How do I make tinned veg more interesting?
We’re all in the same boat as you now, Brian, staring in bewilderment at our kitchen cupboards and wondering how to cheer up whatever’s in there – anyone else got some use-by-2017 kidney beans? No, just me then.
Your best friend right now, as in many a savoury culinary challenge, is the spice rack, no matter how dusty (a copy of Jack Monroe’s wonderful Tin Can Cook wouldn’t go amiss, either). It doesn’t matter which herb or spice you use, either, says chef and food writer Claire Thomson: “They’ll all add an extra dimension to humble tinned veg, from cumin or turmeric to oregano or bay. And if you have an onion and/or garlic, even better.” Sweat any alliums until they’re soft, add the ground or whole spices – if they’re on the old side, revive them first by toasting in a dry pan until aromatic – then stir in the veg, heat and, voila, a more than serviceable dish that’s ready in minutes. (If you have any, lob in a few chopped fresh herbs at the end for final flourish.)
Ready-made spice pastes are another invaluable source of oomph, Thomson says: “Things like Thai chilli paste, harissa, miso and chipotle in adobo bring much-needed intensity.” The same goes for tomato puree: “It’s like a steamroller of flavour. Even just a blob rewards you with a big hit of richness.” For a welcome sharp note, try a spritz of lemon or lime juice. “Ideally fresh,” Thomson says, “but there’s nothing wrong with the stuff in bottles, if that’s all you have – I’ve always got some in for emergencies.” She also swears by preserved lemons and oranges, which she also uses, diced small and mixed with oil, in pungent dressings for all sorts of cooked veg.
It’s a cinch to make your own simple paste, too, says Romy Gill, chef, food writer and one of the stars of BBC2’s newly revived Ready Steady Cook. “Even one made with just blitzed fried onion, garlic and any spice works magic on tinned veg, whether pulse, potato or bean.”
Gill adores vegetable tikkis, India’s answer to croquettes – “You can make them with tinned as well as with fresh: potatoes or chickpeas are especially good” – and is also an advocate of tinned spuds in salads: “They’re already cooked, so drain and dress as you normally would, or dice them and stir into yoghurt with herbs and spices.”
Marwa Alkhalaf, who until the restaurant trade abruptly shut down last week was chef and co-owner of Nutshell in London, says the key is variety. “Mix and match tinned pulses,” she says. “Combinations of lentils and beans have a range of textures and stop dishes from being one-note.” Add noodles or pasta for the same reason: “We had aash reshteh, a Persian lentil, chickpea and kidney bean soup with noodles, on the menu, but any pulses will work. You can’t go wrong.”
Like Thomson, Alkhalaf’s a great believer in acidity, and that doesn’t have to come from citrus or vinegar: “Try kashk [dried whey], soured cream or creme fraiche: all take tinned pulses to another level.” I don’t know about you, but now all I need to do is find the bloody tin-opener…
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