Sometimes in life it’s the simple things which matter. And in the matter of saving money in the depths of winter (Lewisham is bitter right now), it’s all about simple food. Food which sticks to the ribs without hanging off the wallet. Simple, good food which makes your house smell good. But what, I hear you say, what could fit easily into this category?
Why, only my soon to be patented “excellent recipe for beans“. Part baked-bean comfort food, part spicy store cupboard hero, this is the best for days when you want to huddle under a duvet and eat various snacks on toast. It’s seriously easy, seriously amazing and (it gets better) is pretty much the BOMB for taking to work and nuking in the microwave.
What ingredients do I need?
The beauty of this dish is that pretty much everything is optional. Don’t have bouquet garni? Use a tsp of dried herbs! Or a sprig of thyme! Or just another bay leaf! Don’t like garlic? Leave it out! Didn’t go and buy pomegranate molasses after Lewishambles urged you to? YOU FOOL, DO SO IMMEDIATELY! But in the meantime, use a tbsp of treacle or even some marmite! My bean recipe changes and adapts to whatever’s in my fridge and it’s good every time. Every. Gosh. Darn. Time.
So this ingredients list is like your starting point, your series of suggestions as it were.
200g dried beans, soaked overnight or while you’re at work – butterbean, cannellini, haricot… any old white bean will do.
an onion, chopped
bacon/pancetta/lardons – around 100g or 3 rashers
Herbs – bay leaf and a bouquet garni, or a sprig of thyme, or tsp of dried herbs, or whatever really.
1 x clove garlic (I used black garlic this time – and MAN WAS IT GOOD)
1 x chopped chili
2 x strip lemon rind, pared off carefully (or, if you’re me, cack-handedly hacked off the lemon)
tin of tomatoes
2 x tbsp pomegranate molasses
about a litre of chicken stock
A note on soaking
I’m one of those people who thinks “yes! I shall go forth and cook chickpeas!” only to find they need about a billion years of soaking and I think “oh well, more cheese on toast…”
This was until – in a fit of experimentation – I decided to go vegetarian for a month a few years ago (I got over it, I’m a total carniwhore) and found this awesome book by Rose Elliot. Now, I’ll be honest, some of it is a little hair-shirt-and-lentils (the Brussel Sprout Puree has not yet found its way onto my table…) but there are some really helpful and useful recipes and tips for those looking to reduce their meat intake.
One of the most stunning relegations was the secret of the “hot soak”. Let me share it, friends. YOU WILL NEVER GO BEANLESS AGAIN.
It’s quite simple. Put the dry beans in a pan, cover with water, bring up to the boil and boil those mofos HARD for about 3 minutes. Then take off the heat and leave em alone for 45-60 minutes. Yes, it’s still an hour, but it isn’t the overnight soak you forgot to do last night, is it smartypants?
So, why soak beans anyway? Two schools of thought here. The first says that you don’t really need to, it’s just a matter of cooking time. The second says that soaking allows the beans to release all the bloat-causing compounds which will make you fart. These are apparently called Ogliosaccharides but this might just be the name of some cool band from Montreal.
But wait! You say. Wait, Lewishambles! Can’t you just use tinned beans? FIE AND FOR SHAME. Technically yes, but for a slow-cooked dish like this you’ll end up with bean mush. That shit is nasty.
First, put a heavy-bottomed pan on a low heat, chuck in your onion and bacon with the oil and cook for ten minutes. Ten minutes?! I hear you say. Yes, ten minutes. You want brown crunchy goodness forming on the bottom of your pan from the off, tonto. That’s where the flavour lives.
While this happens, peel and thinly slice your garlic and slice your chili (be careful!) then add to the pan with the lemon peel. Stir about for a couple of minutes, then add the beans, tomatoes (in their juices, please), stock, herbs and the pomegranate molasses.
Now – turn it down and leave it alone. I mean it. You’re going to be bubbling this away for about two hours, possibly more. Every so often, give it a stir, or add water if it’s getting too dry. Your sauce will go from a jolly red to a rich brown and the smell will be to die for. Season, and try not to eat all at once.
How to eat
These bad boys are great on their own but are truly epic with sourdough toast and a poached egg. They’re also pretty rad with sausages. But I like them best scooped into a tupperware and taken to work so I can make everyone else jealous.
Oh, did I mention they freeze like a dream? Cos they do. Naturally.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my excellent recipe for beans.