Spanish-Style Baked Beans

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It hasn’t been an especially cold winter in Britain, but all the same the best thing to do in winter is snuggle down with a warming, filling dish of food, preferably steaming up into your face, wafting a sweet, spicy aroma into your nose. I went to Spain for the first time two summers ago with one of my best friends and adored the food. The flavours so distinctive, the sizzling pans of paella, the array of little tapas dishes you can gorge on, like a tasting session – heaven for me, as I invariably have trouble deciding on something at restaurants and want to try at least three things.

I was barely eating meat in 2013, but at the time I couldn’t resist a bit of chorizo. And, I can’t lie about it – it was delicious. Almost every meat eater I know loves chorizo; my flatmate used to eat it almost daily. Chorizo is one of the tastiest foods out there, but a few months ago I realised this wasn’t really or else wholly due to it being made of pork. The Spanish are a little obsessed with ham (I remember almost every street I walked down had at least four shops exclusively selling ham), so it’s a bit of a refined art for them, but they are also the elusive harbourers of a sneaky cooking secret – pimentón.

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Or, in English, smoked paprika. Now you might think smoked paprika isn’t a secret, we have it in Britain and you can buy it in the supermarket. But the English hardly ever use it in their cooking. And pimentón is the secret ingredient of chorizo. It gives it that smoky, spicy flavour which is so unique. I no longer eat chorizo but I had the idea a while ago to create some kind of tomato bean sauce with pimentón and decided what better thing to make than spicy, Spanish-style, healthy home-made baked beans.

The thick sauce is so hearty and full of flavour, adding a beefiness which is so lacking in watery baked beans you get in a tin, it gives you a great protein boost and it doesn’t have any of the added sugar. Furthermore, this dish is so versatile – you could have it as a stew, or as a soup or spilling out of a baked potato. It really is delicious, pleasantly spicy and when you put a spoon of it in your mouth it’s rather like tasting chorizo, without the chorizo.

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Serves 4-5:

  • 2 cups/240g/2 tins of haricot beans (I prefer to soak mine overnight and then boil for approximately 2½ hours with a few cloves of garlic and a couple of bay leaves – if preparing your own you’ll need about 180g of dried haricot beans)
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 4 large tomatoes (tomate de pera ideally)
  • 1 Romano red pepper
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 7 sun-dried tomato pieces
  • 1½ teaspoons pimentón/smoked paprika
  • 1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • ¼ cup of water
  • 1 tin of peeled cherry tomatoes
  • 5 teaspoons of tomato purée
  • A small handful of basil
  • A small handful of parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • A pinch of chilli flakes

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If cooking your own haricot beans, soak and boil them as instructed above. When they’re soft, drain any excess water in a colander and set aside to cool. Next, roughly chop your onion and blitz in a food processor until very fine and resembling a thick paste. Add a splash of olive oil to a large pan and turn to a medium heat. Once the pan’s hot tip in the onion, stirring continuously for about 5 minutes. After this, turn the heat down to low and let the onion cook gently (you want as much moisture as possible to evaporate off).

While the onion’s frying chop the tomatoes and red pepper into large chunks. Peel the garlic cloves and again roughly chop. Add all the pieces to a food processor along with the sun-dried tomatoes, pimentón, cayenne pepper, basil, parsley, the tablespoon of olive oil and a good grinding of salt and pepper. Blend this until well combined and it looks like a thick sauce. Once the onion has softened and mostly dried up, add this tomato sauce to the pan, turn up the heat to medium and stir.

After a couple of minutes, add the tin of cherry tomatoes, tomato purée, ¼ cup of water and chilli flakes to the pan as well. Stir until all mixed together then place the lid on top, leaving it to simmer for 10 minutes. At this point, add the drained haricot beans. Stir once more and replace the lid, letting the mixture simmer gently for a further 30 minutes. Over this time the flavours will all come together to really bring out the tomato, peppers, garlic, basil and smoked paprika. Finally serve (with rice to make a casserole or even with pasta if you fancy) and enjoy!

