So you may recall my confession last week – about the imported Kinder Bueno bars I was going to try to ditch in the interests of eating local. Well I’ve been doing well – total Kinder Bueno bars consumed last week: 4. Total consumed this week: zero. When the 5 o’clock munchies hit yesterday, I ate a pancake instead (local eggs, local flour, local milk, drizzled with local honey – it was virtue on a plate. And delicious).
I’ve asked the minimarket who supply the fruit for the kids at the school I run if they could stock some local cherries rather than the bananas we’ve been feeding the children every day. And then I went to make a stirfry. Just as I’d been congratulating myself on the local onions (yes, I asked at the store, to be sure) that I was chopping, I started to cry. Mainly it was because of the onions, of course, but I wasn’t made to feel any better at the realisation that the only beans I had in the house to add to my stirfry were… Heinz. It’s an expat cliche to have a tin of baked beans stashed away, a little corner of a foreign-filled kitchen that will be forever England. And in fact I don’t even particularly like baked beans, but I think I bought these as some kind of reassurance, especially as a vegetarian, nervous where my next meat-free protein might come from.
But that’s not enough of an argument. Not in a country where beans grow plentifully and are readily available, dried, in every corner shop. Baked in a clay pot, a tava, in a tomato and/ or meat sauce they are a common dish in Kosovo. What fool would buy a resource-heavy tin of foreign-stewed beans imported from the other side of Europe?
So I promised myself I wouldn’t buy Heinz again, and the next day I went down to the cornershop and embarked on my bean adventure. Adventure, you see, because I’ve never actually cooked with dried beans before. I didn’t quite know what to do.
The first reason why I hadn’t managed it before became evident – the time it would have taken me to get out my tin-opener was the time it took just to read the instructions. Never mind, I comforted myself – imagining the honest homespun meal I would shortly be eating.
Ah, not so – apparently you have to soak your dried beans for twelve hours before you can even start cooking them.
I am obedient. I left them soaking overnight, with a spoonful of bicarbonate of soda. And it was worth the wait. In the morning, the wizened little nuggets had turned into edible plump white cushions. I gazed at the transformation; it’s amazing. Seriously, these things deserve twice the fanfare that’s given to those disappointing ‘magic towels’ that are supposed to expand in water. With the right marketing, I think that at Christmas time you could get every child including one of these astonishing expandable protein pods on their wishlist.
And now I’ve boiled them up for an hour and a half (when you’re burning that much electricity you really have to be sure your beans are local if you want to keep feeling eco-saintly) and, if you excuse me, I’m going to make myself a stir-fry, Kosovo-style.