Beans and lentils


Grilled vegetable and butterbean gazpacho

I first fell in love with gazpacho when I visited a small Andalusian village on the hills as a child with my parents. Some years ago, watching the hit Pedro Almodovar movie ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’ (in which gazpacho plays a significant part) cemented my passion for the chilled Spanish tomato and raw vegetable soup.

Over the years I have tasted several variations, including white gazpacho made from almonds and grapes, and the newly fashionable (at least in the UK) watermelon gazpacho, which is a little too sweet and insubstantial for my taste.

This recipe started life as simply grilled vegetable gazpacho, which I prepared one lunchtime from leftover barbecued vegetables, including roast potatoes. More recently, when I made the soup again, I substituted the carb-laden potatoes with protein-rich butterbeans. It worked perfectly well as the beans provided the creamy texture just as the potatoes had done. This soup is rather like salmorejo – the thick Andalusian tomato and bread soup – in texture. It is at once hearty, tangy, savoury, refreshing and redolent with tastes of the Mediterranean summer.

The butterbeans I use in this recipe are the large Mediterranean variety called ‘gigante’. They’re available in delis, health food stores and department stores’ food halls. (In the UK, you can often buy them in jars from Sainsbury’s ‘Special Selection’ section). You may use regular butterbeans, or even chickpeas (garbanzo beans) which are common in Spanish cuisine.

Use any combination of Mediterranean vegetables – adjusting the solids to liquids ratio accordingly – and hand around a good variety of toppings so that your guests can choose what they like. Just make sure that your summer tomatoes are very red, ripe, juicy and packed with flavour, otherwise the soup will be insipid.

I often serve regular red gazpacho at the start of a barbecue, but this recipe is substantial enough to be almost a meal by itself. Serves 4.

8 medium tomatoes, halved
1 medium red bell pepper, trimmed, seeded and halved
1 medium green bell pepper, trimmed, seeded and halved
1 medium courgette (zucchini), trimmed and thickly sliced
1 small baby aubergine (eggplant), trimmed and cut into chunks
6 spring onions, trimmed
Approx 4 tablespoons cooked gigante butterbeans (large lima beans), drained
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
4 fl oz/ 125 ml tomato juice, chilled
12 fl oz/ 350 ml vegetable stock, chilled or at room temperature
3 tablespoons olive oil (Spanish, if you have it)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar, or more to taste
A pinch of paprika
A pinch of ground cumin
A pinch of cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
Fine grain sea salt
Ice cubes

Optional toppings (Prepare a few of the suggested garnishes for your guests to choose. Don’t use them all though, otherwise the flavours will clash or dominate!):

Very finely chopped red onion
Very finely chopped yellow bell pepper
Very finely diced cucumber
Diced avocado, drizzled with lime juice
Finely sliced celery
Finely sliced pickled gherkins
A few pickled green peppercorns in brine, drained
Smoked paprika
Handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves
Whole almonds, blanched, skinned and lightly toasted
Hard-boiled egg, shelled and finely diced
Croutons

1.    From tomatoes to spring onions listed above, barbecue, roast or grill all the vegetables until tender.
2.    Once cooked, peel and core the tomatoes and peel the peppers. Roughly chop all the vegetables and allow them to come to room temperature.
3.    In a liquidizer or food processor, combine the chopped grilled vegetables with the cooked beans, garlic and tomato juice and blitz for a few seconds.
4.    Add the stock, oil, vinegar, spices and seasoning and blitz the mixture until it is smooth but still retains plenty of texture. Add a little cold water if the texture is too thick.
5.    Refrigerate the soup for 1 or 2 hours. Serve chilled with ice cubes, and hand around optional garnishes of your choice.

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South Indian green beans with coconut

My South Indian friend, Thiru, is renowned for his lavish weekend brunches, when he cooks up a large variety of traditional dishes that he learnt from his mother: spongy white rice cakes known as ‘idli’, accompanied by ‘sambhar’, a spicy lentil and vegetable gravy, along with the popular rice and lentil pancakes called ‘dosa’ and a plethora of green and red chutneys, pickles and dips. He often puts vividly coloured, quickly cooked vegetable dishes on the table, too – this being one of them.

I spent a recent weekend morning watching Thiru speedily whip up all these dishes, and wrote down the recipe for green beans exactly as he dictated it. My friend tells me that it can be made from other vegetables, too, such as green cabbage, carrots, beetroot (beets), green bananas, or other varieties of green beans like runner beans. In fact, I’ve tried a version of this dish in upmarket Indian restaurants in the UK made from asparagus, which I’m going to have a go at cooking next.

