Legume-lover Christopher Hirst laments the unfortunate side effects of eating beans and suggests a partial solution, plus a recipe for black pudding and white bean tortilla
All together now:
Beans, beans are good for the heart
Because beans, beans make you fart.
The more you fart, the better you feel,
So let’s have beans for every meal.
The schoolyard ditty is both right and wrong. Beans assuredly prompt flatulence. One reason for this is that beans are often under-cooked and more inclined to produce gas in the course of digestion. I’ve found that Sainsbury’s tinned beans tend to have particularly embarrassing repercussions though the same thing happens if I cook my own beans.
This is particularly irksome since many of my favourite dishes, such as the hefty southern French stew cassoulet, the splendid Italian soup rebollita and pasta e fagioli are rich in beans. Closer to home, few dishes beat shoulder of lamb with beans. The little legumes have a host of advantages. They are tasty, absorbing the flavour of whatever you cook them with, healthy and cheap. But the aftermath can be unfortunate.
This is where the chant that has generated fits of giggles in countless generations of schoolchildren gets it wrong. At least when you have achieved maturity, you do not feel better for farting. The noisome downside of beans has a long history. Followers of Pythagoras (c570-495 BC) were denied the pleasure of beans due to their pongy aftermath. It was a significant deprivation given the importance of beans in the Greek diet. (A fava bean festival still takes place on the Greek island of Schinoussa every July.) The reason for this culinary interdict is unknown though it may have been based on the somewhat unlikely belief that bean-eaters lost a part of their soul by farting.
The higher you go in society, the less acceptable becomes the trump. Thanks to John Aubrey, the 17th century antiquarian and wit, we all know the response of Queen Elizabeth I when the Earl of Oxford reappeared at Court following a seven-year absence prompted by an unfortunate eruption in the royal presence. ‘My Lord, I had forgot the fart.’ Even down lower down the social scale, flatulence may not be acceptable. In his memoir Owning Up, George Melly, who came from rather grand circumstances in Liverpool, expressed disdain for the bohemian in suburban London who was ‘overfond of the idea that eight pints of beer and a loud fart were insignia of the free spirit.’
So what is the solution for a legume lover who is also keen to observe the social proprieties? In my view, one answer is to chew your beans well. Another is to trade up from the cheaper varieties of tinned cannelloni beans. The Spanish beans in tall glass jars that you find for £2-4 per 600 gm can be eaten with somewhat reduced repercussions and, since they have been cooked to softness (possibly in a pressure cooker), taste better into the bargain. Larger branches of M&S sell a brand called El Navarrico that, despite the burgeoning vegan market, carries an illustration of a Pamplona-style bull-runner with hotly pursuing bull on the label. The variety called alubias blancas (white kidney beans) are good in a stew with capsicums, onion and chorizo. A cheaper alternative is to visit Lidl during the store’s Spanish week when bottled beans are available for under £2.
And finally, yes, by reducing your blood cholesterol, beans are indeed good for the heart.
Catalan tortilla of black pudding, white beans and garlic
From Rick Stein’s excellent cookbook Spain, this richly flavoured tortilla (large Spanish omelette) utilises the blood pudding known as moreilla but a good British black pudding will work equally effectively. Spanish beans partner the more potent flavours in this dish as happily as the potatoes that are more commonly used in a tortilla.
- 150g black pudding cut into 2.5cm cubes
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 100g bacon lardons
- 1 bunch spring onions cut into 2.5cm pieces
- 1 garlic clove finely chopped
- 175g cooked white beans (around a quarter of a big bottle)
- 6 large eggs
- Salt and pepper
Add 3 tbsp olive oil to largish frying pan and fry bacon at medium heat for 4 minutes. Add spring onion and garlic and fry for 2 minutes until soft but not coloured. Add black pudding and fry for 1 minute. Add white beans and cook for 2-3 minutes. Gently stir to amalgamate ingredients, then take pan off heat and leave to cool.
Crack eggs into bowl, add salt and pepper and beat with a hand mixer. Return pan to medium-low heat, add another tablespoon of oil. When it is hot, pour in eggs and leave to cook for 15-20 mins until the top is almost set. Cover the pan with a large, inverted plate and turn the two over (use a tea-towel because the pan will be hot). Return the empty pan to the heat, add a further splash of oil and slide the omelette back in, cooked side up. Leave for 2 minutes until just cooked through. Slide back on to the plate and serve, cut into wedges. Good warm or cold