Macedonian Baked Beans

This is practically the Macedonian national dish, and a lot more flavoursome than your average over-sugared, over-salted 57-varieties-of British-beans-on-toast combo. Without wishing to sound preachy, we should all be eating more beans – and cooking them ourselves. They are nutritious, thrifty (I didn’t get that many badges in the Brownies, but to this day I remain inordinately fond of my thrift badge), versatile and very simple to work with. The only drawback is the fact that as most pulses need soaking for around six hours, you need to plan ahead.

500g dried beans (preferably hard-to-find sobra, but pinto or cannellini will do) 
2 large onions 
2 bay leaves 
2 whole dried chillies 
pure olive oil, for cooking 
4–5 garlic cloves, minced 
1 tbsp paprika 
1 tsp smoked paprika 
2 tsp dried marjoram or oregano 
handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped

Soak the beans overnight or for at least six hours. Drain the beans and place them in a large pan. Roughly chop one of the onions and add it to the pan along with the bay leaves, chillies and two tablespoons of olive oil. Cover with cold water so that the level reaches about 5cm (2in) above the beans and bring to the boil. 

Turn the heat down and simmer for around one-and-a-half hours, or until the beans are soft. During this time, you will need to top the pan up with water – you are aiming for a thick casserole-like consistency. Only once the beans are cooked should you add salt to taste: the beans will otherwise resolutely refuse to cook. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas mark 3. Chop the remaining onion and fry it in plenty of olive oil along with the garlic. 

Once it has softened, add the spices and herbs and sauté for a few minutes before tipping the mixture into the beans, stirring well. Tip the whole bean caboodle into an ovenproof dish, checking that there is just enough liquid, cover with foil and bake for around 30 minutes. Serve with warm bread and maybe some cheese crumbled on top.


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