When we lived in New Zealand, I didn’t have very much money. After a close encounter with an Auckland courier truck and the consequent amnesia/fractured skull/broken collarbone it took a while to get my brain up to speed so I was content with series of not-entirely-well-paid temping jobs and the odd freelancing commission. The silver lining – a pretty good one – was having more time to cook.
We ate well. There were lots of simple soups, homemade breads, plenty of baking and even a little cheesemaking. The most useful thing I did that year? That was definitely learning how to cook pulses from scratch. Since then, I’ve regularly pulled out my large stockpot to cook bags of butter beans, speckled pinto beans or nutty chickpeas, anything that can be used as the basis of a dish or to bulk out meat for dinner.
As it turned out, that was incredibly good training. Within two years of returning to Ireland, I abandoned a permanent job in the city so that we could move to our country cottage; my well-paid post traded for an inconsistent freelance income. In case it all got too easy, we added our two gorgeously funny girls to the mix and the Husband decided to set up a brewery in the middle of a recession.
Nothing like having a family dependent on two inconsistent incomes to make you appreciate a pot of beans.
Cooking dried beans from scratch
- Soaking: rinse well, place in a large pot and soak in plenty of cold water. Overnight is often the easiest but try to give them at least 5 hours sitting in the water. OR
Quick soak: after rinsing, put the beans into a pot and add enough cold water to cover by about 2 inches/5cms. Bring to the boil, cover and leave sit for at least 1 hour.
- Cooking: no matter how you soaked the beans, drain well, rinse and add enough cold water to cover by about 2 inches/5cms. Simply bring the beans to a simmer and cook until tender. The best way of testing is to bite into one or place it on a teaspoon
- Flavour: I like to flavour the water so that I can use it in the dish I’m cooking. Good additions – onion, carrot, celery sticks, bay leaves, a strip of kombu or kelp (helps to make the beans more digestible), garlic, chilli or go the whole hog and try these Mexican Beans. Avoid salt, until the beans are tender, then season well while still in the pot and allow to cool in the cooking water.
- Store: I normally cook a 500g bag of beans at a time – yield approximately 1.5kg – freezing them in 400g portions, cooking liquid included.
- Use: this is the fun part! Just a few ideas:
Kitchen Projects: (Home)Baked Beans
A Mexican-style meal: Ruth’s Refried Beans, Guacamole and Salsa
Vegetarian Cookalong: Greek Bean and Tomato Stew with Feta
Moving time: Sausage and Bean Hotpot
Squash for soup: Bean, Squash and Cabbage Soup
Warm Chickpea Salad with Parmesan
Portable food: Chickpea, Spinach and Tomato Curry
Moroccan Lamb, Chickpea and Lentil Harira
I cooked this dish frequently as a soup while in New Zealand and now, converted to a stew, it’s a firm family favourite. There is enough spice to make it interesting, while it’s still not too challenging for small palates. If you can make it ahead of time, the flavours definitely benefit from allowing the dish to sit overnight.
10 saffron threads
125mls boiling water
2 tablespoons olive oil
250g stewing lamb, chopped into small cubes
2 onions, peeled and sliced
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
2 x 400g tins of chickpeas, drained and rinsed or 550g cooked chickpeas
200g green or brown lentils
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Fresh coriander, natural yoghurt, pomegranate molasses
Soak the saffron threads in the boiling water and leave on the side. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan and quickly brown the lamb all over. Remove from the pan.
Heat the rest of the oil and cook the onion over a low heat until softened but not browned. Add the cinnamon, cumin and ginger and fry for one minute. Pour the saffron liquid, tomatoes and stock into the pan, adding the chickpeas and lamb at the same time.
Simmer gently for 40 minutes then add the lentils, simmering for another 30-40 minutes or until the lentils are cooked and the lamb is tender. Add lemon juice and seasoning to taste.
Sprinkle with some chopped coriander and serve with a bowl of natural yoghurt, drizzled with some pomegranate molasses, warm flatbreads or pita breads and some Lemon Herb Couscous.