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prawn, borlotti bean, grean bean and pepper salad

It’s amazing how a bit of warm weather can get you more motivated in the kitchen. Suddenly, you feel like salad isn’t just something sitting limply on the side of a hot dinner, a token stab at something crunchy with vitamins. The sunshine seeps into your brain, perceptions shift and, ta da!, salad is the main course.

Long may it continue 🙂

Prawn and cannellini bean salad from Tossed – 200 fast, fresh and fabulous salads

Serves 4

You’ll need:

400g can cannellini beans
2 red peppers, roasted
300g green beans
1/2 loaf day-old ciabatta or other crusty bread
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1kg raw prawns, peeled and deveined
1 large handful flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Lemon and caper dressing
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained and chopped
1 teaspoon sugar, optional

1. Rinse the cannellini beans and place in a large serving bowl.

2. Cut the roasted peppers into strips and add to the beans.

3. Bring a saucepan of lightl salted water to the boil, add the green beans and blanch until bright green and just tender – about two to three minutes. Drain and add to the serving bowl.

4. Put all the lemon and caper dressing ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake well. Season and set aside.

5. Cut the bread into six slices, then cut each slice into quarters. Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and fry the slices of bread over a medium heat for a minute or two on each side until golden. Remove.

6. Heat the remaining oil in the frying pan, add the garlic and prawns, and cook for two to three minutes or until the prawns turn opaque. Toss the prawns through the salad with the dressing, toasted bread and parsley, then serve.

Cook’s notes

No cannellini beans in the house, so I went with borlotti instead.

I didn’t have 1kg of prawns hanging around either but using less wasn’t a problem, there’s just so much good stuff in this salad to keep you occupied.

I have no idea why I followed that bit about frying the bread – you know what it’s like when you use a recipe for the first time – you follow it to the letter because you might learn something new… I should have just cooked up some chunky garlicky croutons at the same time as roasting the peppers – that’s definitely what I’ll do next time around 🙂

I’m thinking this would be good picnic food. Mind you, I’m thinking everything would be good picnic food after being cooped up in the house for so long!

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Skinny Tuesday’s Fat Red Beans

Scroll down to the recipe and you’ll see the reason for this post’s title…

There’s a fair bit of chopping involved to get Fat Tuesday’s Skinny Red Beans on the table. But sometimes, perversely, that’s exactly what I want to do – stand at the kitchen counter and do a bit of slicing and dicing for a while, letting my brain wander… (not too far, though – I’d like to keep all my fingers and thumbs). It can be an extremely relaxing and satisfying activity – which is the order of the day after all the recent seasonal mayhem.

chopped veggies, ready to go into Fat Tuesday’s Skinny Red Beans

Edward Espe Brown has a great quote about the mediative nature of chopping veg – I must go and look it up. And I can heartily recommend the sound advice offered by Shauna over at Gluten-Free Girl about how to chop an onion. This is going to sound silly but it turns out I’ve been doing it wrong all these years. I bet I’ll never be able to do it as quickly as the Chef, although I’m one heck of a lot better at it than I used to be 🙂

Anyhoo, once you’ve accumulated a multi-coloured mountain of diced veggies (just looking at them makes you feel healthier – if only that translated into reality, eh?), this dish is a snap to put together – just a bit of pushing round in the pan, some simmering and you’re ready to curl up with a big bowl of something comforting while you watch the weather report on the TV. In fact, as I type this, it’s just starting to snow…

Fat Tuesday’s Skinny Red Beans from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favourites

Serves 4 to 6

You’ll need:

2 cups chopped onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped bell peppers (red, green, yellow, orange or a combination)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
pinch of cayenne, or more to taste
3 cups chopped fresh or canned tomatoes (or two 400g tins)
1½ cups cooked or canned kidney beans (one 400g tin – although I often throw in two tins’ worth)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 cup fresh or frozen sliced okra (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped fresh parsley or minced spring onions

1. Combine the onions, garlic and olive oil in a large pot with a heavy base. Cover and cook on a medium heat for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened.