If you don’t have a well-stocked Indian larder, a trip to an Indian grocer will be necessary – or at least a visit to the ‘ethnic’ section of a large supermarket. Yes, the mustard seeds need to be black, not the more commonly found yellow, and the mild red chillies could be ones labelled as ‘Kashmiri’. Lentils are often used in South Indian cooking as a spice. If you can’t find urid dal – which is a type of white lentil with a distinctively nutty, ever so slightly smoky taste – then use ordinary red lentils. They’re there to provide crunch and texture, so it doesn’t really matter which type of lentil you use.

If you can’t get hold of fresh curry leaves and fresh coconut – both of which are also available frozen in Asian grocers – it’s not really worth attempting this recipe. Well, you can reconstitute dried desiccated coconut in boiling water before use, but the dish won’t taste as it’s meant to. Asafoetida is a type of powdered resin with a strong, pungent aroma (which mellows after cooking, giving the dish a distinctive taste), so it should be used sparingly.

I was a bit hesitant about posting this recipe, as it requires so many specialist ingredients. But I don’t believe in adapting recipes to suit western kitchens – it’s patronising and, after all, speciality ingredients are widely available in most large cities if you know where to find them. (If you don’t, ask members of the particular community whose recipe you’re cooking, and they will be more than happy to advise you). Besides, I would be assuming that all my readers live in western countries, which is not the case – one of the best things about having a blog, especially a global recipe blog such as this, is that you have readers from around the world!

This dish doesn’t have a sauce or gravy, and it needs to be cooked quickly (especially steps 2 to 5) to prevent burning. Don’t be daunted though – it’s light, refreshing, nutritious, flavour-packed, and easy to cook.

Serve the green beans with plain rice, plain yoghurt, poppadams and an Indian ginger pickle. The dish won’t keep long because of the fresh coconut, so leftovers would be delicious stuffed in warmed pita breads or toasted sandwiches, or turned into half-moon shaped pasties made from ready-rolled puff pastry. Serves 4.

1 lb/ 500g fresh fine green beans
4 tablespoons corn or sunflower oil
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
Dried large, mild whole red chillies, to taste
1 tablespoon urid dal (or red lentils)
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
8 – 10 fresh curry leaves
¼ teaspoon asafoetida
Salt
2 oz/ 50g finely grated fresh coconut
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
A squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice (optional)

1.    Trim the green beans at both ends. Either leave them whole, cut them in half, or chop them small. If you leave them whole or halve them, steam the beans for 3 to 4 minutes until tender but still crisp. (You won’t need to follow this step if you chop them small, as South Indians do, as they will cook quickly).
2.    Heat the oil in a frying pan. When very hot but not smoking, add the mustard seeds and remove from the heat immediately. Cover the pan with a lid and let the mustard seeds pop. They should become dark grey, but must not burn.
3.    Once the mustard seeds have stopped making the popping noise, place the pan back on the heat, and immediately add the dried chillies and urid dal. Stir once or twice.
4.    When the chillies turn a couple of shades darker and the urid dal starts turning pinkish-brown, add the sesame seeds and curry leaves. Stir again.
5.    Finally, when the curry leaves become crisp and turn a shade or two darker, and the sesame seeds start turning pale brown, remove the pan from the heat, and add the asafoetida. Let everything sizzle for just a few seconds.
6.    Place the pan back on heat, immediately add the green beans and coat them evenly in the spice mixture. Add the salt, and let them cook with the lid on until the beans are tender but have still retained their bright green colour.
7.    Top the cooked beans with coconut and coriander, and stir a couple of times. Add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice if you wish. Remove the red chillies and curry leaves before serving – or let your guests fish them out from their own plates, as South Indians do – and eat immediately.

Flageolets with green and yellow beans and spring onion butter

This is a contemporary take on the traditional French dish, haricots panaches, in which equal amounts of flageolets and green beans are combined and served with roasted or grilled lamb. You can eat this version as a first course, side dish, or for a light lunch – accompanied by some bread, if you like.

Flageolet beans have a pretty pistachio-green colour, and a delicate, refined flavour that is less earthy and mealy than other types of beans. Combined with vivacious, grassy, fresh bright green and yellow beans, this dish tastes luxurious, while at the same time looking like it’s been plucked from the French countryside.

