The winter season is a good period for hearty bean dishes and European culture counts a number of such traditional recipes. I often go to the south-west of France and have come to know quite a bit about the local ‘cassoulet’ with several towns still fighting over the “real” recipe.
Cassoulet, like sauerkraut, was a poor peasant’s dish that has been elevated to nobility. After all, the dried beans were available in the winter period, there was duck and goose fat, some secondary cuts like the neck and other parts of the birds left over after the foie gras was taken out and that was not sold as “magret”. A pig’s trotter or knee or ears was also not very expensive and this all combined to a very filling meal for hard working people in a cold period.
The dish cooked slowly during the day and could also be reheated several times for various meals. In fact, the so-called traditional recipes call for a “crust” on top of the dish that needs to be cut and reheated three times.
Beans have a lot of proteins and as such are a better source for proteins in a balanced diet than meat. However, over the years the cassoulet has become a dish that is full of beans, fats and meat. On top of that, many tourists eat it in the summer when your body least needs such big meals. Nevertheless, there are some vary tasty cassoulet dishes to be eaten in Castelnaudary, Toulouse, Pamiers, Foix or elsewhere in that region. Preferably when it is cold, and for lunch unless you want to be awake digesting all night.
I wanted to make a modern version of the dish. The result was interesting but not yet my last word on the matter.
- 300 grammes of dried white beans
- One onion
- A quarter celery root
- Two turnips
- Four potatoes
- Four cloves of garlic
- One tin of tomatoes
- Pepper and salt
- Soak the beans in water overnight, the following day clean the water and soak for a few more hours.
- Put a large quantity of water to the boil, add the white beans and after 20 minutes drain them. This should remove a whitish foam.
- Put new water in a large pan, add beans, laurel and some salt and cook for two hours.
- Peel, slice and cut the other vegetables. When the beans are cooked – that is when they are tender when you bite one – add the other vegetables, as well as the garlic, and cook for another 30 minutes.
- Cook, or reheat, the sausages.
- At the end, drain the beans and vegetables, take out the laurel, and mix in a large bowl with the cut-up tomatoes from the tin.
- Add pepper and salt to taste.
- Put in a serving dish and lay the sausages on top.
Green beans are full of vitamins and minerals and are not very expensive. They appear often on menus and at family dinners but usually are soggy and bland. There are not much vitamins left in them.
Green beans, like pasta, need lots of boiling water and then a short boiling time.
Putting the beans in some water with salt, heating to boiling point and cooking for several minutes is a recipe for grey beans without taste. Generations of school children ate those in the canteen. Many an office cafeteria will serve them that way as well.
Continue reading A simple trick for good green beans
Duck is widely used in France, especially in the south-west where they also stuff ducks for the liver. Duck meat is often tough and needs long cooking.
On the market in Dieppe, I found a farmer who sold ‘canetton’, ducklings. Not the small birds with a soft down, but larger, almost half-size, birds.
This meat is tender and the portion is sufficient for one person.
I turned it into a dish with some inspiration from the Gers or Ariège and combined it with white beans, tomatoes, prunes as well as garlic and shallot.
Ingredients for two
- Two legs of a small duck
- A tin of white beans
- Four tomatoes
- Six small potatoes
- Eight pitted dried prunes
- Two cloves of garlic
- A large shallot
- Butter, olive oil, pepper, salt
- Cook the unpeeled potatoes for 20 minutes.
- Clean the legs, pat them dry, heat oil and butter in a pan and fry the legs for some 10 minutes on each side.
- Slice the garlic and shallots and add that to the duck after 10 minutes.
- Add salt and pepper.
- Drain the potatoes and cut in slices. Cut the tomatoes in eight parts.
- Put the beans, potatoes and tomatoes in an oven dish.
- Add the prunes and mix.
- Put the legs on top of the mix, add the garlic and shallot and sprinkle with chives. Put in the oven at 150 °C degrees for 15 minutes, then turn down to 90 °C degrees to keep warm until serving.
In the past I did not like to eat green beans in restaurants and certainly not in canteens as the green vegetable bomb was usually cooked to death with no vitamins left, a darkish colour and as bonus sometimes a string that got caught between you teeth. Continue reading Green beans with shallots and garlic
Quite a mouthful and almost a full recipe in the title. The main part is about the hummus. I have long been thinking about using non-meat proteins in meals for a better balance – note, not as an alternative, I am not turning vegetarian – and a recent television programme I saw in the Netherlands around Christmas put the spotlight on chickpeas, hummus and falafel.
You can buy hummus ready made but it is of course nicer, and cheaper, to make it yourself to your own taste. It is not hard, the main problem can be how to obtain the tahini sesame paste. You can also make that yourself with sesame seeds, but the process of hulling and crushing is a bit messy.
I bought mine at a Lebanese stall on the Saint Quentin market near the Gare de l’Est station in Paris.
I planned to use my blender for the hummus. However, my relationship with my Kenwood FB 920 food processor is about to break apart; most of the time it only blends the lowest one centimetre of what is in the glass container, unless I add a lot of liquid – which you do not always want – and then it tends to leak from the bottom.
This time too, its first attack on the chickpeas was not brilliant. So I switched to an immersion blender – also Kenwood – which works great but you have to be careful your mix does not splatter out of the bowl onto the kitchen walls.
Tahini is good for its omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, copper, manganese, calcium and proteins. Compared to peanut butter it has less saturated fats (the bad fat) and sugar.
Chickpeas contain proteins, folate (vitamin B9), zinc and can help to reduce high cholesterol in blood. The little fat it contains is poly unsaturated (the good fat). For hummus, you add garlic (also good to lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure), lemon juice (vitamins) and olive oil (mono unsaturated fat, which is good).
Above all, hummus tastes very nice.
In my version, I added cumin, sumac and pepper as well as some mint leaves. You can also add paprika (chilli pepper) or other spices to taste. Adding yoghurt would make it even more velvety but add a sour note to the nutty sesame taste. In the Middle East they do not add yoghurt.
- A tin of chickpeas (400g)
- Two tablespoons of tahini
- 60 ml (¼ cup) lemon juice
- 60 ml olive oil
- 120 ml (½ cup) water
- Three cloves of garlic
- White pepper
- Some fresh mint leaves
- Pita bread
- Two breasts of chicken
- Three tomatoes
- Young spinach leaves
- Drain the chickpeas and put them in a large bowl or the blender.
- Add crushed garlic, lemon juice and tahini and start blending.
- I finished by stirring by hand, adding water and olive oil to obtain a creamy consistency. You have more control when you finish it manually. Some purists do not use a machine at all and make the paste with pestle and mortar (after all, the recipe is far more ancient than electrical kitchen appliances).
- Sprinkle some sumac, cumin and pepper over the hummus. Set aside.
- Roast the chicken fillet in a skillet with a little olive oil.
- Prepare the tomatoes, washing, taking out the little pips and cutting or slicing in parts.
- Wash the spinach (or any other greens, the spinach salad was on offer)
- Humidify the pita bread and put them in a toaster.
- Slice the cooked chicken meat.
- When the pita has cooled down a bit, slice it open and put spinach, tomato and chicken on one side and hummus with mint leaves on the other side.
- Serve the pita bread open, or close it to make a kind of pita burgers.