2. Add the carrots, celery, peppers, oregano, thyme, basil, marjoram and cayenne. Cover and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking.

3. When the veggies are just tender, stir in the tomatoes, kidney beans, mustard, brown sugar and okra (if you want it). Simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with rice/crusty bread/cornbread and topped with parsley or spring onions.

Cook’s notes

This is a great ‘make a big batch for the freezer’ recipe – it’s easy to multiply up and it’s one of those rare dishes that actually tastes just as good, if not better, after a while in the big chill.

Although I love my cookbooks and drooling over any food porn on the TV, there’s one thing that never fails to irritate me. You’ve read the recipe/watched the presenter put the dish together, you’re salivating like Pavlov’s dog and thinking, ‘I could whip that up, nooooooo problem,’ when the following patronising advice crops up:

‘Of course, this particular ingredient is pretty difficult (read impossible) to find/takes ages to prepare, so you could substitute X… (slight pause) …if you wanted to.’

And thus the knowledge is imparted that if you use the substitute then (gasp, horror) you are somehow a total f*$£ing foodie failure and your tastebuds will never experience the culinary nirvana that is the dish in its originally-specified form (haughty sniff). Pat on the head for trying though and better luck next time.

Perhaps the most common footnote of this kind is the one you see about using canned beans/pulses instead of going the distance and cooking the darn things from scratch. I mean, come on – who has time to do that these days?

Erm, well, me, I guess.

Having ditched my job last week, I’ve suddenly got more time on my hands than I know what to do with. That’s not a complaint, mind – I know how to grasp life by the cahunas and live it to the full.

So I’m boiling beans.

However, this isn’t entirely due to the no-job, housewifey situation. A lot of it is to do with the fact that you can’t get things like canned cannellini or butter beans in Maynooth. Maybe up town in Dublin but not here. No, if you go looking for tinned beans in the local shops you’ll see chickpeas, kidney beans and then endless variations on the theme of mushy peas. But very little else. (I’m leaving the bit about being spoilt by the age of convenience for another day.)

Dried beans are a bit easier to get hold of, so I’ve been busy pre-soaking them overnight and then boiling them for hours on end for stews, salads, spreads…

Now, I know I said I could get hold of tinned chickpeas but I’ve decided to become a martyr to the cook-beans-from-scratch cause. So when I had a craving for garlicky, lemon-spiked hummus…

Do you absolutely need to use dried beans for the best results? Well, I guess you could use tinned ones if you had to… Nope, I can’t keep that up. My answer would be ‘not really’. I don’t think there’s too much difference, to be honest. It is cheaper though and more environmentally friendly ‘cos there are no tins to recycle, so if you have the time and the inclination, why not?

Hummus from The Candle Café Cookbook

You’ll need:

2 cups of cooked chickpeas (cooking liquid reserved) or 2 cups of drained canned chickpeas, liquid reserved
2 large garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup chopped parsley
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
2/3 cup sesame tahini (but I found 1/3 cup was enough)

1. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and stir well to mix. Place in a food processor and process briefly.

2. Add ½ cup of water or the chickpea cooking liquid and continue to blend until the mixture is smooth.

3. Add more liquid if necessary to loosen the mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice.

4. Transfer to a serving bowl and allow the flavours to develop for at least an hour before serving.

Cook’s notes

As I mention above, I only used 1/3 cup of tahini rather than 2/3. Sometimes the amount of tahini stated in recipes overwhelms the end product. Cutting it down to 1/3 cup meant you could still taste the sesame but you wouldn’t gag on it.

There is already a fair amount of liquid in this recipe so you may not need to add the chickpea cooking/tin liquid. I followed it to the letter and ended up with a fairly sloppy consistency (but it was still very tasty). So I’d recommend whizzing up everything fully before seeing if you need to add any more liquid to loosen it up.

It makes a fair amount – about 3 cups, I reckon. Good for a party but maybe not when it’s just you eating it. So I’ve put some in the freezer to see what happens. I’ll let you know.

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I'm short of stature (a family trait) but big of appetite (also a family trait). If you're reading this then you're probably big of appetite too. Or a member of my family (hello Mum).
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