Friday, 8 February 2008

A croustade to celebrate beans


“Beans are highly nutritious and satisfying, they can also be delicious if and when properly prepared, and they posses over all vegetables the great advantage of being just as good, if not better, when kept waiting, an advantage in the case of people whose disposition or occupation makes it difficult for them to be punctual at mealtime.”
Andre Simon, The Concise Encyclopedia of Gastronomy (1952)

It was National Bean Day on 6 January so The Well Seasoned Cook, Susan, decided to hold an event called My Legume Love Affair to celebrate all manner of beans and lentils.

I am all for celebrating beans. What would the life of a vegetarian be without beans? What would my childhood have been like without baked beans? What cuisine doesn’t have their iconic bean dishes: hummus, falafels, moles, dahl, and minestrone? The world would be a poorer place without beans.

So here is my chance to reflect on beans, on what they mean to me. Beans means brilliant advertising campaigns. Beans means a giant chasing Jack while yelling fe fi fo fum. Beans mean protein. Beans means dodgy digestive systems. Beans means cheap nutritious meals. Beans means gently simmering stews that do not demand punctuality. Beans means filling the cupboard with convenient tins even though I know I should be soaking and simmering (note to self: must buy more dried beans)!

Beans are ancient delights and treasures. They can be traced back 7000 BC. In Mexico, Aztec Kings would receive 5000 tons of beans in yearly tribute. Galen in 184 AD writes about women using bean meal to cleanse superficial blemishes from their faces. Columbus brought them back to Europe from the Americas. European herbalists named New World beans, kidney beans because they were believed to strengthen the kidney – a belief that, oddly enough, was based on the shape of the bean being like a kidney. I was further intrigued by Colin Spencer’s story of 1960s parties where kidney beans were soaked but not cooked, ending in illness. Were the hosts mortified or were they just too busy grooving to notice?

So there is lots to love about beans and legumes. But I find that beans often are lost in humble purees, stews and soups. For Susan’s event I wanted something to showcase beans in a way that I don’t usually cook them. Sarah Brown presented the perfect challenge: Mexican Croustade. I had it years ago when my housemate Yaz made it. But I only remember being impressed that he dared make such a splendid looking dish, rather than remembering the taste.

This is a recipe that has beckoned me every time I browse through her Vegetarian Cookbook. The deep red kidney beans and lime green avocado against the orange sweet potato are cheerful and verging on kitsch. It looks picture perfect like the pretty blonde with the cool sunglasses and the smooth talk in a teen movie. But it was a bit bland and the crust crumbled at the slightest poke of the fork. Unfortunately, like Little Miss Perfect, it is all style and no substance.

Well, maybe I am being a bit harsh. It wasn’t horrible. But it didn’t live up to its picturesque loveliness. The best thing was the texture. The juxtaposition of the smooth beans and vegetables with the crunchy roughage of the crust is interesting. E wasn’t so keen on the latter which he said was a bit too Jethro Tull for him (I am still trying to work this one out). But the flavours weren’t quite right. It might have been my fault. I managed to season the sweet potato well. I think the orange zest was the problem: it overwhelmed the other flavours and made it a bit sweet for my tastes. So I am not sure that I would use all or any of the zest in future but would add garlic and Tabasco, and maybe more seasoning. (And what self-respecting Mexican dish wouldn’t!)

The good news is that it looked almost as good as the photo in the cookbook (but it collapsed when I transferred it to the plate because my crust was a little too crumbly). One of my main concerns about making it was that I made sure the avocado was at the right stage of ripeness. My avocado was beautifully green and buttery. Even after the flan leftovers sat overnight in the fridge the green was still glorious and the colours made me happy. I must say, this is a good dish for bloggers to enjoy (ie look but don’t taste). But if you wish to make it, be wiser than me – go easy on the zest and taste the bean and avocado mixture as you cook.

I find this ironic that my splendidly picturesque bean dish didn’t taste as good as the dull looking buried-in-stew dishes I usually make with beans. A lesson about beans perhaps. That they often don’t look too pretty but they usually taste pretty good.

