I have just returned from a short break in Paris. Go if you ever get the chance. The architecture is stunning. I know everyone says it is a beautiful city, but it truly is – I loved it. Unfortunately, as Philip is a vegetarian and I don’t eat wheat or dairy, I can’t say the same about the food. French cuisine does not suit you unless you like your food laden with bread, meat and butter! We even went to an Indian restaurant which didn’t do any plain rice without butter in it! However, Paris seemed to be full of sushi restaurants, so I was fine in the end.
This experience inspired me to look at true French cuisine, though, and here are a couple of recipes adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cook book. The first is one from a traditional Parisian bistro.
White Beans & Herbs
Heat some olive oil in a pan, add some finely chopped onion, a couple of chopped garlic cloves and a little very finely chopped fresh or crushed dried rosemary. Stir-fry for a few minutes until the onion starts to brown. Then add in a finely chopped tomato and a bay leaf. Add about 10oz of soaked and drained white beans and one and a half pints of water. Bring to the boil and cook for an hour. Add some salt and pepper and then simmer for another half an hour on a gentle heat. Check the beans are tender and then serve in a wide bowl and top with some wilted spinach and some of the chickpea flatbread.
For speed, you could of course use a tin of beans and cook it for about 20 minutes, but somehow the slow cooking brings out more flavour. This will keep in the fridge for a couple of days and mature in flavour. It goes nicely with left over brown rice too as a quick supper or lunch dish.
Chickpea Flat Bread
Madhur calls this La socca and describes it as a type of pizza that is traditionally eaten by workmen in both France and Italy.
Sift 75g chickpea flour and a little salt into a bowl. Slowly add in 250ml water stirring all the time, taking time to get lumps broken down as you go along before adding more water. Then let the batter sit for half an hour. Strain it through a sieve to remove any lumpy bits and add some black pepper and some finely chopped black olives or finely chopped herbs like rosemary or thyme (you can use dried too).
Preheat your grill, put a tablespoon of olive oil into a pan that will also go under a grill, then stir your batter and pour it into the oil when hot. Pour a little more oil onto the top to cover and cook for about 4 minutes, bursting the big bubbles as they rise with a knife. When the batter looks set, pop it under the grill and cook until it is golden or browned in patches. This is traditionally eaten hot, torn into strips with your fingers. Yum!