Often my indecision isn’t based on actual lack of ability to make a decision, it’s just that I still, to ambivalently quote Bono, haven’t found what I’m looking for. I spent forty minutes today sniffing scented candles in the hopes of being able to commit to one; it didn’t take so long because I couldn’t decide, it took so long because none of them were quite explicitly pleasing enough to my nose for me to take that fragrant leap. (I eventually alit upon one with a fairly uncool name — Rendezvous — but a richly elegant bouquet of amber and orchid, and decided, decisively, that I could compromise on the name for the smell which is, after all, the point of it all.)
This is why I keep running lists everywhere — on my notes app, on various documents strewn across my laptop’s memory, in my journal, on any piece of paper — of recipe ideas that occur to me at any given moment. The question of what to cook next is of course shaped by numerous factors, ninety percent of them financial, but just having an idea to push you in a direction does mean a good chunk of the legwork is already done. In this case, I’d written down the words “salt and vinegar beans” and put it in bold so that future-me would be unable to miss it. A half-bag of beans in the cupboard and a free day for bean-simmering appeared, and I thought I’d give it a go. A few years back I made a Salt and Vinegar Potato Gratin with happy results and so it was no great surprise that the flavour could be successfully transferred to another medium, in this case, lipstick-soft borlotti beans.
Even those who consider themselves truly indecisive surely have an opinion on salt and vinegar, a flavour that people seem to instantly know where they stand on. If it’s not the packet of chips you reach for first then this recipe is unlikely to convince you or change your mind, nor would I expect it to (you might, however, consider my chilli oil beans recipe instead.) For those of us who like our snacks to bite us back, this is heavenly — sure, I wasn’t surprised that it worked, but I was astonished at just how excellent it was, with the creamy and tender beans slicked in their caustic coating, the sourness somehow at odds with and yet so perfect with the beans’ texture at the same time. The flounce of rocket leaves offers pepperiness without distraction, and livens things up visually; I do think they’re necessary but if you can’t get hold of any, just use some actual pepper instead, the salt and vinegar is the real reason we’re here.
Although I like the brisk antiseptic rasp of white vinegar I went for red wine vinegar this time, it has an easy-going elegance but still enough of a kick to send tingles up the side of your face with every mouthful. White wine vinegar would also work, balsamic would be too balsamic-y, I think, but black vinegar could just well be wonderful. Whatever you end up using, I recommend serving the beans with bottles of vinegar and olive oil and the salt within reach so that you can simply pour more of each into your bowl while you eat, as your tastebuds decree.
Salt and Vinegar Beans
This is — unsurprisingly — one for the salt-and-vinegar-heads, and very good too, with the creamy, slow-simmered beans coated in a shimmering film of red wine vinegar, olive oil, and plenty of salt. The quantities of the aforementioned ingredients are purposefully vague, as only you can know how much you want. Oh, and you’ll need to start this a day ahead to give yourself time to soak the beans. Recipe by myself.
- 1 cup dried borlotti beans
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 – 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 – 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- a hearty pinch of good salt
- a handful of rocket leaves (about a third of one of those supermarket packets, but use as much as you want)
1: Place the borlotti beans in a good-sized bowl, cover generously with water, and leave to sit for at least six hours, or better still, overnight. You may need to top up the water if they absorb it too greedily.
2: The next day, drain and rinse the beans and place them in a saucepan, again covering them generously with water. Add the bay leaf, bring the water to the boil, and then once it does, cover the pan with a lid and lower the heat right down. Let the beans simmer for about an hour, although be prepared to simmer them for twice as long, fishing one out now and then to test for doneness. Once they’re completely tender, drain the beans and discard the bay leaf.
3: Stir one to two tablespoons of red wine vinegar, two to three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and a hearty pinch of salt together in a large bowl. As mentioned above, the quantities are vague because it all depends on your tastes, but if you’re unsure, start off with the smaller quantity and add more if you need it. Tip the drained beans, still warm, into the vinegar mixture, and gently stir it together. Taste to see if it wants more of anything, then stir in the rocket leaves, and serve immediately.
Serves two generously, or four as part of a meal with other bits and pieces. If you want to make this ahead of time, either add the rocket at the last minute or make your peace with wilted rocket. It tastes great either way, so no harm done. And if you are making it ahead of time and storing it in the fridge, let the beans come to room temperature before serving. I happily ate these beans just as they were, but to make it a full meal, some bread alongside wouldn’t go amiss, and maybe something vegetal but not vinegary: sliced tomatoes, roasted broccoli, et cetera.
I haven’t tried this with ready-cooked tinned beans, but can’t think of any earthly reason why it wouldn’t work. I’d use two tins of borlotti beans, drained, rinsed, and maybe warmed through in a little vegetable stock. Equally, I’m confident you could use a different dried bean to the borlotti, I’m just partial to their soft pink colour, especially against the green of the rocket.
I Took Your Name by R.E.M. I truly cannot overstate the power the tremolo has over me!
O-o-h Child by the Five Stairsteps. So comforting it’s almost hypnotic.
Help Me by Judy Kuhn, a cover of the Joni Mitchell song, which you probably could’ve guessed without knowing just by the questioning, peaks-and-troughs path of the vocals. There’s little I love more than a Broadway solo album — the production done on most of them could almost be a genre in itself — and Kuhn’s crystal-clear voice and level-headed vibrato is perfect for interpreting this song.
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