I first came across these nutritious little beans in Paphos when I first went to live there in the early 1980′s. I thought they were like any dried bean, so I bought some from the grocer, took them home, soaked them overnight and next day put them in a large saucepan and left them to cook – for a long time. It was the smell of burning I noticed first. As I rushed into the kitchen, I discovered that the beans had completely disintegrated into a charred, black mass that was sticking relentlessly to the base of the saucepan. What I didn’t know, when I bought them, was that these little cream-coloured beans with black eyes, unlike other beans, don’t need to be soaked and they cook quite quickly.
The traditional Cypriot way of cooking the beans is by boiling them with a bunch of lahana, otherwise known as mangold leaf or chard or beet leaf - it’s confusing, but it’s safe to say they all come from the same family. When the beans and the greenery are cooked, they are dressed with plenty of olive oil and lemon juice. Then you eat them with canned tuna, spring onions and the inevitable chunk of fresh village bread.
The other day, I still had a bunch of spring greens (immature cabbages) left over from the organic veg box. I also noticed half a jar of dried black-eyed beans that had been hiding at the back of my store cupboard for far too long. I wondered if the greens would be too bitter to use, especially if they were served with lemon, but I needn’t have worried – they went perfectly together. Served with peppered smoked mackerel and warm pitta bread, they were a delicious, filling and perfect lunch . Here is the recipe (serves 4):
Black-eyed Beans With Spring Greens and Smoked Mackerel
225gr black-eyed beans
approx. 300gr spring greens, shredded
2 tbsp olive oil
4 fillets of smoked mackerel, each one cut into 4 pieces
Put the beans in a large saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. As soon as they boil, take them off the heat and drain.
Put them back in the saucepan, cover with more cold water, and bring to the boil again.
Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until nearly tender (they should still have some bite).
Add the spring greens to the pan and boil for a further 5 minutes.
When the beans are tender but still whole and the greens are cooked, drain the lot and add a sprinkling of salt, the juice of half a lemon and the olive oil.
Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
Place a mound of beans and greens on each plate and arrange the mackerel on top.
Serve with the remaining lemons cut into quarters and extra olive oil on the side.
Eat with warm pitta bread or any other good bread to soak up the oily, lemony juices.
I often make this dish on a Sunday evening when the weekend is winding down and I don’t want to spend more than about half an hour in the kitchen cooking. It’s also easy to prepare because the ingredients are ones I usually have in the cupboard, apart from the prawns, but I usually have a bag of these in the freezer.
I like grains, especially rice, couscous and burghul (cracked wheat, also known as pourgouri in Greek). I like them even more when they have added ingredients such as nuts and dried fruit. I feel as if I am eating something that’s not only tasty but also healthy, so I can eat more of it!
There are 2 recipes in this post which you can eat together or separately – I’ve put them together and they complement each other beautifully. Both dishes are fast, easy and very tasty. There is also a yoghurt accompaniment that cools the chilli in the rice.
Spicy Rice With Nuts (serves 2 generously)
1tbsp olive oil
1tsp cumin seeds
half a medium sized onion, thinly sliced
zest of a medium sized lemon
30gr cashew nuts
20gr pine nuts
15 gr sunflower seeds
30gr brazil nuts (optional)
6-8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2-1tsp dried chilli flakes
1/2 cup white basmati rice, rinsed in cold water and drained
1 cup hot water with 1/2tsp salt or 1 cup veg. stock
handful of chopped fresh coriander (if not using the prawn topping)
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the cumin seeds, stirring occasionally until they sizzle.
Add the onions and lemon zest and fry for about 5 minutes until the onions are soft. Stir from time to time to make sure they don’t burn.
Add the nuts and stir fry for 1 minute to toast them slightly.
Add the tomatoes, chilli, rice and coriander, if using.
Add the hot water and salt or stock, stir and bring to the boil.
Put a well-fitting lid on the pan, turn the heat down low and leave it steam for exactly 15 minutes without lifting the lid.
After 15 minutes, turn off the heat, slip a piece of strong kitchen towel or a clean teatowel under the lid and leave it to rest while you make the prawns.
Prawns With Garlic and Coriander
200gr raw, peeled prawns - if there is a blue line (vein) running from top to tail, take the tip of a sharp knife, gently cut into each prawn, remove the vein and discard.
2tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
handful coriander, chopped
juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon
Heat the oil in a shallow pan, add the prawns and cook for 1 minute.
Turn them over and cook the other side for 1 minute.
Add the garlic, coriander and lemon juice to the pan and cook for about another. minute, stirring until the prawns are well-coated in the mixture which, by this time, should be highly aromatic.
You can taste one now - just to check if they need more lemon juice.
Turn off the heat.
First, the rice. Take the lid off the pan and quickly fork the rice to separate the grains then spoon into a shallow dish or on to a large serving plate. Place the prawns and their mixture on top of the rice. Serve on warm plates accompanied by a bowl of plain yoghurt to which you have added 1-2 spoons of olive oil, a crushed clove of garlic and a pinch of salt.
As it’s Earth Day today, it seems a good opportunity to talk about my organic veg box. Every Thursday, I put the empty one outside the front door and a few hours later I open the door and, as if by magic, it’s full of fresh veg, herbs, salad greens and half a dozen free-range eggs.
I like the freshness of the veg, the fact that they have been grown only a few miles away. I like not knowing what to expect – except for carrots, lots and lots of carrots every week all year round. I don’t like washing the salad leaves. That’s fiddly and time-consuming and they never dry completely, and sometimes I find a live slug or two in one of the bags. I don’t want to kill them so I used to park the slug on a lettuce leaf or a piece of cabbage, place it on the windowsill in the kitchen and leave it until I could take it into the garden. Too impatient to wait, it would usually climb off the leaf and disappear and then I would never know where it was going to turn up next. Now, if I find one, I put it on a leaf and place it on the windowsill outside and let it find its own way down to the garden. Is that cruel – we live 3 floors up?
This week’s box has a good-sized butternut squash, 2 heads of purple green spring greens, a small cauliflower, baby beetroot, the usual carrots and potatoes, curly parsley (reminds me of a 1970′s garnish or vegetable soup) and an assortment of salad leaves. Most of the veg are filthy and need a good wash but that’s the price you pay for freshness. I don’t know how I will use them yet. Definitely not going to make vegetable soup – that’s the easy way out.