By Pip Spence

These humble little things are usually bought as the ultimate SOS ingredient, along with UHT milk and tinned vegetables. Maybe it’s the perceived long preparation time or hardcore-vegan associations that keep them languishing at the back of the cupboard.

But it doesn’t have to be like this! Beans are a beautiful ingredient – from pretty speckled Italian borlotti, to South American black turtle, to the versatile haricot. They only take a couple of hours to prepare and will transform the texture, flavour and look of so many dishes. They come in all colours, shapes and sizes, and are a cheap, delicious and nutritious way to add body to soups, stews and chillies.

To prepare them, take your chosen dried beans, place them in a saucepan of cold water and bring it to the boil. Turn off the heat and leave them to soak for one hour, covered with a lid. Drain the soaking water, then cook without salt to toughen the skin. When they have doubled in size, they’re ready to add to the main dish. Alternatively, leaving them to soak overnight in cold water will have the same effect.

There’s loads you can do with them next. You could add them to an Italian-style ribolata soup with smashed leftover pasta, cabbage and tomatoes, or stir them into a hearty vegetable or beef casserole. They’re also brilliant if you fry the cooked beans until they start to pop and crisp up, then sprinkle them over a salad. I also love using kidney beans to make authentic Jamaican rice and peas – just cook it all in one pan with thyme, allspice berries and spring onions.

Dried beans really are magic!

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