This is a really delicious, warming and filling dish which is perfect for winter evenings. It’s pretty healthy, and it can be served in so many ways: just plain or with cheese melted on top; on toast; with poached or fried eggs on top; as a side dish with meat – it goes particularly well with sausages; or in true Mexican fashion, with nachos and a simple ‘guacamole’, which is my personal favourite.
The spices can be varied according to personal taste – just add more cumin, coriander or chilli if you like really intense flavours. If you like spicy but not hot, leave out the chilli completely, and if you like it really hot, add plenty of chilli.
You could of course cook the different beans from scratch yourself beforehand, if you’re prepared to spend the time and energy on it. Tins of beans make life a lot easier though, especially as you may have them in your cupboard already. Any combination of beans works in this dish. I personally like a mix of butter beans, kidney beans and chickpeas, with some whole-kernel (not creamed) corn thrown in for colour, taste and texture. You could also use tins of ready-mixed beans, if you like. Whichever ones you choose though, get the plain variety that come in brine, not the ones already in a sauce or dressing of some kind.
For the tomatoes, you can use tins of whole peeled or chopped tomatoes. I prefer to use the plain variety and add my own flavour, but there are tins of ready-flavoured tomatoes available. If you use them, just tone down on the extra spices you add. Of course you could also use fresh tomatoes, if you have nice ripe ones and are happy to go to the trouble of peeling them beforehand. If so, just pour boiling water over them and leave them for a few minutes until you see the skins starting to split – they usually come off quite easily from there.
In addition to the tinned tomatoes, I generally start with just one packet of tomato paste, then taste after about half an hour to see if I fancy adding a bit more. If you really love tomato though, you could just put both packets of paste in from the beginning.
The sugar in the recipe isn’t intended to make the beans sweet, but rather to counteract the vinegar, which helps the tomatoes to break down. And generally you wouldn’t add salt if you were cooking beans from scratch as it inhibits their cooking process, but tinned beans are already cooked, so it’s fine to add a bit of salt with the spices. Just not too much, as the beans will have absorbed salt from the brine in the tin, so the extra salt is more for the tomato sauce.
This dish can be made beforehand and in fact often tastes even better if you leave it a few hours or overnight for the flavours to develop. It simply needs reheating on the stove before serving. Stir gently when you reheat, so as not to break up the beans too much or you may end up with mush – unless that’s what you want, of course. It will still taste great, but the texture will be different.
This recipe makes a big batch and luckily it also freezes very well, so you can divide up any left-overs into serving-sized freezer containers. It’s best to defrost before you reheat though. If you try to break it up from frozen on the stove, you are more likely to squash the beans and end up with the afore-mentioned mush.
- 3T olive oil
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 celery stalks, sliced
- 1 red, yellow or green pepper, diced
- 1 tin chickpeas
- 1 tin butter beans
- 1 tin kidney beans
- 1 tin whole-kernel corn
- 2 tins peeled tomatoes, either whole or chopped
- 1-2 packets tomato paste
- 6t ground cumin
- 4t ground coriander
- Chilli to taste (optional), cut up fine and with seeds removed
- 1t sugar
- 1t salt
- 1T vinegar
Optional extras to serve:
- Cheese, grated (cheddar works well)
- ‘Guacamole’ – a mix of mashed avocado, chopped cucumber, olive oil, lemon juice and salt
Heat the olive oil in a large pot and add the diced onions, garlic, celery and pepper.
Cook on low heat, stirring regularly, until the onions start to look a bit transparent. Meanwhile, open all the tins.
If you are using tins of whole, peeled tomatoes, jiggle a sharp knife around inside the tin to cut up the tomatoes a bit (they don’t need to be cut small – even roughly cutting each one in half helps speed the cooking process). Make sure you don’t lose any of the tomato juice in the tin though as you want to use it.
Drain the tins of beans and corn, and dispose of their liquid – you don’t need that. Some of them may need rinsing too, especially the kidney beans, which tend to get a bit stodgy. The easiest way to do this is to simply empty each tin into a sieve and run water over the beans until the water runs clear.
When the onion mix is ready, put all the beans and corn into the pot and stir to mix them.
Add the contents of the tomato tins, tomatoes and juice included, and 1 tin of tomato paste. Now add the cumin, coriander, chilli (if using), sugar, salt and vinegar.
Stir to mix it all together. Turn the heat up to bring to the boil, then turn it down so it is just simmering – on medium, or even low, if necessary. You don’t want it to cook too fast or the beans will break down into mush. Bear in mind that the beans are already cooked, so you are really just cooking the tomato sauce.
Cook for about 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so to stop the beans sticking on the bottom, and gently breaking up the tomato pieces as you stir. Taste after 30 minutes and if you feel it could be more tomatoey, add some more tomato paste, half a packet at a time. You could also add more cumin, coriander or chilli at this point, if you like.
You will know the beans are ready when the tomato pieces are mostly broken down and you have your own rough version of beans in tomato sauce.
Serve as desired. If you want to add cheese, decant the beans into an oven-proof container. Sprinkle grated cheese over and put under the grill until the cheese is just melted – not too long or it will go tough.
To make the ‘guacamole’, for each person mash up a quarter to half an avocado and add about a tablespoon of chopped cucumber, then a squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil and salt.
Left-overs can be frozen, then defrosted and gently reheated on the stove.
© Alexandra Lawrence and Inspired Nourishment, 2014