5/11/2023 | By JeanMarie Brownson

As the days start to warm up, we may move away from meat-heavy mains to meatless dishes full of flavor and comfort – like this bean and vegetable stew peppered with chili and mellowed with cinnamon and butternut.

Bean stews are not difficult to make — they simply require a good pan, some stirring, and plenty of time. All the components for this beautiful dish can be prepared in advance. You’ll need about 30 minutes to pull them together into the finished dish.

For the best texture, cook dried beans to toothsome tenderness. I order my favorite dried beans from Rancho Gordo. This small Napa, California, company specializes in heirloom beans from Central California, New Mexico, Oregano, Washington, and Mexico. Their Domingo Rojo, Rio Zape beans, cranberry and Tuscan red beans prove delicious in the stew that follows. Scarlet runner beans are nearly the size of canned butter beans with a beautiful, meaty texture; use them when you can find them.

Many recipes instruct a long soak for dried beans; this shortens the cooking time a bit. However, I usually skip the soaking to keep colors and flavors richer; just tack on a few extra minutes of simmer time. My best advice is to cook dried beans several days in advance of serving them.

Containers of beautifully cooked dried beans, stored in their cooking liquid in the refrigerator, means beans ready to add to salads, soups and stews.


For speed, simply swap in canned beans. Generally, two 15-ounce cans of beans can replace a 1/2 pound of dried beans. In the recipe that follows, you can use precut refrigerated or frozen butternut squash cubes instead of cutting up a fresh squash – faster and safer.

Serve the stew with fresh cornbread. Try adding 1 cup thawed frozen fire-roasted corn to enhance boxed cornbread mix.

This bean and vegetable stew reheats beautifully. For a great Saturday brunch dish, top warm bowls full topped with a fried egg and a shower of chopped fresh herbs and black pepper.

Red and Butter Bean Vegetable Stew

Makes 8 servings

Time-saving tips: Use two cans (15 ounces each) small red beans in place of cooking dried red beans. Use refrigerated cubed or frozen diced butternut in place of cutting up a squash.


  • 8 ounces (about 1 1/4 cups) small dried red beans
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons each: tomato paste, medium chile powder
  • 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
  • 2 star anise pods OR 1/4 teaspoon anise seed, optional
  • 1/2 of a large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1-inch chunks, about 4 cups
  • 2 large poblano peppers (OR medium-size red bell peppers), cored, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 or 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) butter beans OR canned large white beans, drained
  • 1 bag (4 ounces) baby spinach or baby kale
  • 1/2 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as cilantro, basil, dill, chives
bean and vegetable stew


  1. Rinse dried red beans and place in a large saucepan. Add cold water to cover by 2 inches. Heat to boil; reduce heat to very low. Simmer, partly covered, stirring often, until beans are tender when tasted, usually about 2 hours. Add water if necessary during the cooking to keep beans covered. Let cool. (Beans can be refrigerated with their liquid for up to several days.)
  2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat in large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add onion and cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Stir in 3 cloves of the garlic, 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon, and 3 tablespoons each tomato paste and chile powder. Cook and stir 1 or 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and star anise if using. Cook, stirring often, until slightly thickened, about 8 minutes. Stir in 2 cups water and simmer for 30 minutes. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to several days.)
  3. Meanwhile, heat oven to 400 degrees. Place butternut squash chunks and poblano pieces on a large rimmed baking sheet. Toss with remaining 2 tablespoons of the oil, remaining 2 cloves of the garlic, remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and pepper. Roast, stirring often, until squash is tender and peppers are golden, about 30 minutes. (Squash can be refrigerated for up to several days.)
  4. To assemble stew, reheat tomato sauce in a large Dutch oven or saucepan. Use a slotted spoon to transfer cooked red beans to the tomato sauce. (Reserve the bean cooking liquid for later if needed to thin the final stew.). Simmer tomato-bean mixture for 15 minutes.
  5. Stir butternut squash mixture into tomato-bean mixture along with butter beans and spinach. Heat through, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Add reserved bean liquid if needed to achieve a brothy stew consistency. Serve topped with plenty of fresh herbs.

JeanMarie Brownson is a James Beard Award-winning author and the recipient of the IACP Cookbook Award for her latest cookbook, “Dinner at Home.” JeanMarie, a chef and authority on home cooking, Mexican cooking and specialty food, is one of the founding partners of Frontera Foods. She co-authored three cookbooks with chef Rick Bayless, including “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.” JeanMarie has enjoyed developing recipes and writing about food, travel and dining for more than four decades.

©2023 JeanMarie Brownson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Also from JeanMarie Brownson, this recipe for a satisfying meatless burger. Really!

A similar recipe on Seniors Guide: Tortellini Soup for Early Spring

JeanMarie Brownson