This is the first in a series of posts, which apart from being useful, will also act as something of an apology.
It all started with cocktails. Then wine. Too much wine. It was then that I climbed onto my high horse.
I think anyone who’s more than a passing visitor to this space will recognise that I appreciate a drink or two. But I don’t often consume to excess. And here’s why.
I have a tendency to go on a bit.
One morning not too long ago I woke up feeling a touch dusty.
I called a partner in crime from the night before. “How bad was I?” I muttered- washing down two asprin with some pineapple juice (before being whisked off here).
“Hilarious” was her response. “Let’s just say …. you got a little evangelical about pulses”.
And then it came flooding back. The table was filled with women- some old friends and some new. Over main courses at this hen’s night- where safe conversation topics might involve relationships, celebrities, marriage, makeovers and frocks- and any combination of the above- I monopolised the table for a good ten minutes (oh god, perhaps more).
It seems I was banging on about beans. More specifically, the frumpy cans and bags that hide at the back of the pantry. I’m talking about white beans, black beans, red and green lentils. Chickpeas. Kidney beans. I didn’t even get onto fangled grains like quinoa or chia seeds. I was mainly raving about what these little nubbins can do for us, and our responsibility to sex them up with spices and crunch. All of this is in aid of escaping the dinner time crutch of white carbs.
You see, for me comfort food finds its form in a mushroom quesadillas, pizza bianca, platters of pane con tomate and gluttonous bowls of pasta. And don’t even get me started on what I’ll do for a plate of gnocchi (brown butter, sage and parmesan, or baked with meatballs, tomato and mozzarella. Let’s just say I’m an equal opportunity lover).
It’s taken me some years to realise it; but I now know. As much as I love them- white carbohydrates do not love me.
Or, perhaps they do love me; they just really, really love my chin- enough to want to reproduce with it.
So, in order to not be a slave to the cross trainer and to wear the frocks I want, I’ve had to get chummy with pulses. And while I apologise for banging on about it (both in person and here)- I’m hoping these recipes will be good enough to act as a bit of an apology- and they’ll make some new friends with those of you here.
First up; Red Kidney Beans
I’m going to start with one of the hardest to sell. Red kidney beans.
They don’t have a strong pull for many of us. My strongest memory of them is in the sludge and slurry of refried beans, or the dark bits that I tend to leave at the bottom of a four bean mix.
Done badly red kidney beans manage to be both papery and bloated; with a pappy waterlogged texture that reminds me of new potatoes that have been abandoned for hours in a tepid pot.
What they do offer is lots of fibre, protein and an ability to suck up spices- particularly if you head south.
Rather than running from the Tex Mex taintof this bean, this recipe squeezes it close- but brings to the party the kind of acidity and texture the slop is crying for. There’s cumin and coriander. There’s a smidge of dark chocolate and mandarin zest for additional interest. Playing along are tomatoes, avocado – and for textural punch there are chilli toasted nuts and little pops of citrus.
This mix has one life as a warm salad with chicken threaded through it. In this form it’s a complete, one bowl meal best eaten with a fork on the couch. But if you wanted to gussy it up even further just omit the chicken and use the bean salad as a base for grilled piece of fish, chicken or pork and drizzle over some citrus slaked yogurt.
To me, this is a very sexy bowl of beans. And maybe, just maybe- it’s a dinner that’s worth getting a little evangelical about.
Mexican chicken and bean warm salad
Serves 1 very hungry person, or 2 more moderate appetites.
1 microplane. 1 fry pan. 1 strainer.
1 teaspoon of cumin
1teaspoon of coriander
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 cup of shredded cooked chicken (poached, left over roast, or shop bought)
1 400 gram tin of red kidney beans
1 handful of coriander/cilantro
1 small mandarin/clementine
1 handful of cherry tomatoes, cut into halves or thirds – depending on their size
1 square of dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids)
1 small avocado (or half a large one)
1 handful of spiced pepitas and sesame seeds (toast them in a teaspoon of chilli powder)
1 tablespoon of natural yogurt
Salt to taste
Here’s how we roll
1. Heat the olive oil in a pan and toast the cumin and coriander until they smell nutty.
2. Add the shredded chicken and 3/4 of the tomatoes. Cook until the chicken is warmed through and the tomatoes have softened.
3. Add the drained and rinsed kidney beans, zest of the mandarin and the square of chocolate. Cook until the chocolate has melted.
4. Assemble the salad by combining the bean/chicken/tomato mixture with the chopped avocado, coriander leaves, remainder of the chopped tomato and about half of the mandarin segments, cut into thirds.
5. Season with salt, top with the spiced seeds and drizzle with a little natural yogurt just before serving.