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 they offer a lot more than a quick fix.
Beans are a beautiful ingredient – from pretty speckled Italian borlotti, to South American black turtle, to the versatile haricot. They can transform the texture, flavour and look of so many dishes. Beans and pulses also come in all colours, shapes and sizes, and are a cheap, delicious and nutritious way to add body to soups, stews and chillies. They even count as one of your five a day because they are high in fibre.
Many people think dried beans are a chore though, because they have to be soaked overnight, when actually they don’t. To prepare them in just a few hours, 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.
There’s loads you can do with them next. Whether they are tinned or rehydrated, there are hundreds of bean recipes – you could add them to an Italian-style ribollita soup with smashed leftover pasta, cabbage and tomatoes, stir them into a hearty vegetable or beef casserole like Jamie has here, or use them as the star in a veggie chilli. 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.
Beans really are magic!