Umami Bomb Beans

This simple recipe was inspired by a special occasion at a lovely restaurant, which was both a real treat during the coronavirus epidemic and a vacation substitute! (Needless to say, the restaurant was not very busy). The rich dark gravy in one dish had notes of mushrooms, anise, and clove, the latter of which are present in Five Spice. I wondered if these flavours could be translated into an oryoki-style dish? This is what transpired. A dash of coffee adds a mysterious bitter-sweet contrast to the dark flavours of mushroom and the brightness of tomato.

I suppose this recipe could be considered a luxury version of Baked Beans – which technically speaking is also a good idea. Make it ahead of time, pop it in a covered oven dish, and bake in a hot oven for forty to fifty minutes until it bubbles.

If you are in a hurry, substitute the dried beans with about two cans of cooked, drained beans; and if vine-ripe tomatoes are not in season, use two regular cans of plum tomatoes.

200 g (1 cup) dried navy beans
750 g (1¾ pounds) vine-ripe tomatoes
250 g (3 cups) chestnut mushrooms
20 g dried shitake mushrooms, about 6-8 small 
1 medium red onion
3 cloves garlic

70 g tomato paste
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon molasses, or 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1 teaspoon paprika powder
½ teaspoon chilli powder
¼ teaspoon five spice powder, or to taste
½ teaspoon balsamic  vinegar
Salt to taste
Oil for frying

  • Soak the beans for eight hours in triple the amount of fresh water. Drain the beans, rinse, put in a big pot and cover with about 4 cm (2″) of fresh water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and gently simmer, covered, for about 1¼ hours, or until the beans are tender. Skim any foam as it appears. Add more water as needed to keep the beans submerged. Drain when done.
  • To cook the beans in a pressure cooker, cover the beans with 3 cm (1½″) of water and a little salt, and cook at high pressure for 5-7 minutes. Turn off the flame and put the pressure cooker under the faucet and run a thin stream of cold water over the lid to quickly release the pressure. Check for tenderness before draining, then set aside.
  • Score the top of the tomatoes with a sharp knife, cover with boiling water and wait for the peel to split, about 2-4 minutes, depending on their ripeness. Plunge into cold water and remove the peel. Cut into quarters.
  • Peel and large dice the onion.
  • Peel the garlic.
  • Clean the chestnut mushrooms and cut into quarters.

  • In a stewpot on medium flame, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and fry the onions and garlic until caramelized. Add the shitake mushrooms and tomatoes and simmer for about twenty minutes, or until the shitake mushrooms are tender. Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth.

  • Return the blended sauce to the stewpot then add the cooked, drained beans,  tomato paste, soy sauce, molasses or brown sugar, instant coffee, paprika powder, chilli powder, five spice powder, and balsamic  vinegar, and simmer for about ten minutes to marry the flavours.

  • Meanwhile, in a frying pan over a high flame heat a tablespoon of oil and stir-fry the chestnut mushrooms until they begin to brown, then add a little sea salt. When the mushrooms start to release their juices, put the mushrooms and their juices into the sauce.

  • Season to taste.
  • Serve over rice.

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