Don’t be mean with the beanz…..

black beans 3

Imagine a range of iconic European dishes missing the beans we associate with them. Think Cassoulet sans haricot beans, Spanish Capparrones without kidney beans, Pasta e fagioli devoid of borlotti’s  and  Ribollita minus cannellini. All of these dishes would be very, very different had the Spanish not bought back from the Americas the family of “wild  beans” that also includes the flageolet, navy, pinto and black turtle.

Of course these were not the only foods to come from the new world, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and corn also became staples around the globe, but it is the cheap and abundant protein in beans that sets them apart. Consumed in large quantities where plant based diets dominate they are often called “poor mans meat”. However in the wealthier  “new world” by comparison we eat very little with our abundant and cheap animal protein. In Australia at least, most of the beans consumed are of the value added or canned variety with one famous brand of baked beans owning the lions share and in fact all too often dry beans are seen as an inconvenience food.


Subsequently, many people miss out as the best bean dishes get their distinctive  flavors from how they are prepared,  seasoned and slowly cooked. Of course this takes a little forward planning, but it’s more than worth the effort. It also provides the chance to strip the beans of some of their flatulent qualities. Simply put, pre soaking beans overnight or for a few hours at least and then discarding the soaking water not only hastens cooking but also removes a good amount of the fermentable sugars that provide beans with the reputation of being the “musical fruit”…

In Central and South America where beans are often the staple protein they take this process a little further, cooking their beans with a dried herb called epazote and in Japan, kombu is often added to the cooking water and the enzymes in this seaweed reputedly break down these sugars mentioned above. As for cooking times, which is the reason most people site for not using dry beans, there are a couple of very easy ways around this.

A slow cooker will cook beans  without any care or attention while you sleep, work or play  but you can also drastically reduce times to under an hour if you need to by simply using a pressure cooker.  However, there are a few things to note that will also affect both the cooking times and finished tenderness in beans and these are salt, sugar, and acidity. All of these will tend to harden  beans in the early part of the cooking process and so most commonly, these ingredients are only added once beans have reached tenderness.

Of course there are always exceptions to rule and in Latin America and the Caribbean, cooking beans with salted meat is a common treatment. These dishes are often a little firmer in texture and stand up to prolonged cooking without dissolving into overcooked mush. Importantly the bean of choice for most of these dishes is the relatively unknown (at least in Australia) black turtle bean and of all the beans mentioned in this blog this has to be my absolute favourite.

black beans 1

I first came across them a few years ago as an ingredient in a version of the Punjabi  classic “Kali Dal” where they replaced the regular “Rajma” or kidney beans, lending a deeper richer colour. However their real home is the Americas from Louisiana, throughout the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America where they take their place in many national or regional specialties from black bean burritos, tamales and “Frijoles Negras” to the Cuban classic “Moros y Christianos”.

What makes them special is their dense, meaty texture, that and the rich dark gravy they create. This is especially so in the dishes that are not purely vegetarian, but rather combine cheaper cuts of meat like pickled pork hocks and salt beef where very long slow cooking is needed to tenderize the meat. A great example of this would be one of Brazils national dishes, Feijoada,  a supremely rich and meaty stew only needing  a little rice and maybe a side of greens to be a complete meal.

The following recipe for braised black beans is simplicity at its best, of course it doesn’t have to be this simple as these complex flavours work well, tricked up “restaurant style” like the image below with some grilled or roasted meat and a creamy root vegetable puree but the recipe is a great base well suited to a cold winters night like were having right now.

Enjoy, remember they’re  good for your heart!

Venison with black beans and celeriac

Braised Black Beans

125g                       dried black beans
2 cups                    water
2 cloves                 garlic – peeled and crushed
½ onion                chopped
500g                       pickled pork hocks
½                            chorizo sausage – diced
½ teaspoon          paprika
½ teaspoon          chili powder
1 teaspoon            cumin – ground
½                           bay leaf
2 cups                    white stock – chicken or pork
Seasoning to taste


  • Place black beans and water in large pot and soak overnight or cover with water and boil for 3 minutes. Turn off heat and let stand covered for 1 hour.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients, cover and simmer until the meat and beans are just tender.
  • Serve as below with some rice and steamed greens as a simple meal or shred the meat through the beans and use it as the base for something altogether grander as above.

black beans 2

In a bit of a pickle …..


dead leaves

Our house smells kind of awesome right now, let me explain why….

