Pinto Beans and Vegetables from Rwanda

In February 2008 I went gorilla trekking in Rwanda. It was absolutely magical. The landscape was breathtaking (and I am used to some pretty decent landscape, coming from Iceland), the people were amazing and the gorillas...Oh my goodness. There is absolutely nothing that compares with coming face to face with the majestic mountain gorillas. I feel very privileged to have been able to see them and I hope to go again at some point. Rwanda just hasn't left my heart at all since I visited, that's for sure. It was perhaps the most poignant moment of my life when we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial. The first thing we came across was a site of a mass grave of 300.000 people, which is roughly the Icelandic population. It was incredibly difficult and heartbreaking and yet at the same time such a necessary visit. We need to learn more about these things, we must not forget. After the memorial visit we headed to Hotel des Milles Collines, (yes, THE Hotel Rwanda) for lunch. None of us had much appetite but it was absolutely incredible to be there, sit by the poolside with views over Kigali. It was almost surreal. None of us said much, we just had too many things on our minds...none of us took this visit lightly.

For our trekking we were based in Ruhengeri which is a town just by the roots of the Virunga mountains, home of the mountain gorillas. One afternoon we went down town. Town is maybe strongly put as there was a couple of dirt roads with shacks and houses on each side. At an "Internet Cafe" (no beverages and at least 15 year old computers) I met a young girl called Nadine. She saw my camera and asked me to take a picture of her (which I later sent by email) which I was happy to do. She also asked if she could take pictures (on her old camera) of my friends which she found hilarious (being almost albino all Icelanders). After talking to Nadine for a little while I asked her about the local cuisine and her favourite recipes (questions I ask every person I meet wherever I travel in Africa). Replying to my question Nadine told me that her family, like most in Rwanda favoured beans, vegetables, potatoes, corn, cassavas and only had meat for special occasions. She also mentioned a recipe from her mother including pinto beans, potatoes, celery and more which she really liked. This recipe is made based on the information from Nadine. Beans are used extensively in Rwanda (as in other African countries) since they are cheap, rich in protein and vitamins and filling. Meat is only served for special occasion since it is fairly expensive when you don't have a high income.

Note that you will need to soak the pinto beans for 8 hours before preparing the dish (or you can use tinned beans). You can also use kidney beans instead of pinto beans.

Extremely simple, yet tasty and satisfying

This recipe is:

  • Egg free
  • Gluten free
  • Lactose (dairy) free
  • Nut free
  • Vegan

Pinto Beans and Vegetables from Rwanda

Serves 2-3


  • 185 grams (5 oz) dry pinto beans, soaked for 8 hours
  • 400 millilitres (13½ fluid oz) water
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced fairly thinly
  • 1 large potato (or cassava), cubed
  • 1 onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 yeast free vegetable stock cube
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil


  1. Soak the pinto beans in a large bowl in 400 millilitres water for 8 hours.
  2. Drain the soaked pinto beans and transfer to a saucepan.
  3. Fill the saucepan with enough water to cover the beans and a little bit more.
  4. Cook for 30 minutes or until the beans are tender but not soft.
  5. Meanwhile trim the 3 celery stalks and slice into fairly thin slices (not paper thin).
  6. Peel the onion and slice thinly.
  7. Wash the potato (you can peel it if you prefer) and cut into small cubes (similar to sugar cubes).
  8. Transfer the celery, potato and the vegetable stock cube into the saucepan and cook for 15 minutes or until the potato cubes are tender. Stir well.
  9. Heat 1 teaspoon coconut oil in a large frying pan. Heat the onion for 5 minutes and add to the saucepan.
  10. Allow to simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. The beans and vegetables should now resemble a stew in texture (a little soft and squidgy). The liquid should by now be evaporated. If not, then cook for a little longer.
  11. Serve with chapati or other nice bread.


  • If the coconut oil is cold (in which case it becomes solid), place the jar in a bowl filled with hot water for a couple of minutes. 
  • You can use regular stock cubes instead of yeast free ones.
  • You can use other vegetables in this recipe such as peppers, sweet potatoes and of course cassava.