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Chilli Sin Carne

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Chilli Con Carne used to be one of my favourite meals. Something about that rich, spicy, tomato-based sauce really hit the spot – Mexicans totally got it right. With rice, with tortilla chips (+ avocado = yummy nachos), folded inside wraps, and always with a blob of guacamole on the side, I was a bit of a gorger. But since beef isn’t something I eat anymore, for a while there was this slight gaping hole. I went through a phase of making it with quorn mince (Chilli Con Quorne), but looking on the back of the packet it’s made up of a bunch of things (like calcium acetate) which aren’t actually real food. For all its protein-packed benefits, quorn (proudly producing an endless supply of meat free ‘meat’ such as quorn chicken pieces and quorn pork pies) is made primarily of something called mycoprotein, which apparently comes from a fungus and is grown in vats using glucose syrup as food. It’s not animal protein, which you might think can only be a good thing; but it’s completely processed and artificial, and just really isn’t that good for your body, whatever it claims on the label.

Dropping Chilli Con Quorne, I recently made a cauldron-sized amount of a very Mexican-style chilli, but bursting with vegetables. And I have to say the flavours really are amazing – the sweet, aromatic Romano pepper with the soft and fluffy roasted aubergine and courgette, all mixed together with tomato, kidney beans, chilli, cumin and cinnamon just melts on the tongue. I don’t miss Chill Con Carne one bit, and it’s so much tastier than Chill Con Quorne.

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Pepper, aubergine and courgette are still in season at the moment which is great, though the summer vegetables are coming to their end, so I just had to make use of them while they’re still growing in the UK. Kidney beans are full of nutritional goodness such as vitamin B9 and fibre, both of which promote cardiovascular health. They’re also crammed with antioxidants and, when eaten with rice, can provide a complete protein for your body. Kidney beans are low in the essential amino acid lysine but rice is a rich source of it so eating them together is just perfect. Even better, fragrant turmeric rice really complements the vegetable chilli sauce, making the most delicious, spice-filled meal. Chilli Sin Carne is too good.

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Serves 4-6:

  • 2 aubergines
  • 2 courgettes
  • 3 Romano peppers
  • 1 fresh red chilli
  • 2 medium-sized red onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of chilli powder
  • 1½ teaspoons of ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 180g of sun-dried tomato paste
  • 70g of tomato purée
  • 2x 400g tins of peeled cherry tomatoes
  • 2x 400g tins of red kidney beans (or 800g of dried kidney beans soaked overnight and then simmered for about an hour with a clove of garlic)
  • Rapeseed oil
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper
  • 400g of long grain brown rice
  • 1½ teaspoons of turmeric

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Start by preheating the oven to 180°C. Chop the aubergines into 1½ inch-sized pyramids and slice the courgettes into fairly thick discs, so they’re a similar size to the aubergine pieces. Place them on baking trays and drizzle with a good glug of rapeseed oil, stirring them around to make sure they’re all thinly coated, and then pop them in the oven for about 30 minutes.

While they’re roasting, cut the peppers into thin slices about 2 inches long, roughly chop the onions and squeeze the garlic cloves through a garlic press. Finely chop the chilli, discarding the seeds (and make you sure you give your fingers a good wash when you’re done!). Add the olive oil to a large casserole pan (I like Le Creuset the best), heat to a medium temperature and fry the onion for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Next add the garlic, chopped chilli and Romano pepper and fry until all the ingredients have softened.

At this point, check the aubergine and courgette in the oven, giving the pieces a good stir so they bake evenly. In the casserole pan add the chilli powder, cumin, cinnamon and salt and pepper and stir around until the vegetables are coated. Then pour in the tins of cherry tomatoes, followed by the sun-dried tomato paste and tomato purée. Allow this to come to the boil, then drain the kidney beans and add them as well. Reduce the heat a little, put the lid on and let the mixture gently simmer away.

When this is all done bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the rice and turmeric, turning down to a simmer for 25 minutes, giving it an occasional stir. After the 30 minutes has passed, remove the aubergine and courgette from the oven – they should be lovely and soft and slightly golden. Add the pieces to the casserole pan, stir them in and replace the lid.

When the 25 minutes is up, test the rice to make sure it’s soft enough for your liking and then drain in a sieve. Serve with the Chilli Sin Carne and some homemade guacamole and enjoy the wonderful Mexican flavours!