Yellow wax beans, little bundles of summer savoury, and fresh, tender spring garlic with papery skin that’s tinged with green and lilac are all seasonal ingredients that are available in farmers markets, or even supermarkets these days.

This dish tastes lovely as it is, but you can liven it up by adding a splash of lemon juice and finely grated lemon zest and/ or some Dijon mustard to either the beans or the butter. Another variation to the spring onion butter is butter flavoured with chives and chive flowers. Any leftovers can be eaten as a salad, and would be ideal for picnics. Serves 4.

8 oz/ 200g dried green flageolet beans
Water
2 bay leaves
A large sprig of summer savoury or thyme
2 medium spring onions, trimmed and very finely chopped
4 oz/ 100g unsalted butter at room temperature
Fine ground sea salt (ideally French fleur de sel)
Freshly ground white pepper
6 oz/ 150g fine green French beans, stringed and left whole
6 oz/ 150g yellow wax beans, stringed and left whole
2 cloves fresh spring garlic, peeled and very finely chopped
Salt and pepper

1.    Soak the flageolets for 8 hours or overnight in plenty of cold water. Drain and rinse. Place the beans in a saucepan with water, bay leaves and summer savoury, and bring to the boil. (Do not add salt, otherwise the beans won’t cook properly). Reduce the heat to low, and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the beans are tender but have still retained their shape. Drain, leaving aside 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquid, and discard the herbs.
2.    To make spring onion butter, combine the chopped onions with butter, sea salt and ground white pepper. The butter will be flecked with an attractive emerald green colour. Refrigerate for around 30 minutes until firm.
3.    Steam the green and yellow beans in separate compartments of a steamer for about 7 minutes until they are tender but still retain some bite. Drain thoroughly.
4.    In a frying pan, combine the cooked flageolets with the 2 tablespoons reserved cooking liquid, garlic, and salt and pepper. Cook over gentle heat for a minute, stirring from time to time. Add the cooked green and yellow beans and mix well. Keep the bean mixture on very low heat.
5.    Set aside a cube of spring onion butter (about a tablespoon), and add the remaining butter to the pan of beans about 2 tablespoons at a time, heating just until the butter is absorbed. The beans will take on a shiny gloss. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
6.    Transfer the beans to a serving dish, and place the cube of butter that you have set aside on the top. Toss before serving.

Rustic Roman spring vegetable stew

This light, simple stew – traditionally known as Bazzoffia in Rome – sings the song of springtime, but I won’t pretend that it’s not a little time-consuming to make.

For a start, I recommend you steam the broad beans and remove the skins for best results. As you’re peeling each individual bean, you will, no doubt, come up with your own version of Shirley Conran’s famous quote – “life is too short to stuff a mushroom” – perhaps something along the lines of: “life is too short to peel a broad bean”. You could be watching a movie, surfing, lying on a beach, shopping for new shoes or doing any number of interesting things, right? But a serious cook chooses to do all these mundane tasks – peeling beans, par-boiling and peeling tomatoes and so on – because he or she wants their guests only to have the best possible taste sensation. If you don’t have the time, buy the smallest, most tender-looking beans you can find and hope for the best.

Secondly, I suggest you use only fresh artichokes for this dish – it’s not really a recipe where you can get away with using ones from a can or a jar. If you have access to them, buy a bunch of tiny, ultra-fresh baby artichokes with violet tinge – they taste amazing, and don’t need much preparation.

Do not be intimidated by artichokes – for vegetarians, they are on a par with asparagus, truffles, saffron, dark chocolate or champagne when it comes to ‘posh treats’. There are many ways of trimming and preparing artichokes, depending on size and a country’s food culture. I have written up a separate section below on how to do it – though you may have your own method.

The great thing about this recipe is that you can prepare all the vegetables in advance, and cook the stew less than half an hour before you are ready to eat. Serves 4.

1 lb/ 500g broad beans (fava beans) in the pod
½ head cos (romaine) lettuce
8 tablespoons virgin Italian olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 medium white onion, trimmed, peeled, and cut into thin wedges
4 medium or 8 baby artichokes, prepared and cut into thin wedges
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced vertically
3 oz/ 75g fresh or frozen tender peas (podded weight)
Salt and pepper
Lemon wedges, to serve
Vegetarian pecorino romano cheese, finely shaved

HOW TO PREPARE ARTICHOKES FOR COOKING:

Snap back any tough leaves from an artichoke and pull them down, working your way around the layers. Stop when you get to tender, pale yellow leaves. Cut off the tops of the remaining leaves, leaving only about an inch of leaf. Use a potato peeler to trim away the dark green areas along the base. Trim off the base of the stem end, and cut off the rough fibres around the stem, leaving only the light-coloured, tender centre portion. Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise. Carefully cut away the fuzzy choke using a small knife, trying to cut just at the point where choke and heart meet. Baby artichokes do not generally have developed chokes, but they do have a layer or two of tough leaves that must be removed, and the base needs to be trimmed just as with larger artichokes. Keep all trimmed artichokes in acidulated water (water with plenty of fresh lemon juice added) to prevent discolouration until needed.

