May 152014
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Spicy Indian Bean Salad (for a Crowd)



Every May, my child’s school hosts a lunch for the teachers on Teacher Appreciation Day. Parents are asked to bring a dish which can serve upto 20 people. Although I am not accustomed to cooking for a crowd, I wanted to take part and show my appreciation for the work the teachers do. I will admit that I have a special place in my heart for teachers – both my mother and sister are primary school teachers and I see first-hand how hard they work.


The first thing I had to do was decide what dish I was going to make. It was easy enough for me to decide that my dish would be a salad so I could share it on my blog. The harder decision was choosing exactly which type of salad to make.


I started to think about some of the teachers I have had throughout the years. Some were inspirational, many were very good, and a few were really awful. The inspirational teachers leave an indelible mark in the fabric of your being long after you have left school. The very good teachers help you grow as a person. Even the dreadful teachers have a role in developing you because you learn to deal with adversity. But not all the inspirational people in school are teachers. Some have other roles.


One of the people who influenced me greatly, although I didn’t realise it at the time, was Mrs Lea Rangel-Ribeiro, the Primary School Principal at my school UNIS (United Nations International School in New York). I attended UNIS from Grade 1 to Grade 4 (1983-1987).


UNIS was a very warm and nurturing school and a big part of that was because of the caring ethos which Mrs Ribeiro encouraged. As a student I didn’t have day-to-day interaction with her like I did with my homeroom teachers, but she was an ever-present force in the Primary School. She shaped the school in so many ways, but the thing I remember most vividly about her was that every day, rain or shine or even snow (those New York blizzards can be all-consuming), she would come to school dressed in a beautiful, colorful sari with her hair tied in a bun and a generous smile. As a child from the sub-continent, seeing a woman in a sari was quite a normal thing. In fact, for most of the kids at this school (the majority whom came from UN or diplomatic backgrounds), seeing people in clothes from their home country didn’t seem unusual. It was simply Mrs Ribeiro’s signature look, and countless pictures were drawn by little hands of Mrs Ribeiro in her sari and bun. She never tried to make an exaggerated point about being proud of her heritage. She confidently wore her sari each day, and simply got on with the million and one things which keep all Primary School Principals busy. As an adult, I can now recognise the silent message which was instilled in me from seeing Mrs Ribeiro consistently wearing a sari to school every day in central Manhattan: Yes, you can be a female and achieve success without compromising who you are or where you come from.


Mrs Ribeiro was the Primary School Principal at UNIS for 32 years. I was really happy to find a link to a lovely slideshow of her at the school: Memories of Lea Ribeiro


So it is in honor of Mrs Lea Ribeiro, born in Bombay in 1933 and an inspiration to me and countless other children who walked through the doors of UNIS Primary School in New York, that I decided to make a Spicy Indian Bean Salad for this year’s Teacher Appreciation Lunch.


(Serves 20 as a side dish – you can cut the recipe in half for fewer people)


1 Medium-sized onion (about 250g / 8oz), halved and thinly sliced
300g / 10oz / 3 cups onions, finely diced
8 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cinnamon stick
3 tsp ground cumin powder
3 tsp ground coriander powder
1/2 tsp cayenne powder (adjust according to taste or strength of your chilli powder)
1 tsp sea salt
3 Tbsp + 3 Tbsp sunflower oil (or other vegetable oil)
300mL / 2 & 1/2 cups tomato passata
200mL / 1 cup coconut milk
6 cans of beans (chickpeas, red kidney beans, black eyed peas, or a combination), rinsed and drained – I used 6 cans which were 240g (8oz) drained weight each
1/2 a large cucumber, cut into piece which are similar to the size of the beans (optional)
2 handfuls of fresh cilantro/coriander leaves, washed and roughly chopped


  1. Take one medium sized onion (around 250g / 8oz), peel it, cut it in half and then slice it thinly. Set aside the sliced onions to fry later.
  2. Take a medium-large onion (around 300g / 10oz), peel it and dice it finely. Set aside the diced onions.
  3. Take 8 garlic cloves, peel them and slice them thinly.
  4. Heat 3 Tbsp sunflower oil in a pot on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the diced onions and cook until they start to get translucent (about 5-7 minutes).
  5. Add the cinnamon stick, 3 tsp ground cumin powder, 3 tsp ground coriander powder and 1/2 tsp cayenne powder (or according to taste).
  6. Fry for 2-3 minutes to cook the spices. If they start to stick to the bottom of the pot, add sprinkles of water.
  7. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.
  8. Stir in 300mL (2 & 1/2 cups) of tomato passata and 1 tsp of sea salt into the pot. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes to let the flavors come together.
  9. Stir in 200mL (1 cup) of coconut milk. Allow to simmer for another 5 minutes.
  10. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Remember that once we add the beans and cucumbers, a lot of the chilli flavor will be covered so we are looking for something quite spicy at this point. If it is too spicy, you can add a little more coconut milk.
  11. Pour this spicy tomato-coconut sauce into a bowl to cool down.
  12. Meanwhile, heat 3 Tbsp of sunflower oil in a frying pan on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the sliced onions and shallow-fry. Reduce the heat to low-medium so that the onions brown evenly without burning. You may need to adjust the heat a little higher once you get further on in the cooking so that they go from light brown to medium brown. Remove them from the oil with a frying spatula or spoon when they are a nice deep warm brown, but before they burn. Allow them to drain on a double layer of paper towels. They should become crispy and not be oily. (NB: These can be made a day in advance and refrigerated.)
  13. Wash half a large cucumber and cut it into pieces which are a similar size as the beans.
  14. Wash 2 handfuls of cilantro/coriander leaves. Quickly dry them on a tea towel or with some paper towels, and roughly chop them.
  15. Take your cans of beans. Pour them into a colander, rinse in water and drain them.
  16. When the spicy tomato-coconut sauce is room temperature, fold in the beans and cucumber. Serve straight away or refrigerate for upto 48 hours (if you refrigerate them, allow the beans 10-15 minutes at room temperature to take the chill off.)
  17. To serve, place the bean salad in a bowl or platter. Scatter cilantro/coriander leaves on top and then the fried onions.
  18. Optional: If the salad is too spicy, it can be served on the side with yogurt thinned out with a little water to get it to a pourable consistency.
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  6 Responses to “Recipe: Spicy Indian Bean Salad (for a Crowd)”

  1. I loved the video about Mrs Ribeiero & everything you wrote about her. The channa salad looks delicious.

  2. What a special post – I love the idea of ‘teacher appreciation’ day. They have the potential to make such a difference in our children’s lives. Lovely salad too.

    • Thanks Sally! I agree, teacher appreciation day is a nice idea and cooking something for someone is a very personal way to say ‘thank you.’

  3. Hi Erum, I stumbled upon your blog as I was Googling Mrs. Ribeiro. I also went to UNIS and loved it and she was such a warm person who always opened her door to whoever needed to see her. Great to watch that video as I have such fond memories of her!
    Also, I love your Blog! From one UNIS Alum to another :-)

    • Hi Mbole, thanks so much for your comment! It’s so wonderful to hear from another UNIS alumna who has fond memories of the school and of Mrs Ribeiro. I love the video as well, it’s so special.

      Btw, I love your blog too and I look forward to getting some good fashion tips! :-)