Mexican Croustade
(adapted from Sarah Brown’s Vegetarian Cookbook)
Serves 4

Crust:
½ cup (50g) fresh breadcrumbs (not dried)
⅓ cup (50g) wholemeal flour
½ cup (50g) wheatgerm
½ cup (50g) rolled oats
100g butter, melted

Filling:
75g kidney beans soaked and cooked or 300g tin kidney beans
275g sweet potatoes (one medium), peeled and diced
Salt and pepper
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 ripe avocado
Juice of one orange
1 tsp orange zest (or less or more to taste – Sarah suggests zest of one orange but this was too much for me)
Tabasco sauce to taste.

Preheat oven to 190 C.

To make crust, mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Check it will press together ok - I think I needed a bit more butter. Press into a greased (?) 18-20cm flan dish. (I used a 22cm springform cake tin which was fine.) Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile boil sweet potatoes for 15-20 minutes til tender. Drain and mash with plenty of seasoning.

Fry onion in oil over medium heat til soft (Sarah suggests 3-4 minutes but I took 10 minutes). Add garlic and spices and fry a couple of minutes. Add kidney beans and avocado. Stir over medium heat about 2-3 minutes. Add orange juice, zest and Tabasco sauce. Check seasoning. Cook another 5 minutes (the juice should have reduced but not quite evaporated).

Spread the sweet potato over the flan base. Spoon the kidney bean and avocado mixture over the sweet potato. Cover loosely with foil and bake for 10-15 minutes. Serve hot or warm.

On the stereo:
Songs from the Wood (subtitled: 'with kitchen prose, gutter rhymes and divers): Jethro Tull

8 comments:

  1. Johanna, this truly is a festive flash of a dish. I'm very keen on trying the crust, but unsure what wholemeal is (whole wheat, graham?). I've eaten it b/4, but never cooked/baked with it.

    Thank you for sharing your latest kitchen adventure!

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  2. Thanks Susan. It was an adventure indeed! The crust is very easy and interestingly textured - I'd recommend it. I later discovered I used dried rather than fresh breadcrumbs which might have been why mine was so crumbly. Wholemeal flour is the same as your whole wheat flour I think.

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  3. Looks like a really interesting mix of ingredients (and you're right, the colors are lovely together!). I think the crust on its own would be good, too, and appropriate for other savory pies.

    Oh, and great choice of music for this one, given E's comment! :)

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  4. thanks Ricki - yes I think the crust would be good for other pies. E chose the music which is probably why he had it on the brain - but I am still puzzling over what a Jethro Tull crust is - I think it might have been something to do with hippies or folkies or both???

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  5. Well, now you had ME wondering about that music, so I asked the HH (who is soooo much older than me--two years!--and of course is more familiar with Jethro Tull).

    He said, "I have absolutely no idea" and then, "All I can think of is Aqualung and the rubbie in the park." HMM!! So I see your confusion. I'd rather bring to mind my own favorite JT song, "Stairway to Heaven"--since the dish did look heavenly!

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  6. What a shame the taste didn't live up to the presentation! It does indeed look fantastic and festive, and I love avocado and Mexican-style beans... but I wouldn't want the orange flavour to be too strong, either.

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  7. ricki - I have gone to the source - E say the crust was like something you would find in the forest floor deep in the woods - now I fear your HH's comment on rubble was closer to the point that I realised! I have put a link to the CD which I don't usually (due to time constraints) but E thinks the cover pic might clarify. Is there a blogging community of muso-food bloggers somewhere?

    thanks Cindy - the orange was really a bit much but I am convinced that the combination of beans, avocado and sweet potato is so good that there this can be remade to taste fantastic as it looks! I wont be doing it soon but I have made notes in my cookbook for when I do.

    ReplyDelete
  8. ricki - I have gone to the source - E say the crust was like something you would find in the forest floor deep in the woods - now I fear your HH's comment on rubble was closer to the point that I realised! I have put a link to the CD which I don't usually (due to time constraints) but E thinks the cover pic might clarify. Is there a blogging community of muso-food bloggers somewhere?

    thanks Cindy - the orange was really a bit much but I am convinced that the combination of beans, avocado and sweet potato is so good that there this can be remade to taste fantastic as it looks! I wont be doing it soon but I have made notes in my cookbook for when I do.

    ReplyDelete

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