As I noted yesterday in The Awful Self-Pity of a Self-Righteous Bigot, the only difference between the pile of reasons why same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry and a hill of beans is that the beans make a nutritious and tasty meal.
Beans are high in protein, a good source of unsaturated fat, and carbohydrates: also potassium, calcium, iron, and several B-vitamins. If you eat beans with bread (or any kind of grain food) or cheese (any kind of dairy food) to provide the amino acid methionine, you are eating a high quality, complete protein meal. Beans are also an excellent source of soluble fiber and insoluble fiber – good for your cholesterol levels and good for your colon. And if you soak them right, they won’t even make you fart. Not that I think you should care. (So long as you’re not in a lift with me.)
I call my basic vegetarian slow-cooker recipe Beany Thing.
It’s not really a recipe, more of a process, and virtually every vegetarian I know would know exactly what I mean by Beany Thing (which is basically M.F.K. Fisher’s one-dish meal minus the meat, described in How To Cook A Wolf).
The ingredients are as follows:
1 hill dried beans. Use a mix of two or three, or just one: you can use chickpeas, red kidney beans, black beans, soy beans, haricot beans, any kind of small hard bean. The best method of soaking them is to boil them for three minutes, then cover and set aside for at least two hours and better four. Second best: pour boiling water over them and leave to soak as the water cools, also for two to four hours. Third best: soak in cold water for at least twelve hours. (Or just use tinned beans. But dried beans are cheaper, weight for weight.)
1 cup lentils or dal or split peas. You don’t need to soak these. For an equivalent effect, if you don’t want lentils/dal, you can add potatoes, which also give thickness to the stew, or butter beans, which do need to be soaked. Split peas make a lovely thick stew.
Onions. How many depends on the size of your crock pot, and the size of your onions! Say two medium-sized. Peel and chop them pretty finely.
Vegetables. This is where each beany thing is different. I started making this when I was a student and living on less than no money a week, and then what went into the Beany Thing was dependent on what was cheapest at the local greengrocers. Tomatoes, broccoli, courgettes, cabbage, garlic, aubergine, mushrooms – any vegetable you yourself like. Not too much of it – not more than the onions, and bear in mind that if you add too many different vegetables, Beany Thing won’t really taste of anything. Don’t add potatoes unless you’re substituting them for lentils. Prepare and chop the vegetables.
A vegetable stock cube, crumbled.
Flavouring: A spoonful of Marmite or of dark miso or of tamarind concentrate. (Tamarind is especially good if you’re making Beany Thing with aubergine.) Use one of these flavourings, if you like, but not more than one.
Other flavourings: If you like cooking you already know what herbs and spices you would add as you put Beany Thing together, but if you don’t: Dried herbs – as Katherine Whitehorn wisely observes in Cooking in a Bedsitter, if you’re not used to cooking, better buy mixed dried herbs and use them regularly than buy lots of different herbs and scarcely use them at all. Paprika is a richer flavour if you like pepper: you can add a big spoonful, it’s not nearly as hot as chilli powder, though it looks so similiar. Don’t over-salt Beany Thing: try adding some vinegar instead. (Cooking beans with salt tends to make them tougher: better to add salt when you eat.)
The method, if you have a slow cooker and a stick blender, is as follows:
When it’s all in the slow cooker, cover with liquid to an inch of the top, switch on high for half an hour, switch to low for the rest of the cooking time. Six to ten hours – it’s usually done by six hours but won’t come to any harm if you leave it for ten or so.
When it’s done, switch on your stick blender and swirl it through the pot. Result: thick good soup with bits in it – because you don’t need to use the blender to reduce everything to a pulp.
Or if you don’t have a stick blender, make sure all of the vegetables are chopped very thoroughly: when I was a student, this was my Saturday evening occupation, having bought cheap use-today veg at the local greengrocer. Result: thick good stew.
Before I had a slow cooker, the recipe was much the same except I used to soft-fry the onions with whatever herbs and spices I was using in the deep pot, then add the rest of the ingredients. And I had to remember to keep stirring the pot. These days I just do that on the Internet, while the slow cooker does the work.
If you use brown lentils, red wine tastes magnificent when you add the liquid. If you’re using tinned beans or vegetables, save the liquid from the tins to make up the liquid you add to the slow cooker.