I’m not sure if there is a difference between fasole batuta and fasole facaluita or whether the difference is simply a regionalism, but either way, mashed beans topped with paprika-flavoured caramelized onion is a staple of the Romanian table. It goes wonderfully with smoked meats, spicy sausages, and slices of dry-cured ham but is, in my opinion, at its best as a spread for a thick-cut piece of crusty country loaf.
Dried beans are cheap, easy to grow, easy to store and are very filling. Back in the UK the majority of beans consumed are tinned beans in tomato sauce (à la Heinz) and while these are certainly tasty and cheap, I dread to think of the amount of salt and sugar contained in one can. Bean dishes, such as these mashed beans or something like a cassoulette, are simple to do but often considered time consuming. As a general rule, the dried beans have to be soaked overnight and then boiled for several hours in order for them to regain their softness.
I forgot to put my beans in water to soak last night, so I’ve ‘fast-soaked’ them. This involves covering them with about three times their volume of cold water, bringing it to the boil, taking it off the heat, and leaving to cool for at least an hour. You can then discard the water and proceed as normal. I’ve read around on the net – some swear by the cold-soak method, other say the fast-soak method makes no difference to the taste. Anyway, we’ll see…
Time: 1-3 hours plus overnight soaking
Servings: Makes a large bowl of mashed beans
500g of dried beans (white ones are usually used but I had a mixed bag of different types from the garden and so I used those)
1 teaspoon of paprika (hot or mild, whichever you prefer)
A couple of cloves of garlic, minced (optional)
100g of vegetable oil
Salt to taste
1. Drain off the water that you soaked the beans in and add fresh cold water. Bring to the boil and allow it to boil for a few minutes. Discard the water and replenish, bring to the boil again, leave it to boil for a few minutes again, discard again, and so on, two or three times in total. The idea is that this extracts the chemicals from the beans that cause their well-document effect.
2. After discarding the water at least twice, bring the beans to the boil again in fresh water, add a teaspoon of salt, and leave to boil until the beans are soft. The time this takes depends on how fresh the dried beans are. If they’ve been sitting around in the shed (or the supermarket) for a couple of years, then this could take a few hours, but If they are really fresh, maybe less than an hour. Check on them frequently, topping up the pan with hot water if it’s evaporating too quickly, and testing the beans for softness. Make sure you test several beans and it’s quite possible that they come from different batches and whilst one might soften in 60 minutes, others might take double that.
3. At some point during the cooking process, you can prepare the onions. Slice them julienne, heat a few tablespoons of the oil in a frying pan, and gently fry them until they are soft and caramelized. Don’t fry them at too high a temperature; you want them soft and sweet and rich, not bitter and crispy. Once they’re done (I leave mine sautéing for about 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently), add the paprika and a little salt to taste and put to one side.
4. When you are satisfied that the beans are thoroughly cooked, drain them and mash them up. You can do this with a fork, a potato ricer (maybe, haven’t tried it), or in the blender. How chunky or smooth you like it is up to you but at this point you can add the rest of the oil (sometimes helps to add this before mashing) and salt to taste. At this point you can also add the garlic if it’s too your taste.
5. Arrange the mashed and seasoned beans in a bowl and spread the onion mixture on top and serve.