Thursday, April 30, 2009

Start by taking your Pulse

Today we take a look at another 'staple' food - the pulses. These are beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas, dried marrowfat peas...inexpensive, very versatile and most store well. Dried beans are best used within a year of purchase (unless the packet has a later 'best-before' date) for the older they are the longer they take to cook, and after a few years, even when soaked for 24 hours, will never cook down to soft. The younger the bean is, the less time it takes to cook anyway, so even though the instructions may say 45 minutes, newly purchased these may take less less time, so always keep testing a sample as they cook.
As these days we need also to concern ourselves with the expense of fuel used, the best way to save time and labour is to cook a whole pack in one go, then drain and drizzle with a little olive oil while still warm (this helps to prevent them sticking together when frozen, and even if they appear to have done so, bashing a bag of frozen beans on the table or work surface will separate them). Home-cooking and freezing the beans saves a lot of soaking and fuel time than if the beans are prepared each time they are needed. Whether cooking on the hob, or preferring to cook overnight in a slow-cooker, always rapid boil the soaked beans for 8 minutes before reducing the heat, as this kills any toxins that may be there. Originally it was only red-beans that had been simmered from the start that caused a problem, but it is now recommended all beans be initially rapid-boiled.

Overnight soaking is not necessary with lentils, although some of the larger ones may need a soak. Read the instructions on the packet. Lentils usually have a longer storage time than the beans and if you prefer to decant in jars (all the different coloured beans and lentils looks so pretty stored in glass jars displayed on open shelves) always put the cooking instructions in the jars on top of the pulses to remind you.

Although beans and lentils can be bought ready-cooked in cans, usually it is always cheaper to cook them ourselves. Some brands of baked beans and red kidney beans are often sold at knock-down prices, so up to the individual as to whether buy or D.I.Y.

There are a wide variety of dried beans. The ones commonly used are haricot (as baked beans), red kidney beans (used in chilli con carne), the large butterbeans (these make a good dip), and although not a 'bean' - chickpeas (used for hummous and North African stews). These made a good start to the 'dry goods' in our storecupboard, and from then could be added borlotti beans, pinto beans, cannellini beans, black-eyed name but a few. In many cases a bean is a bean is a bean, so if a recipe uses one type, then another similar one could be used in its place.
With lentils we tend to start with split red lentils, later using the larger green lentils (sometimes called brown lentils), which have a better flavour, and the Puy lentils (very small and round) these being more expensive - but fashionable!

The first dish today contains the two vegetable proteins necessary for our bodies to take full advantage - in this instance, pulses and grains. Use different beans and different grains if you wish, but remember the recipe is taking into account the overall colour effect. If using home-cooked beans, use the weight (when cooked) as in the cans.
Curried Beans and Rice: serves 4
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 red chilli pepper, de-seeded and chopped
1 tblsp medium curry paste
8 oz (225g) long-grain rice
1 x 400g (14oz) red kidney beans, drained
1 x 400g (14oz) black-eyed beans, drained
1 1/2 pints (850ml) vegetable stock
salt and pepper
4 oz (100g) frozen peas, thawed
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
Using a large saucepan, fry the onion in the oil for 5 minutes until turning golden brown. Stir in the garlic, curry paste, chilli and finally the rice, and cook for one minute.
Add the beans to the pan, pour in the stock and add a generous amount of seasoning. Bring to the boil, cover, then reduce heat and simmer for 25 - 30 minutes or until the rice is cooked. If necessary add a little more boiling stock or water.
Five minutes before you gauge the rice will be ready, put in the thawed peas, covering the pan so they cook in the steam, then stir in when ready to serve. Serve in warmed dishes with a dollop of raita on top and a scattering of parsley.