1.    Shell the broad beans. Steam them for 3 to 5 minutes until they’re nearly soft, but still al dente. If you have time, peel each individual bean. (If you don’t have time, omit this step and leave the beans in their grey-green skins).
2.    Trim the lettuce, remove any tough ribs and blemished leaves, and shred into ribbons.
3.    Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, and cook the onion on low heat until tender.
4.    Add the prepared artichokes, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5.    Add the cooked broad beans and uncooked peas, and give the vegetables a stir. Add the shredded lettuce, and sauté for a few seconds until the lettuce wilts slightly.
6.    Add just enough water to cover the vegetables, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer the stew gently for 10 to 15 minutes until all the vegetables are tender, stirring from time to time. If the stew begins to dry out, add water a little at a time until you have the desired consistency. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
7.    To serve, ladle the stew into individual pasta bowls. Drizzle each portion with a little olive oil, and top with a few slices of shaved pecorino cheese. Hand around extra cheese at the table, along with lemon wedges and good, chunky rustic Italian country bread.

blackeye-beans

mixed-nuts

Beans, nuts, vegetables… what could be healthier? In this version of a traditional Armenian dish that’s normally made only with blackeye beans and nuts, I have added a few vegetables to make it more colourful, interesting and nutritious. This dish doesn’t have a sauce – it’s meant to be sort of mushy, with some crunchiness coming from the nuts.

Eat with flatbreads along with some yoghurt mixed with fresh herbs and garlic; or Western-style, with baked/ mashed potatoes, accompanied by a green, leafy vegetable or a lemony salad. Any leftovers would be great as sandwich filling, or turned into veggie burgers. Serves 4.

150g/ 6 oz blackeye beans (blackeye peas)
100g/ 4 oz unsalted mixed nuts of your choice: almonds, brazils, cashews, walnuts
4 tablespoon groundnut (peanut) or corn oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 medium leek, trimmed and sliced
1 medium carrot, trimmed, peeled and chopped
1 medium green pepper (bell pepper), cored and chopped
4 medium mushrooms, quartered
4 tomatoes, peeled and chopped (tinned ones are fine)
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1.    Soak the black-eye beans for several hours. Cook in boiling water for 30 to 45 minutes until very tender. Drain.
2.    Coarsely chop the nuts in a food processor. Make sure the nuts retain some texture.
3.    Heat the oil in a saucepan, and cook the onion until slightly brown. Add the garlic and let it sizzle for a few seconds.
4.    Add the leeks, carrots, green pepper and mushrooms, and cook with the lid on until all the vegetables are tender.
5.    Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, cinnamon powder and seasoning. Cook for a further 10 minutes. For this recipe, the vegetables should to be soft to the point of falling apart – not al dente.
6.    Add the chopped nuts, beans, and parsley. Mash some of the beans with the back of a wooden spoon as you go. Stir frequently to prevent sticking.
7.    Adjust the seasoning to taste. Serve hot.

pickled-black-beans-with-rice

This is the traditional Peruvian dish, frijoles negros escabechados: spiced black beans marinated in red wine vinegar. The black beans to use here are black turtle beans. Chinese black soy beans, Japanese black aduki beans, or Indian black urad beans are not really suitable for this recipe.

Black turtle beans have only been available in the UK for the past few years and, sadly, they are under-utilised. This is a shame because they have a sweet, floury earthiness that makes them very versatile.

I don’t normally like the combination of sweet and sour flavours, but I really enjoy the sweet, tart and deeply savoury tastes in this recipe. So much so that I always try to sneak this dish into the menu whenever I’m cooking Latin American food.

Serve the beans at room temperature with plain, steamed white rice, as Peruvians do. Alternatively, they are excellent as a salad or side dish, served on a bed of shredded lettuce and accompanied by avocado slices. Serves 4 to 6.

