South African Bunny Chow With Butter Beans

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South African Bunny Chow With Butter Beans Curry

Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Serves
Author Notes

For the curry, use dried or fresh, large butter beans (also known as lima beans) or canned. Durban curries use red masala; substitute with a combination of 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon powdered cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon powdered coriander. Adjust the heat level by using less masala and leaving out the green chili if you prefer. For the bread, use the ends of unsliced plain white loaves of bread, or Portuguese bread.

Featured In: South African Bunny Chow: A Portable, Spicy Curry, All Snug in Bread —Ishay Govender-Ypma

  • Test Kitchen-Approved

  • 2

    14-oz cans canned butter beans, drained

  • 2 tablespoons

    sunflower or any vegetable oil

  • 1/2

    large onion, sliced thinly

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    asafetida or hing (optional)

  • 1

    small cinnamon stick

  • 1

    star anise pod

  • 2

    whole cloves

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    cumin seeds

  • 1

    green chile, slit in half (optional)

  • 2

    medium cloves garlic, crushed

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    grated fresh ginger root

  • 5-6

    curry leaves (fresh or dried)

  • 1

    ripe medium tomato, chopped

  • 2 teaspoons

    red masala (see note)

  • 1/2 teaspoon


  • 1 teaspoon

    ground cumin

  • 2

    medium starchy potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    garam masala

  • 1

    handful cilantro, picked and torn roughly

  • Salt, to taste

  • Two unsliced loaves of white bread, using the ends for a “bowl”

  1. Heat a large saucepan to medium, add the oil, onions, cinnamon, star anise, and cloves. Add a pinch of salt and stir. Once onions have softened, about 5 minutes, add cumin seeds, green chili if using, garlic, ginger, and curry leaves, and stir until seeds and leaves release their fragrance and onions just start to brown, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add tomatoes and stir well. Once the tomatoes have softened and cooked down, about 7 minutes, add the powdered spices (except the garam masala), including the asafetida (if using). Stir well, allowing spices to cook into the tomato mixture but not burn.
  3. Add the potatoes and just enough to cover them, plus salt, and cook over medium heat, covered, about 15 minutes. Just before the potatoes have cooked all the way through, add the beans, adjust seasoning, stir well and simmer for a few minutes with the lid on low heat.
  4. Prepare the bunny chow “bowls” by making a circle in the top of the bread roll without cutting through the bottom of the bun. Use your fingers to take the circle off. Remove the inside of the bread and discard. Be sure to leave a 1-inch bottom on the bun. Sprinkle garam masala and cilantro over the curry. Adjust the seasoning one last time.
  5. Ladle the hot curry into the bread bowls. Spoon over some more sauce before topping with the top circle. Enjoy with your fingers and a simple, vinegary grated carrot salad.

Ishay is a former lawyer, now a freelance food and travel photojournalist, delving into all aspects of culture. Author of Curry: Stories & Recipes across South Africa. She’s fascinated by what makes us human.

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