Although not actually a dish, this next recipe is a sort of upside-down 'butter' that takes part an active part, in that the vegetables are piled on this 'buttere' rather than flavoured butter being dotted over, and allowed to soak into the veggies in the more usual way. The walnut oil is essential for the flavour, but if you have none, crush up a few walnut pieces and leave them to soak in 5 tblsp olive oil for some hours, then drain the oil and use in this dish.
Cannellini 'Butter':
1 x 400g (14oz) cans cannellini beans, drained/rinsed
3 tblsp walnut oil
2 tblsp olive oil
3 fl oz (75ml) water
2 tsp lemon juice
salt and pepper
Place all the ingredients into a blender or food processor, and whizz until smooth, adding seasoning to taste at the end. Put into a bowl and chill until needed (up to a couple of days). to serve, bring to room temperature and put the bean 'butter' onto a large dish, spreading it slightly to form a base for the vegetables to be served (asparagus, carrots, mange-tout peas, string beans - any vegetable that likes butter....) place the hot vegetables on top, and serve with hot crusty bread.

Dhal, raita, and rice are the usual accompaniments to a curry, but dhal itself can be served as the main dish, with the rice and raita as supporting cast. Because the lentils and rice both contain the necessary complementary vegetable proteins, we can again ask - who needs meat?
Garlic lovers will rub their hands with glee over this recipe as plenty is used, those who prefer less can use as little as they wish.
Spinach Dhal: serves 6
1 tblsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, finely chopped or grated
4 - 6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tblsp ground turmeric
1 tbslp garam masala (or 1 tsp curry paste)
6 cardamom pods, crushed, seed only used
12 oz (l350g) split red lentils
1 1/2 pints (850ml) vegetable stock
salt and pepper
8 oz (225g) young spinach leaves, roughly chopped
Using a large pan, fry the onion in the oil for 5 minutes until golden, then stir in the garlic, turmeric, garam masala/curry paste and the cardamom seeds and fry for 1 minute.
Rinse the lentils, then add them to the pan with the stock and seasoning to taste. Simmer for roughly 20 minutes or until the lentils are just tender (not overcooked). Stir in the prepared spinach, simmer for five more minutes then serve with rice and raita.

This next dish has leanings towards the classic Cassoulet, but without the chicken, ham, chorizo and other meats. Perhaps we could think of it as a vegetarian version. Whatever - it certainly contains beans. Although cooked haricot beans are used in this version, as haricot beans are virtually baked beans in a sauce, baked beans could be used for a child-friendly version. For adults, other and similar cooked beans could be used instead, or a mixture.
Mushroom and Bean Chasseur: serves 4
2 tblsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 onion, cut in half then thinly sliced
half of each red and green bell pepper, cut into thin strips
8 oz (225g) mushrooms
1 large carrot, sliced, then sliced cut in half
12 oz (350g) cooked haricot beans
5 fl oz (150ml) chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
2 tblsp tomato puree
1 tsp dried thyme
pinch cayenne pepper
half pint (300ml) red wine
quarter pint (150ml) water
salt and pepper
Gently fry the onion and peppers until just tender, stirring in the garlic a minute before the end. Remove from heat.
Take half the mushrooms and slice thinly, then - using an ovenproof casserole - place the sliced mushrooms, carrots, the onion mixture, whole mushrooms, the beans and the chopped tomatoes, then gently fold the lot together.
Take a jug and put in the tomato puree, thyme, cayenne pepper, wine and the water with seasoning to taste. Mix together and pour over the food in the casserole. Cover with a tight fitting lid.
Cook at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for about an hour and a half, stirring after the first half hour, and again half an hour later. When ready the carrots should be soft and the flavours well developed. Check for seasoning and serve.

This next recipe (or one very similar) will already have been given months ago, but no apologies for repeating this dish as it freezes extremely well, and the 'twice-fried' beans are a staple in many Mexican dishes, so whether added to chilli con carne, or used as part of a filling for enchiladas and nachos, eaten as a dip with tortilla chips, or added to flour tortilla 'wraps' with salads and/or meats, this is one worth making. When eating an orange, it is always worth grating off the zest before peeling and freezing it away to add to a dish such as this. Or just freeze the peel and remove the zest later.
Refritos: serves up to 8 (F)
1 1/2 lb (700g) red kidney beans, soaked overnight
4 large onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 - 2 tsp chilli powder
2 tblsp sunflower oil
1 tblsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cumin
4 - 5 ribs celery, finely sliced
1 each red and yellow bell pepper, seeded and cubed
zest of 2- 3 large oranges
2 x 400g cans of plum tomatoes
salt and pepper
First drain the soaked beans and put in a pan, cover with fresh water and cook until just tender. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, using a large saucepan, fry the onion in the oil until softened, stirring in the garlic towards the end, then stir in the spices and fry for a minute more. Add the celery, peppers, orange zest and cooked beans, and - if necessary add a little more oil - fry for five more minutes.
Empty the can of tomatoes into a blender or food processor (or put into a bowl and chop up by hand), and when liquidised, add to the pan, and when everything has been mixed together, cover and simmer for nearly an hour, or until everything is very soft. Season with a little salt and plenty of pepper.
Remove half the mixture from the pan and blend or process to make a coarse puree, then add back to the pan and mix everything together. Use immediately or cool rapidly (by standing the pan in a sink of cold water) and freeze in small containers.

