Year of the Pulses: recipes and tips for cooking the humble bean

Gigantes plaki

Gigantes plaki - Credit: Archant

2016 is the International Year of Pulses. This humble bean is a trendsetter – pulses are the new black.

Gigantes beans

Gigantes beans - Credit: Archant

I’ve had a dodgy relationship with pulses over the years.

My first experience of cooking beans was when I was trying to impress a boyfriend with my kitchen skills so I bought dried kidney beans from a health food shop on the Archway Road.

I had no idea that you were supposed to soak them. After hours of cooking, I served the beans ‘al dente’ to the unsuspecting boyfriend. The stomach cramps were painful, as was the unflattering flatulence.

So things to consider when buying beans:

Chickpeas with spinach a la Sevillana

Chickpeas with spinach a la Sevillana - Credit: Archant

1) Freshness. Even dried goods, such as pulses and rice, cook better when fresh or new season. Buy from shops that have a good turnover and look at sell-by dates.

2) Dried or canned? Dried pulses taste so much better, but canned beans are a fabulous store cupboard essential for a quick and healthy dinner.

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3) Soaking. The new thinking is that you don’t need to soak. Due to the aforementioned trauma, I’m a soaker. Old beans need soaking for at least a couple of hours. If your beans aren’t too ancient, just cook them for longer. The only things you don’t need to soak are lentils.

4) Salt. Myth has it that you must not salt beans because it makes the skins tougher. I cook for an hour, then salt them.

5) Cooking. On the hob, make sure you simmer not boil. My own technique is to cook them in a heavy casserole with a lid in a low oven, retaining all the flavour. A pressure cooker reduces the cooking time to around 20 minutes unsoaked.

6) Health benefits. Beans are the new carbs, providing fibre, protein, iron, zinc, folate and magnesium. This is why they are such a standby for vegans and vegetarians.

7) Wind. The only cure is to eat beans more regularly, as your gut develops the flora to deal with them. The most serious offenders are kidney beans, which contain phytohemagglutinin. Boil them for at least 10 minutes to get rid of this toxin.

Gigantes plaki

Gigantes, a large white Greek bean, are my new jam. They aren’t easy to get hold of, but The Greek Larder in King’s Cross sells them.

Serves 4-6


500g dried gigantes, soaked

Olive oil

1 large brown onion, diced

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 stick cinnamon

3 fresh bay leaves

8 tomatoes, diced

A glass of red wine

Salt to taste

300g of feta cheese


Soak the beans overnight.

Then cook them in a low oven in a lidded casserole until soft but not falling apart, around three hours.

After the first hour, add salt to the cooking water.

Once cooked, drain the beans in a sieve, leaving them aside. Return to the casserole, add the olive oil and fry the onions on a low heat. Add the garlic, cinnamon and bay leaves.

Stir in the tomatoes and red wine.

Add the beans, salt to taste and cook in the oven with the lid on for another hour. Remove from the oven and put a block of feta cheese on top. Drizzle olive oil over.

With crusty bread and a green salad, this is a complete meal.

Chickpeas with spinach a la Sevillana

Serves 2


150g bunch of spinach, washed, chopped

300ml water

1 tsp of sea salt

6 tbsps olive oil

3 whole cloves of garlic, skinned

2 slices of day-old bread

1 tsp sweet smoked paprika

3 minced cloves of garlic

200g cooked chickpeas

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp of vinegar


Place the spinach in a saucepan on a medium heat with 300ml of boiling water, salt and a tablespoon of the olive oil.

Once the spinach is tender, a minute or two, stir in the chickpeas and turn down to a very low heat.

In a small frying pan on a medium heat, add the rest of the olive oil and sautée three whole cloves of garlic.

Remove the garlic when browned, then add the two slices of bread.

Fry on both sides until golden and crispy.

Remove and grind with the rest of the oil, plus garlic, cumin and vinegar in a mortar or a food processor until you get a thick paste.

Add the minced garlic and paprika to the saucepan with the spinach and chickpeas.

Put the bread and spice mixture in the saucepan, stir well and simmer over medium heat for 10 or 15 minutes.