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RECIPES | Heritage 'heerbone', two ways

These two recipes from West Coast Wander, a new cookbook by Georgia East, beautifully showcase SA’s little-known heritage bean

28 November 2019 - 10:08 By Georgia East
Tomato-baked heerboontjies.
Tomato-baked heerboontjies.
Image: Georgia East

The heerboon or heerboontjie is a SA heritage food. These beans are grown in the Sandveld area, where they are cultivated on the banks of Verlorenvlei, near Redelinghuys.

A small- to medium-sized white bean, heerbone are bought dried and soaked overnight. They have a delicious flavour and creamy texture, and can be used in a variety of dishes.

Not much is certain about the origin of these excellent beans – and indeed they aren’t very well known in general – but here’s what we do know: heerbone are a variety of lima bean, they prefer to grow in sandy soil, and they may have been introduced to SA during the late 17th century by one of the Cape Dutch governors.

It seems from local Sandveld lore that once planted, a certain portion of each harvest of beans had to be returned to the governor as a sort of tax payment, thus giving rise to the name "heerboon", which literally translates as "gentleman’s bean".

Not much is certain about the origin of these excellent beans

There are also tales told of the beans being such a delicacy in the 18th and 19th centuries that regular deliveries of them were made as gifts to Buckingham Palace – and that’s another possible origin story for the name. Or, of course, perhaps it was just generally felt that these beans were something a bit special – we certainly think so.

Hunt these elusive beans down when you next visit the West Coast, or order heerbone online from The Butcherette. If you can’t find them, use butter beans instead – either soaked and cooked from dried or precooked, in cans.

Here are two recipes that make brilliant use of this SA bean, demonstrating why it should be a great deal better known than it currently is. Both are from a recently published book about the food of SA’s West Coast, West Coast Wander (Penguin Random House) by food writer and photographer Georgia East.


Tomato-baked heerboontjies.
Tomato-baked heerboontjies.
Image: Georgia East

Derived from the Greek dish known as gigandes plaki, this recipe for beans baked in a tomato sauce rich in garlic and oregano makes use of heerbone.

Use tinned butter beans if heerbone aren’t available, adding the drained beans to the tomato sauce about 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 4

250g heerbone, soaked in water overnight

1 large onion, diced

Olive oil, for frying

10ml red wine vinegar

1 x 400g tin whole peeled tomatoes in tomato juice

15ml tomato paste

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 fresh bay leaf

Salt and pepper

4 sprigs fresh oreganum

100g feta


1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.

2. Drain the heerbone and place in a large pot. Cover with water (don’t add any salt) and bring to the boil.

3. Cook the beans for 15 minutes and then drain. They won’t be soft yet but will cook further in the tomato sauce.

4. In a large stovetop-to-oven casserole, fry the onion in a little olive oil until soft.

5. Deglaze with the red wine vinegar and then add the tinned tomatoes, tomato paste and garlic.

6. Add the bay leaf and season the sauce, then carefully stir through the heerbone.

7. Transfer the casserole to the oven and bake the beans, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

8. Remove the casserole from the oven, stir through the oregano leaves and scatter the feta over the top of the beans. 

TIP The beans taste best when this dish is served warm rather than piping hot.

Lamb shanks with heerboontjie purée.
Lamb shanks with heerboontjie purée.
Image: Georgia East
The two recipes using 'heerboontjies' featured here are from Georgia East's cookbook, 'West Coast Wander'.
The two recipes using 'heerboontjies' featured here are from Georgia East's cookbook, 'West Coast Wander'.
Image: Supplied


Heerbone make a wonderfully creamy alternative to mashed potato when puréed with butter.

Serve them with some Karoo lamb shanks for a really excellent, very locally inspired feast.

Simple steamed greens will make the perfect accompaniment – and don’t forget a glass of SA shiraz to bring it all together.

Serves 4

Olive oil, for frying

3 sprigs fresh rosemary

4 lamb shanks

1 large onion, sliced into thin wedges

2 parsnips, sliced

Salt and pepper

15ml tomato paste

250ml red wine

500ml chicken or beef stock

4 cloves garlic, crushed

300g dried heerbone, soaked overnight

50g butter


1. Preheat the oven to 220°C.

2. Using a large stovetop-to-oven casserole on medium heat, heat some olive oil, add two sprigs of rosemary and brown the lamb shanks, making sure to colour each side of the meat. Remove the shanks and rosemary and set aside.

3. Fry the onion, parsnips and a few finely chopped rosemary leaves in the remaining oil, season with salt and pepper and stir in the tomato paste.

4. Cook on high for a little longer, then use the wine to deglaze the bottom of the casserole.

5. Pour in the stock, add the garlic and return the shanks to the casserole.

6. Bring to a simmer, then replace the lid and cook the shanks in the oven for 1½–2 hours or until the lamb is meltingly tender and the liquid has reduced.

7. While the lamb shanks are cooking, drain the heerbone and place in a large pot. Cover with water (don’t add any salt) and bring to the boil.

8. Cook the beans for 30 minutes (they should be perfectly soft) and then drain. Add the butter and season, then use a stick blender to purée the beans. Add a little olive oil if the mixture is too thick.

9. Serve the lamb shanks with a spoonful of their gravy on a bed of heerboontjie purée with steamed greens.