Bloke in the Kitchen. Bean jar


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

The bean is not one of the aristocrats of the food world. It’s a worker, a foot soldier, doing a valuable job in its unglamorous way. It’s nutritious, satisfying and easy to use.

So what exactly is a bean? According to the dictionaries, it is a seed that grows in a pod. That’s a bit odd, don’t you think? Seeds are what enable a plant to reproduce, and usually it’s the fruit in which they come that we’re interested in. But in this case, we rarely eat the actual pods (green beans, runner beans etc. being obvious exceptions. With most beans, it is them that we eat, and therefore their reproductive function is purely to make more of themselves. Almost a selfish existence, you might say.

beanjar 3

Be that as it may, there are plenty of ways to eat beans, and we’re going to look at just a few.

Chilli con carne is an obvious one, the red kidney beans somehow perfectly suited to being cooked with minced beef, onions and chilli powder or fresh chillies. We’ve featured that already, many months ago, but you can still find the recipe on this site.

Black beans have appeared here twice, once with the Venezuelan corn breads, arepas, and again as part of an Aztec salad – so that’s once hot and once cold, which emphasizes the bean’s versatility. If you buy them dried, they will need to be soaked and cooked, but that’s hardly rocket science, and most of them come pre-cooked in cans anyway.

I’m particularly fond of black-eyed beans, which work well in stews or even mashed up and fried with onions and a few herbs, a bit like fish cakes, but can also be eaten cold as part of a bean salad.

In Africa the brown bean is popular because it’s cheap, versatile and easy, which is what beans in general are all about.

And then there are haricot beans, known in some countries as navy beans.

The national dish where I come from is called beanjar, and it’s nothing more than a bean stew with some cheap meat cooked in it. There are variations of this all over the world, but Guernsey Bean jar is as good as any, so here is how you do it.

beanjar 1


1 pigs trotter (or some other very cheap meat)
1lb haricot beans
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1 bay leaf
2 pints beef stock


Since this is going to be cooking for a long time, use dried beans, because precooked ones can become too mushy. Soak the dried beans overnight.

Put all the ingredients in a large earthenware pot or casserole dish.

Cook it in the oven on a low-medium heat for a long time – several hours.

If that sounds a bit unscientific, consider this: my grandma lived opposite a bakery and she, like many women in the area, had an arrangement with the bakers. Since the ovens in which the bread was baked were always hot but not always in use, the women would take their bean jars there in the evening, to be put in the oven until it was time to start making bread. When the women went back in the morning to collect their pots, the beans, meat and stock had been cuddling all night and had melded into a delicious meal for the family.

beanjar 2
This is how famous bean jar is in Guernsey. Artwork by twodegreesnorth


Some people use butter beans, 50-50 with the haricots. Black-eyed beans would also do the job.  As stated in the recipe, although a pig’s trotter is traditional, some other humble cut would also work: shin of beef, even cowheel (although you might not get a lot of meat to eat, just flavour).


Bloke in the Kitchen. Orange and salami salad


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

Fruit and savoury things are, in my opinion, best kept apart. In the bad old days of the 1970s, when the British still thought there were only two cuisines – English and French – and that spaghetti came in tins,  it was rare to find a decent menu that didn’t offer duck à l’orange, partridge with blackcurrants or something equally gruesome. You would order it and it was supposed to be sophisticated, so you would flick your long hair away from your moustachioed face, adjust the tight waistband of your flared trousers and get on with it.

So I was highly and pleasantly surprised to discover a combination that actually works. It is served cold, doesn’t cost much and anyone can do it: sliced oranges and salami with olive oil. Use it as a starter or have plenty of it and supplement with a salad of rice, pasta or potato.

Orange and salami
It’s quite small and thin, so you might want to give everyone two or three. Or you could stack them, like a burger

Perhaps the only obstacle this presents is persuading other people that it’s a good idea and you haven’t finally lost your mind. But if you can do that – assuming you have persuaded yourself and agree with me – suddenly a whole new world has opened up and your imagination can break new ground.

So without further ado, the recipe.


Big, juicy oranges

Salami of your choice

Olive oil

Green olives


Slice the oranges thinly and cut the peel off if you like (although there is no need).


Don’t peel the orange first and then try to slice it, because it will fall apart and you’ll have a mess  to deal with.

Place a slice of salami in the middle of a plate. Just one if the salami is wider than the orange, or three in a triangle if it is smaller.

Put a slice of orange on top. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and add a little freshly ground black pepper. Not too much, because the pepper can overpower the dish and change it dramatically on your tongue. And don’t add salt, because there is plenty of that in the salami.

For a garnish, do something arty with the olives. If you see a pomegranate on your travels, you can stud the dish with those little gems.

And that’s that. Genius or madman? Your guests will decide.