x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

1,001 Arabian Bites: With some foods the golden mean comes naturally

I'm superstitious about beans because I love them so much. I buy freshly dried heirloom varieties online, soak them overnight and cook them low and slow in filtered water.

It's hard to imagine anyone hating artichokes. Canned artichoke bottoms in brine, quartered artichoke hearts in little jars of cheap oil and marinated baby artichokes from the deli counter are all good, innocuously packing half the punch of olives in twice the surface area. The preserved ones make a fine topping for pizza and flash-frozen artichokes, when they're not ridiculously expensive, make a sultry dip that can transport you to 1987 on a cloud of cheese and cholesterol.

In their fresh, whole form, the spiny artichoke is a different thing - the reptile's vegetable incarnate, unapproachable to the timid and irresistible to those who know they're the perfect delivery system for butter, mayonnaise, or both. But the best thing about steamed, whole artichokes is that they force you to slow down. As Miss Piggy said: "After all the trouble you go to, you get about as much actual 'food' out of eating an artichoke as you would from licking 30 or 40 postage stamps." I was never a slow eater, but I'm pretty sure that if we faced off over artichokes, I could make Miss Piggy look delicate.

These days, I crave and cook beans constantly, starting with dried ones, not canned. Summer has been an unseasonable but obsessive run of rich, vegetarian bean casseroles, using first borlotti, then flageolet and then giant white Lima beans. Each dish was different but delicious, thanks to great raw materials. The beans were cooked in a simple mirepoix or a stock made from dried porcinis, then, once tender, tossed with leeks melted in butter, or with sugary roasted tomatoes and chillies. I like to shower them with herbed breadcrumbs and blitz them in a hot oven until crusty around the edges. And then I eat them, hot or cold, with sour cream and a scoop of guacamole sharp with lemon and garlic.

Last week, I made a batch of tepary beans that just wouldn't soften. I'd heard about this happening to others and had always said the same things - you can't rush beans; you must have done something wrong. Tepary were developed by Native Americans to be drought tolerant, but these seemed to be intolerant of moisture.

I love beans - I buy freshly dried heirloom varieties online, soak them overnight and cook them low and slow in filtered water (because hard water equals hard beans). I don't add salt or acids such as tomatoes or vinegar until the very end - although the claim that salt toughens beans has been discredited. I take no risks. Six hours into cooking the tepary beans, I alkalised the water with baking soda as a last resort, but at the eight-hour mark, the beans had the crumbly texture of stale peanuts. Unable to throw them out I ate them on toast for a few consecutive meals until I couldn't look at them anymore.

Artichokes and beans aren't the only foods that force me to pace myself. I recently discovered a recipe for caramelised white chocolate at www.davidlebovitz.com, and dessert will never be the same. All you need is some good white chocolate that's at least 30 per cent cocoa butter and a few hours to spare. If the golden mean never meant much to you before, it will now.

Nouf Al Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who cooks and writes in New Mexico

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