I’m always amazed at how often all types of beans are overlooked by most people, especially if they are not vegetarian. Sadly, they seem to have become associated with a stereotypical image of healthy living, where everyone wears sandals and food supposedly tastes like cardboard. Now, I’m not sure if this stereotype ever existed, but I do know that across large parts of the world beans are seen as an integral part of the local diet, and are used to bulk up food, as meat is not always affordable. Yes, it is a faff to soak and cook the beans, but the canned versions have improved no end, and are still so reasonably priced, and so quick to get on the table, I’m not sure why more people haven’t been convinced.
There is no getting away from how healthy all pulses are for you either. They will leave you filling fuller for longer as they are full of lean protein, and soluble fibre which helps to lower that blood cholesterol. The rhyme is true. Beans are good for your heart. Not only that but they are full of important nutrients, folate, magnesium, iron and potassium to name but a few. They also count as one serving of fruit and vegetables, if you’re still unconvinced.
So, if you don’t yet subscribe to the mantra “beans, beans for every meal”, humour me and try this recipe. If you really can’t do without it altogether, buy a little of the best organic meat that you can, it will go a lot further if it is only making a guest appearance, and the main attraction of the meal is your beans. Or do it like I did; I cooked a big batch of these beans on Sunday, as a side to go with our roast lamb, then did the breadcrumb topping and served them up as the main meal on Monday. Together with a lovely tomato salad (little cherry tomatoes dressed with some thyme, olive oil, sea salt and lemon juice) the meal was complete.
I’m calling this a cassoulet. It isn’t, I know, but it resembles one, and leaves you with the same satisfied feeling, so I’m sticking with it.
Quick Cheat’s Cassoulet Recipe
This recipe served 6 (2 adults, 4 children or maybe 4 adults) as a side dish (spoonful each) then the same as a main meal
Four cloves garlic
A red onion
Half a red chilli (you could add more, but you really only want the warmth this much gives you)
Two sticks of celery
A tin of anchovies with their oil (this is to add a depth of flavour, if you want to make this recipe 100% vegetarian, you could use a tbsp or so of capers with a bit of their brine, or perhaps a bit of dried seaweed)
Salt and pepper
A mixture of beans, haricot, flageolets, pinto, borlotti are all good here. If you cook them yourself, soak for 12 hours, then cook with a mix of herbs in the water, with a clove of garlic, a potato and a tomato. Do not salt them. As a guide, I’d recommend using half a tin per person as a serving guide for a main meal, and a quarter to a third as a side dish. So I made 6 tins this week, but had I used dried, I would probably have used around 550g.
Fresh coriander (the perfect partner to beans in my book)
A couple of slices of day (or more!) old bread, crusts removed.
Start by crushing your 3 of your garlic cloves, and leave to one side.
Then dice the onion, carrot, celery and chilli and tip into a pan with the anchovies and their oil. Add a splash more oil if you think it needs it, and turn on the heat on the lowest setting. Leave to soften, at least until the onion is translucent. It should take over 20 minutes, and this will get a really nice flavour going.
Add the beans and a little water, you don’t want to cover them completely, but you don’t want them to dry out during their stint in the oven. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
Cut up a good cupful of coriander and toss through the beans.
Take what you want out now as a side dish, and make sure the rest are in a own that you can out in the oven.
Blitz the bread with some coriander and the last clove of garlic in the food processor so that you have bread crumb. Sprinkle these over the top of the beans, and drizzle (drizzle not drown!) with olive oil.
Put in a preheated oven at around 180 deg. C for about 25 minutes until the crust is nice and golden brown.
Tuck in, with a nice tomato salad and some crusty bread if you are really hungry!