoes start to break down and release their juices.
  • Now, add the boiled sugar beans to the pot, season with salt to taste, and mix well to combine all the ingredients.
  • Cover the pot and let the curry simmer over low heat for about 20-30 minutes to allow the flavours to meld together. Stir occasionally and add a little water if needed to maintain the desired consistency.
  • Once the curry is cooked and thickened to your liking, remove it from the heat.
  • Serving Suggestions
  • Garnish the Durban sugar bean curry with fresh cilantro leaves.
  • Serve the curry hot with steamed rice, naan bread, or roti.
  • Accompany it with a side of cucumber raita, pickles, or chutney for additional flavours and textures.


  • Estimated Cooking Times: Soaking the sugar beans: 6-8 hours or overnight Boiling the sugar beans: 1 to 1.5 hours Cooking the curry: 20-30 minutes.
  • Remember, these cooking times are approximate and may vary based on the heat source and the desired tenderness of the sugar beans. Adjust the cooking time accordingly, keeping an eye on the beans and tasting them occasionally to ensure they are cooked to your preference.

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Variations of a Classic Durban Bean Curry

You can add other vegetables like diced carrots, bell peppers, or potatoes to the curry for added texture and nutritional value. Just add them along with the tomatoes.
For a creamier curry, you can stir in some coconut milk or cream towards the end of cooking.
If you prefer a spicier curry, increase the number of green chillies or add a pinch of red chilli powder.

Apart from Sugar Beans with potatoes, Amma had a few variations to her Sugar Beans Curry recipe. She would sometimes add dried fish to the dish. She would sometimes cook sugar bean curry with Madumbe’s, or with halved gem squash instead of potatoes.

More Delicious Bean Curry Recipes to Try


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