Pulses are mainly bland in flavour, and this can have its advantages because one bean can usually be substituted for another, any flavour being added by herbs and spices etc. Lentils do not substitute quite so easily, and it is often difficult to find a good recipe for the few types there are. The red lentils are used in many recipes, and green lentils eat very well when cooked with bacon, but here is a recipe that works especially well with the tiny, round Puy lentils - this eating well as a dish in its own right with the savoury fruity bread (recipe given below) or served to accompany roast pork.
If possible make the stock using an 'Oriental' stock - a light stock made with ginger and lemongrass. 'Chinese' stock cubes of this type are sold in supermarkets.
Coconut and Lime Puy Lentils: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 red chilli pepper, de-seeded and finely chopped
2" (5cm) piece fresh root ginger, grated
1 lb (450g) Puy lentils
2 pints (1.2 ltrs) light vegetable stock
1 x 200ml (7 fl.oz) carton coconut cream
grated rind and juice of 1 lime
Using a large pan, fry the onion in the oil for five minutes, then stir in the garlic, chilli and ginger and fry for a further minute. Add the lentils, and two-thirds of the stock and bring to the boil. Boil fairly rapidly for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for a further 20 minutes or until the lentils are cooked. Add more stock as necessary, but the mixture needs to be thick.
Stir in the coconut cream, and the lime zest and juice. Heat through, then serve.

As well as an accompaniment to the above dish, this cross between a savoury and a fruit 'bread' also eats well with cheese, soups, salads, or just spread with butter as a snack. Very easy to make, do not expect this to look like a loaf, more like a flattish 'blob'. Best eaten on day of making, and as near to fresh as possible.
Savoury Fruit 'bread': serves 4 - 6
4 oz (100g) porridge oats
2 tsp baking powder
4 oz (100g) plain flour
4 oz (100g) raisins or sultanas
1 tblsp chopped fresh thyme
1 shallot, grated or very finely chopped
1 egg
half tsp salt
black pepper
4 fl.oz (125ml) milk
3 tblsp light olive oil
Put everything except the oil into a bowl and mix well together (it helps if the baking powder is first sifted with the flour but not essential). This will not be like a bread dough, more like a very thick and sticky batter.
Spoon 2 tblsp of the oil onto a baking tray and put into a pre-heated oven 200C, 400F, gas 6 to heat up for 5 minutes, the quickly pour on the 'dough' and spread into a rough round shape approx 6"- 7" (15 -18cm) diameter. Brush the remaining oil over the top. Then return to oven and bake for 20 minutes, before turning the 'bread' over and cooking for a further 6 - 8 mins or until brown.
Allow to cool on the tin for several minutes, the cut into wedges and serve warm. If cooled down too much, remove from tin, wrap in foil and re-heat in the residual heat in the oven.

Final dish of the day is a variable one in that it can be served as a dip, or as a pate to be spread on crostini, and even served warm with roast beef as we might serve pureed cauliflower or potatoes.
Butterbean 'Butter': serves 4
2 x 425g (15oz) cans butter beans, drained and rinsed
4 tsp creamed horseradish sauce
4 - 5 tblsp olive oil
zest and juice of 1 lime or lemon
3 tblsp warm water
salt and pepper (opt)
Put everything into a blender or food processor and blitz until smooth and creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste (optional). Serve in any of the ways suggested above.