The weather in our fair valley has turned, autumn seems to have come to a premature halt and it certainly looks and feels like winter out there right now. Of course that means our little vegie patch, along with everyone else’s, has entered that semi dormant state, which means before we can recondition the soil and sow our cover crops and some broad beans and garlic for spring, we need to clear the remnant summer vegetable fruits that are clearly struggling now that the cold snap has bitten. Luckily, we have already eaten most of the eggplants and there were only a few lonely zucchini bravely hanging on, but our tomato plants were still hopeful, holding a couple of kilos of green tomatoes that were never going to get any riper or sweeter.

green-tomatoes-600x400 (2)


Being a frugal type I really didn’t want to waste them so we decided to preserve, but following which process. Frankly I am not a fan of green tomato chutney but I do love a good South Indian Style Pickle. As with all recipes there are many variations and methodologies but when it comes to green tomato pickles there are a few main schools of thought. Starting out with pretty much the same ingredients, they are either simply salted and fermented or cured in the sun, but both of those take patience and time. Others fast track the process and involve a little cooking, and the following recipe takes this route.


At once salty, sour, bitter, spicy and pungent, these pickles are kind of addictive, but oh so simple. Mustard seed and fenugreek are really the heroes and that’s what’s making the house smell so good, but on the down side as a fresh unfermented pickle they don’t last long, but that’s not going to be a problem. And so as I write this blog, despite the cold weather and drizzle, I have fired up our tandoor for some smoky grilled eggplant, yogurt marinated lamb, naan bread and those delicious green tomato pickles…. Excuse me while I eat!

lamb n naan

Green Tomato Pickles

60ml                           mustard oil
1 tablespoon              black mustard seed
½ teaspoon               asafetida powder
1 teaspoon                 fenugreek – ground
1 tablespoon              Kashmiri chili powder
750g                            green tomatoes – roughly cut in 1cm dice
50 ml                          fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon              salt


  • Heat oil in a stainless steel saucepan until almost smoking, remove from heat and allow to cool, then reheat oil, add mustard seed frying gently until it starts to crackle and pop

mustard seed

  • Add asafetida, fenugreek and chili powder and continue to fry for one minute

sizzling spice

  • Add tomatoes, lime juice and salt and bring to a simmer

green toms

  • Cook for 20 – 30 minutes or until the oil starts to separate then remove from the heat, fill into sterilized jars and seal or place in a storage container and refrigerate until needed


Note: if not sealed into sterilized jars this pickle is best eaten in between 7– 10 days if covered and stored in the fridge


Delicious Nightshades

After last week’s plague of zucchini, it could only be a tomato tsunami this week. On a serious note it would be nice if things ripened evenly because it certainly looks like we’re due an eggplant glut in the next couple of weeks, ratatouille in installments anyone? Of course this is the joy of home gardening, but also why we love our farmers markets like our one here in the Barossa, (arguably one of Australia’s best), simply because different gardens have different things at different times.


Anyway this time, unlike my ponderings over zucchini, there really is no question what to make. Forget passata and relish, there will definitely be no bothering with “dead horse”, no for me there is only one thing to do with an abundance of sweet ripe tomatoes and that is make chutney.


However this is not your typical “Anglo” grandma chutney, spiced up with curry powder and a hadful of raisins. No, my recipe of choice is for an authentic Bengali “Tamator Chaatney”. Certainly there are elements of curry in the ingredients with ginger, chili, fenugreek and other whole “curry spices” but this is really so much about the tomatoes, so rich and bright red, with crunchy shreds of ginger and a beautiful spicy, sweet, sour balance.


