Thursday, 23 July 2009

Two bags of beans

I grow broad beans every year even though I can’t stand the things. My husband likes them and I enjoy growing them. They are, after all, one of the easiest things to grow. They germinate reliably, don’t need supporting on our sheltered site, then they flower with their beautiful black and white flowers (or crimson when we can get the seed) and soapy perfume, before yielding heavy pods of beans. The only pest they suffer from of any significance is blackfly.

Every year the presenters of Gardeners’ World and the writers in the gardening magazines say "remove the top of broad bean plants to prevent blackfly" and every year I think "it doesn’t work!" However, this year I finally understood what they really meant when I read somewhere that the growing tips of broad beans should be removed as soon as the bean pods start to form. Previously, I had always waited until the blackfly had arrived then removed the growing tips and found the whole thing completely pointless and ineffective. This year as soon as I spotted the young pods forming I systematically removed the growing shoots from the top of all the broad bean plants and you know what? Yes, it actually worked! No blackfly infested beans this year.

Now, the other problem we usually have with broad beans is eating them before they become too big. My husband looks forward to the first tiny, fresh green beans of the year and then eats beans with every meal for the next 4 or more weeks until the beans became large, the scar turns black and the skins tough. It always seems a bit wasteful when we harvest the first pods that look so fat but squash in our fingers, telling us that the beans inside are still small. But, hey, we may as well start harvesting them when they are so tiny and enjoy them because there will soon be plenty of big ones. Ideally, somewhere in between, we try to pick a load, pod them, blanch them and package them up in bags with a sprig of savory for the freezer.

I don’t know what happened this year but somehow we missed the ideal harvest time for picking beans to freeze and when we finally stripped all the remaining pods from the plants the beans were big and tough. So there I was, confronted with two carrier bags of broad bean pods, containing tough broad beans. Every pod needed beans removing from them and every bean needed cooking and its tough outer skin removing. What a task!

As will any job like this, the only sensible way to tackle it was to do a little bit at a time. So I started with 260g of podded broad beans to make bean and pea pate. My husband likes this spread on his sandwiches in the place of sauce with a slice of cooked meat. It also freezes really well so can be frozen in ice-cubes and a little bit thawed out at a time to use in a sandwich or as a dip.

Bean and Pea Pate

260g broad beans
100g peas (frozen are fine)
¼ teaspoon each ground cumin and coriander
Salt and pepper
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons of natural yoghurt or soya alternative

Boil the broad beans for 5 to 10 minutes then drain and allow to cool. Remove the outer skin from the beans and place in a food processor. Boil the peas for 3-5 minutes and allow to cool before putting them in the food processor too. Finely chop the garlic and fry in a little oil for about 3 minutes then add to the peas. Add the spices and salt and pepper to taste, along with the yoghurt. Blend all the ingredients until a smooth pate forms. Decant into suitable containers. Refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze.

Last year I had a go at making beetroot houmous. This had been my first venture into making my own houmous and it had turned out pretty well. I’d kind of made up the recipe on some vague suggestion of ingredients in a magazine but sadly I forgot to make a note of what I did. I discovered this oversight when I went searching for the recipe when I had the idea that I might try adding broad beans to the recipe instead of beetroot. Not defeated, I Googled for a houmous recipe and was reminded that, in addition to tahini, the main ingredient is chickpea. It was then I had the idea that I could just substitute all of the chickpeas for broad beans as they are a very similar ingredient. The next challenge was to buy some tahini. I searched what I considered the most obvious places in Tesco but couldn’t find it so then I asked a shelf-stacker and a personal shopper and neither of them knew what tahini was let alone where to find it! I concluded it was possible that Tesco doesn’t stock the stuff but in fact when I got home I checked their online shop and found it available, which was somewhat irritating. However, a few days later I ordered some shopping from Ocado and included tahini, which was duly delivered. So now it was time to work out a broad bean houmous recipe.

Broad bean houmous

650g podded broad beans
100g tahini
½ teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
Good pinch salt
Pepper to taste
Clove of garlic

Cook the broad beans then drain, cool and remove the outer shell. Put all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Can be frozen.

By now I had it in my mind that shelled broad beans can be substituted quite successfully for chickpeas in a recipe, although the result is obviously a lot more beany in flavour – lovely if you enjoy the flavour of broad beans but not the tough skin. I had also come to the conclusion that broad bean and ground cumin make a pleasant combination, the cumin taking away some of the overty beany flavour and, to my taste, making it more palatable. So with this in mind I thought I might try making broad bean falafel. There just happened to be a recipe for falafel in a magazine I was reading at the time but they aren’t a usual part of our menu at home so I wasn’t entirely sure what they were or how to eat them. The recipe called for a tin of drained chickpeas but when I looked falafel up in Wikipedia I discovered that falafel can be made with fava beans, which just happens to be another name for broad beans. So in a roundabout way I had an idea that turned out not to be at all original after all!

Broad bean falafel (makes 20)

650g podded broad beans
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 clove garlic
4-5 shallots
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon plain flour

Boil the broad beans for 10 minutes then drain and cool and remove the outer skin. Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Remove small amounts and mould into balls. Can be frozen. Cook from thawed. Fry for 5-6 minutes, turning occasionally. Commonly eaten with pitta bread but can be used as the basis of a vegetarian meal with potatoes and vegetables.

On a similar note but along a more familiar line, I decided to try a broad bean potato cake. This turned out to be a huge hit with the family and even I enjoyed this despite my general dislike of broad beans.

Broad bean potato cakes (makes 6-8)

350g potatoes
150g broad beans
1 rasher smoked bacon, well cooked
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Salt & black pepper to taste

Peel and cut the potatoes into small chucks then boil until soft. Boil the broad beans for 5-10 minutes then drain, cool and remove the outer skin. Place the broad beans in a food processor and whizz until broken into crumbs. Add the potatoes and snip in the bacon. Finally add the spice and seasoning and blend until a sticky dough forms. Remove handfuls of dough and dollop onto a floured plate and roll until a ball forms. Flatten. Chill until needed. Fry for about 3-4 minutes per side. Serve hot. Tastes lovely with a fried egg.

By this point I could almost see the bottom of the second carrier bag of broad beans so I decided to use these up on my tried and tested broad bean and savory soup recipe.

Broad bean and savory soup (serves 2)

Oil (for frying)
1 medium onion
8 oz (225 g) broad beans
1 pint (500 ml) vegetable stock
1 tablespoon savory leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Pod the broad beans and finely chop the onions. Heat the oil in the bottom of a large saucepan and fry the onion until soft. Add the beans and the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Add the savory and continue to simmer for a further 2 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat and allow to cool. Remove the thick outer shells of the broad beans then blend the soup until smooth. Return to a clean saucepan, bring back to the boil, season to taste and add more water if necessary. Serve hot.

By the time the soup was cooked two important things had occurred to me. The first was that I didn’t want to pod or shell another broad bean for 12 months! And the second was that I had changed my mind about broad beans. Where previously I had viewed them as a crop that my husband enjoyed as a side dish during June and July, I now viewed them as a useful ingredient that could be transformed into a variety of interesting and tasty recipes and, in fact, preserved for use for throughout the year. So next year, rather than panicking about eating the broad beans as quickly as possibly whilst still small, I shall relax and be happy to make use of broad beans that have past their best. However, another important conclusion is that I shouldn’t consider eating young broad beans as a waste because by the time the beans are bigger they are old and roughly 35% of each large bean is tough skin that will be removed and thrown away.

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