It’s autumn here in the UK. I am lucky enough to have an allotment, and I love it at this time of year, its decked in autumn colour, bathed in hazy sunshine or shrouded in fine mist (or is that rain…?), and still abounding in fruitfulness. A few days ago, I stripped all the bean pods from the vines. The pods are slightly damp and bedraggled, and coloured musty shades of brown and yellow. I brought home a huge bin bag full of them, three different kinds: moonlight runner, scarlet emperor runner and borlotti. They look distinctly unpromising, which is why I am always struck by what I find inside. The pods split open easily, and inside, nestling in a smooth, silky, papery, white sheath, are lines of immaculate, shining, pristine beans.
The task of the next few days is to shuck them into bowls, then leave them in a warmish dry room (but not too near the heat otherwise they will split). Every time anyone passes, they perform a little ritual, which basically involves shuffling the beans around in the bowls. It’s quite musical and very therapeutic actually! To begin with, they sound dull and muffled. As the days go by, the rattle of the beans starts to change, until eventually it sounds like marbles rattling in a glass bowl. The sound, after a few weeks, becomes absolutely clear and bell-like.
They really are like magic. It’s no wonder that they’re the stuff of fairytales and runes.
You can’t buy beans quite like these, and they’re easy to grow. We have yet to fulfil our desire to eat homegrown vegetables all year round but the beans are a fabulous winter staple, particularly when combined with tomato passata, (frozen back in the summer), garlic, onions, winter squash and fresh greens.
Once dried, store the beans in an airtight container somewhere cool and away from bright light. This applies equally to shop bought beans, which will be just fine for the recipe below!
To cook, soak them in filtered water for 24 – 48 hours, changing the water twice daily. Add a dash of white wine vinegar to the soaking water. Beans contain inhibitors, which will begin to be broken down by a long soak and the addition of the vinegar. Drain and rinse, cover them amply with water (don’t add salt as they won’t soften) in a good heavy saucepan, and then bring them to the boil and keep them at a rolling boil for 6 minutes. Then cover with a lid, reduce to a really low simmer, and let them cook for up to three hours or more, until they are done. Perfectly soft, but not mushy. The length of cooking time depends primarily on the size of the beans. Cooking them slowly is key. If necessary, replenish the water as they cook. When I cook a batch, I then dry them with kitchen roll and freeze them on trays (so they don’t all stick together) before bagging them up, because it’s so easy to to get a few handfuls straight from the freezer and throw them into a casserole or a pie filling whenever needed. For a vegan like me they’re great, providing protein, B vitamins, potassium and fibre.
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A splendidly simple recipe for bean pate:
8 oz./225 gms. of cooked beans. You can use any beans, but I like to use white beans for this. Tinned beans are good if you’re in a rush (rinse them first).
A drizzle of oil (I use olive oil usually).
A few drops of water.
The juice of a lemon.
2-3 cloves of crushed garlic.
A good pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper.
*Optional alternatives: tamari/chilli flakes/finely chopped fresh herbs/a swirl of tahini
Crush the cooked (defrosted if necessary) beans, either in a food processor or in a big bowl with a masher. The bean pate will be as smooth as you like processed in the food processor and much coarser using a hand-held implement. Either way is good. Drizzle just enough oil and a few drops of filtered water into the beans to get them properly mashed/pulverised. Add lemon juice, crushed garlic cloves, and seasonings to taste. Mix well.
Turn into a ceramic lidded container or plastic tupperware and keep refrigerated. This hearty, spreadable pate will also freeze.
Serve with crackers, olives, salad and tomatoes. Or anything else you fancy.
A word about my blog recipes:
All the recipes I write for this blog are adaptable, according to taste, and what might be in the larder.
*For example, for this recipe, omit the lemon juice and add lime juice and chilli flakes instead.
To follow: My celebration of the humble bean will continue as winter begins with recipes for curried beans with squash and my version of Italian bean stew.
Just got to watch those beans dry now 🙂