There’s nothing complicated in the prep either, the only technical part is slicing the ginger into fine matchsticks or if you’re into fancy terminology “Julienne”, but even that’s easy this time of year because tender, paper skinned, juicy young ginger from Queensland is in peak supply right now.

panch phoran

Essentially to make this, the simplest of chutneys, the spices including the “Panch Phoron” (a blend of five whole seeds, keep an eye on our website for the release of this and other Food Luddite spice blends in the coming weeks) are simply fried, the tomatoes and seasonings are added and the whole is simmered until rich. Lastly coriander leaves and lime juice are added and its ready for immediate use. However, with a layer of oil on top it will last for weeks in the fridge, but I doubt you can keep it that long, because it goes with just about everything!


Bengali Tamator Chaatney

120ml                                  vegetable oil
2 teaspoons                        panch phoron
4                                         green chillies – chopped
4                                         cloves garlic  – chopped
5 cm piece                          fresh ginger – shredded into fine matchsticks
1kg                                     ripe tomatoes – diced in approx. 1cm cubes
2 teaspoons                       salt
1/2 cup                               sugar
50ml                                   white vinegar
2                                         limes – juice of
2 tablespoons                    coriander leaf – shredded


  •  Fry panch phoron in hot oil, add garlic, chilli and ginger and fry gently for 2-3 minutes
  • Add Tomatoes, salt, sugar and vinegar and simmer until well reduced and oil starts to separate at the edges of the pan.
  • Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, stir through the lime juice and fresh coriander to finish
  • Seal in sterilized jars or store in the fridge in a sealable container with a little extra oil floated on top.

Some Like it Hot!


With our Spicy new class, “Some Like It Hot” debuting in the Kitchen Studio next Monday it seems a good time to blog about one of my favourite recipes. You know the kind, the ones that you come across once in a while that become a life time favourite. Sometimes you discover them on holiday or in my case, ferret them out while travelling for business. On other occasions they may come via a favourite restaurant or a memorable meal, especially if the chef is feeling generous. Often they are passed down from the kitchens of family or friends. On the other hand of course, there are the recipe books that become much cherished, often for a specific recipe and this post is about one such recipe.

chilli Jam1

Anyone that knows me, also knows I have a weakness or passion for spicy cuisines and chilli, however I am rather particular. I am neither fond of the sweet gluggy, commercial chilli sauces comprised of nothing more than red chili flakes suspended in thickened sugar syrup with added food acid, nor am I a devotee of the “ blow you head off” chilli fan club, that reveres the scorching, palate numbing intensity of the Kala Ghoda or Ghost chilli. For me, as with all food I believe in balance and for me that’s why this recipe has stood the test of time.chilli Jam2

In fact for the past fourteen or so years my chili condiment of choice has been this recipe for Chilli Jam adapted from Christine Manfield’s timeless book “Spice”. Which, for the person just discovering the delights of spicy cuisines, is seriously one of the best Australian books on the subject. While currently out of print, it is worth tracking down a second hand copy (ISBN 0670870854) even if it’s just for the sections on condiments and spice blends alone.

chilli Jam3

But I digress, what makes this recipe special is that not only is it an outstanding condiment, to eaten on the side with just about anything (simple grills especially or even a bowl of plain rice) but it can also become an integral ingredient to stir fries or salads, instantly adding layers of flavor and complexity, unlike the goop  on supermarket shelves. It does have one drawback however in that it is not instant, it takes time and patience to cook the rawness out of the chillies and build richness, but then as every good cook knows, time and patience are a couple of the secrets to great food!

As for our class “Some Like It Hot” click here to see details and book

Chilli Jam (after Christine Manfield)

350g                       large red chillies – chopped
75g                         birds eye chillies – chopped
2                             onions – chopped
4 cloves                  garlic – minced
250ml                     sunflower oil
1 tablespoon          tamarind paste
30g                         palm sugar


  • Blend onions, garlic, chillies and oil to a smooth paste
  • Cook in a heavy pan over a very low heat stirring occasionally until a very deep, rich red colour and the oil starts to separate, have patience this will take at least a couple of hours!
  • Stir in the tamarind paste plus a couple of tablespoons of water and the palm sugar, continue to cook very slowly  to develop the required depth of flavor and to integrate the sweet and sour characters from the sugar and tamarind
  • To store, spoon into a jar while still hot, and if needed float a little oil over the top and seal. Refrigerate for up to 3 months……that is if you haven’t eaten it by then!