Magical beans, in a choose your own adventure story.

This is the story of some magical beans.

The tale officially started six years ago, when my health took a little tumble and white carbohydrates turned on me.

For a girl who grew up wanting to eat nothing except for ‘oodles- and frequently sought refuge in the comforting squish of mash, white rice and ‘death bread’ sandwiches, it felt like a treasonous blow.

But in hindsight, it made The Hungry One and I better cooks. To bulk out a meal we had to get more creative. No more mashed or boiled spuds as a kitchen crutch. So we started chasing after purees and pulses, hoping they’d transform a pile of protein and vegetables into a coherent meal.

With the help of a stick blender and a saucepan we would turn out pea puree as a base for roast beef. There was corn puree as a couch for grilled chicken. Du Puy lentils with braised pork and sausages.

But my favourite combinations came care of cannellini beans. On their own, these whitish pulses can be mushy, bland and unappealing. Frankly, they’re as exciting as eating sodden Styrofoam filler. But mixed with some marinated artichokes and paired with more flavourful friends they’re…magical. More protein, less squish, and cheap too.

Here in London, I’m lucky enough to be able to eat whatever I want. But some dear friends have food restrictions of their own. One of which, is gluten.

So, we turn to the magical beans once again.

If you want to find out more about the magical beans, keep reading below.

If you would rather keep eating white squish, go here.

More about the magical beans

White bean and artichoke puree

You can soak and cook dry beans. But to be honest, most of the time I’m just not thinking that far in advance. So instead you can buy a can of cannellini beans from a supermarket for less than it costs to ride a bus to the shops.

It’s a pretty tricky assembly process. Open the can of beans. Rinse the slimey goo off them. Take a tin of marinated artichoke hearts.

Use a stick blender and whizz together the tin of beans and five artichoke hearts. You can slop in some of the olive oil from the marinated artichokes. Whizz it all together until it’s a smooth paste. If it’s not as smooth as you’d like, add a few drops of water or milk.

If you want to serve it cold as a dip with grissini then your story ends here.

(If this was a true ‘choose your own adventure story’ at about this stage you’d be told in italics at the bottom of the page that yyou just fell off a cliff, or got eaten by a bear. None of that is going to happen.

Instead you’ll stir in a tablespoon of grated parmesan, and a heaped teaspoon of both lemon zest and chopped parsley. Put the dip in a bowl and slosh some olive oil over the top in a pretty pattern.

This is how the white bean and artichoke combination came into my life. It was made for us by The Hungry One’s best man as part of a tasting plate to share. Sadly, I monopolized the whole bowl. For that Nick, I’m really sorry.

If you want to serve it warm

After you’ve whizzed the beans and the artichokes together just season it with salt and pepper. The rest of the flavor is going to come from elsewhere. The added bonus is you can make this way ahead of time, then when your protein is almost ready to serve transfer it to a saucepan, add a slosh of milk and warm it up.

You could eat it as it is, but It probably deserves some extra punch of piquancy.

For that, I mean green olives, garlic, parsley, lemon rind, capers, mint and mustard.
These are all good things and happy friends with bland beans and oily artichokes.

Make up a rustic tapenade of the above.

If you’re gluten intolerant you can now add in some chopped roasted almonds. This helps add some crunch.

If bread is your friend, add in some fat toasted breadcrumbs.

If you want a bit of extra flavor and colour on the plate while you’re thinking about your protein, slow roast some cherry tomatoes, garlic and baby onions. They go well with both.

If you feel like fish, read here.

Oily fish like mackerel make a good foil for the mellowness of the beans and the brassy flavours of the tapenade. To pull it all together, it’s a doddle. I managed to do it after a bad day and two pretty tall campari oranges. So I’m sure you can handle it.

Pick your mackerels. You could also use garfish or sardines. If it’s mackerel then you’ll want one fish for each guest. If it’s garfish or sardines then two or three should do. Get your fishmonger to scale and gut them. When you’ve got them home, pat them clean with paper towel.

Serve with the tomatoes, garlic and the warmed magical beans and sprinkle some more of the tapenade over the top.

Score some slits on one side of the fish. Place them head to tail on a baking tray lined with foil. Push in the tapenade and sprinkle it over the top. Put them in a 170 degree oven for 20 minutes for the bigger fish and around 12-15 for the smaller ones. Essentially you want to cook them until the flesh is opaque and starts to pull away from the bone in the slits.

Your story ends here with a nice bottle of pink wine and a salad made with radicchio.

If you feel like roast lamb, read here.

A leg of lamb is also a grand match for the beans and their friends.

Rub the tapenade into some slits in the lamb. You’re going to want to roast the lamb for 15 minutes per 500 grams. Start the oven at 230 degrees to get some heat into the crust. After 15 minutes turn it down to 200 degrees. Make sure you let the lamb rest for a good twenty minutes, somewhere warm, before you carve it.

Serve it with the warm magical beans, tomatoes, onions, tapenade and a ballsy bottle of red.

Your story ends with left over lamb for sandwiches the next day. Or being busted by your husband as you sit with the fridge door open, picking at cold lamb, straight off the bone.

That’s the thing about magical beans.

They may change the way you cook, but they’re not going to change who you are at the core.

Any other suggestions for how the story might end?

  1. MMMmm I love beans. As a vegetarian they feature regularly in my diet. They really are magicial – they are SO good for you and are incredibly versatile 🙂 YUm yum yum!

  2. Thanks Anna! NB, just had a wander past your blog- it's gorgeous… congratulations.

  3. That is so lovely and versatile! 😮 Thankyou for sharing that! I love how beans are so filling and high in protein and low in fat 😀

  4. Considering how much Ticklemore cheese we're eating in London- and planning a quick jaunt to Paris in a couple of weeks- it's not a bad option 🙂

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