6 oz/ 150g black turtle beans, soaked overnight, or for several hours
4 oz/ 100g raisins
¼ pint/ 150 ml red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons corn oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes (or to taste)
2 large onions, trimmed, peeled and finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Salt and pepper
4 oz/ 100g pitted black olives
2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and quartered

To serve:
Cooked white long-grain rice

OR

Shredded lettuce
Avocado slices

1.    Drain and rinse the soaked beans. Cover them with fresh water, bring to the boil, and cook vigorously for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse again thoroughly to remove any toxins. (It is believed that some varieties of beans contain toxins, so this procedure is recommended when cooking black turtle beans). Cover with more fresh water, bring to the boil, and cook for an hour or so until the beans are tender. Now drain the cooked beans and set aside.
2.    Meanwhile, soak the raisins in the vinegar.
3.    Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the cumin seeds and chilli flakes, and let them sizzle for a few seconds until they are a shade or two darker.
4.    Add the onions, and fry until lightly tinged with golden brown colour.
5.    Add the garlic and raisins (leave the vinegar aside) and sauté for a few minutes.
6.    Add the cooked beans and seasoning, and mix well.
7.    Pour in the vinegar in which the raisins have soaked. Add some water if necessary. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. The dish should be fairly moist – neither dry, nor too sauced. Adjust the seasoning.
8.    Garnish with black olives and hard-boiled eggs. Serve at room temperature.

veg-cocido

This is my inauthentic vegetarian version of cocido, the classic soup-stew from Madrid. Cocido is one of Spain’s national dishes – old-fashioned fare that harks back to medieval times, with origins in a Sephardic Jewish recipe. It is made with a range of meats and sausages, combined with chickpeas and vegetables; and each region has its own variation. A Spanish person would argue at length as to what constitutes real cocido.

Traditionally, cocido is served elaborately in two or three courses. First, the broth is separated and cooked with rice or vermicelli and served as a light soup. Next, the chickpeas and vegetables are served separately; and finally, the meat is eaten on its own. The soup used to be ubiquitous in Spain, but nowadays is served mainly on special occasions. In Madrid, it is often sold in restaurants on Tuesdays – though I have not been able to find out the significance of this tradition.

I have retained the authentic combination of vegetables, but the herbs and spices are my own touch. They give the soup a bright, sprightly flavour. (If you want a denser, meatier flavour, omit the saffron and mint, and add a couple of cooked, sliced vegetarian sausages along with a little bit of smoked paprika. If you go down this ‘meaty flavour’ route, serve the soup with cornichons and pickled vegetables).

The cooking technique is somewhat unusual in that everything is boiled together, with olive oil added only at the end for a rich mouthfeel (rather than frying the vegetables in oil first, as is the case with many recipes). Many soups around Europe use this technique.

Cocido is a meal by itself, but you may serve it with Spanish bread, garlic bread, or any other bread of your choice. Serves 4.

350g/ 14 oz chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
4 pints/ 2 litres water
4 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 large onion, peeled, trimmed and sliced
1 large leek, trimmed and thickly sliced
1 large potato, peeled and chunkily diced
1 large carrot, trimmed, peeled and chunkily diced
2 small turnips, trimmed, peeled and quartered
1 very small cabbage, trimmed and cut into 4 or 8 wedges
2 oz/ 50g green string beans, trimmed and halved
1 level tablespoon sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon Spanish saffron, crushed in a mortar and soaked in a tablespoon of water
Bouquet garni made by tying together several sprigs of fresh parsley, thyme and bay leaves inside a piece of muslin (cheesecloth)
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil (Spanish, if you have it)
Salt and pepper
4 oz/ 100g fine vermicelli, lightly broken if preferred
A few fresh parsley and mint leaves to garnish
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (optional)

1.    Soak the chickpeas overnight, or for several hours. When you’re ready to cook, rinse and drain the chickpeas.
2.    In a large soup pot, cover the chickpeas with the water, and boil them for an hour or so until tender.
3.    Add all the vegetables to the saucepan, including garlic and onions. Bring to the boil, lower the heat, and add paprika, saffron, bouquet garni, olive oil, and seasoning. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or so until all the vegetables are tender.
4.    Towards the end of the cooking time, add vermicelli and cook, uncovered, for the length of time stated on the packet instructions (usually between 2 to 5 minutes).
5.    Add more stock if you wish.  Adjust the seasoning to taste. Remove the bouquet garni.
6.    Ladle the soup into individual bowls. Garnish with parsley and mint leaves, and pass around the extra olive oil for drizzling on top.

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