Thursday, 21 November 2013

Beans: a Pulsation Situation (unedited) - Published in the South Shropshire Journal 15/11/13

There are certain, staple items that can always be found in my kitchen cupboards. Things that I cannot, and God-willing, will not ever do without. At the more – shall we say, aspirational – end of the spectrum there will be: good olive oil, tinned anchovies (always Ortiz), Maldon sea salt (or the most excellent Halen Môn), fish sauce, preserved lemons and numerous other tinky-winky jars, tins and packets.

But, at the other end, I’ve got to have proper tea bags (I’ve always thought the term ‘builder’s’ somewhat derogative – what about plumbers and sparkies?), Bisto, OXO cubes, and Heinz baked beans. Hell will freeze over before I have supermarket own-brand beanz in my cupboardz, because the real stuff is just the best, right?

Yes, up to a point. Those beans all sweet, salty, sort of tomatoey, and straight from a tin go well on buttered toast. So yummy, especially if there’s Marmite underneath and grated cheese above. No substitute.

Your own baked beans will be different but better, because they will have taken you a good 24 hours to prepare. Your baked beans will involve overnight soaking, braising a pigs’ trotter, reducing several kilos of tomatoes to a hundredth of their original weight, a lot of patience and a whole lot of love.

You’ll do well to keep some beans in your larder be they in tins, or dried. And if like me, you’re slightly broke and a lot inventive, you’ll find a place for the pulse. It’s at this time of year particularly that this mealy genre comes into its own, helping to keep the cold out and the warmth in. Beans, lentils, chickpeas and so on add starchy volume and thickness to soups, stews and braises of all sorts. Over time they suck up the flavours of whatever it that they’re sharing a pot and become melty and tender.

For so long pulses were the vegan preserve of the Cranks generation and beardy wholefood shops, and indeed they are essential in many meat-free dishes. One of my all time favourite things to eat is a well-made dhal, and all manner of vegetarian Gujarati dishes in particular involving musty mung beans, black-eyed peas and the like. But pulses in my kitchen come alive when slow cooked with cheaper bits of meat. From ham and split pea soups (particularly the London Particular) to fruity and heavily spiced lamb tagines bulked with chickpeas, to the baked beans mentioned above.

Make pulses the backbone of your winter diet and yes, things are likely to get windy, but this is a small price to pay for warmth, comfort, and tasty thrift. One day, I may get given a recipe column and I’ll reveal in minute detail how to prepare my trotter-beans. In the meantime play around, and get your finger (or chops) right on the pulse. 

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