My visit to La Sofra in London’s Mayfair last month presented me and my fellow Guild of Food Writers’ members with an absolute treasure trove of vegetable delights. I have already written about the wonderfully gutsy smoky aubergine purée and today I am going to wax lyrical about broad beans!
La Sofra is a small chain of London-based Turkish restaurants, owned and run by Huseyin Ozer, who grew from an Istanbul homeless street child into a successful entrepreneur and restaurateur. He describes his menus as Turkish food with an international twist and prides himself not only on the quality and freshness of his ingredients but also on being the only Turkish restaurant to be recommended by the Michelin Guide. Having returned from Istanbul a few years ago with a marked feeling of disappointment in the food, I found that the sparkle and intense flavours of his dishes reignited my interest and I was delighted to work my way through all the mezzes on offer, which were as colourful and flamboyant as Huseyin himself. While I am not wholly plant-based in my eating, I do find vegetables hugely more exciting and versatile than animal products so it is always a joy to come across a restaurant and way of cooking which celebrates the glory and infinite versatility of vegetables.
And now, let’s get back to the broad beans! Sous-Chef grew some wonderful broad beans in our vegetable bed last summer and although I missed most of them while I was working abroad for eight weeks, there were plenty of them left in the freezer to warrant some culinary experimentation. La Sofra’s menu describes this particular dish simply as “BROAD BEANS seasoned with fresh coriander and dill and garlic served on creamy yoghurt” which does not begin to illustrate the different layers of flavour so this is my personal reconstruction of the dish - although it is not totally true to the original as I have added some North African embellishments of my own along the lines of harissa and pickled lemons,
Broad beans’ greatest shortcoming in my opinion is the leathery texture of their skin which is not lessened by a good rolling boil, so there is no alternative but to slip them out of their jackets – an utter bore, I know, but worth it. And that is why this recipe provides just two portions!
If you use fresh broad beans, they will need longer boiling – test for tenderness. And while I prefer to use coconut yoghurt, thus making this dish plant-based, cow or goat’s yoghurt can be substituted.
What about this dish’s nutritional talents? Broad beans, like all legumes, are high in fibre and protein, as well as boasting an impressive array of vitamins and minerals like Thiamin, Vitamin K, Vitamin B-6, potassium, copper, selenium, zinc and magnesium. Garlic is powerfully antibacterial and has been found to be protective in cardiovascular health and high blood pressure as well as the common cold, provide cancer support and regulate blood sugar levels, and its antioxidant properties may help combat dementia. Olive oil is also powerfully anti-inflammatory, and coriander helps to remove heavy metals from the body. Lemons are an excellent source of Vitamin C and can aid digestion as well as alkalise the body. Turmeric, like olive oil, is strongly anti-inflammatory and a mighty antioxidant which may improve brain function. And harissa, with its roasted red peppers and collection of spices, is said to boost metabolism. What more can I say?!
TURKISH BROAD BEANS WITH YOGHURT, HARISSA AND PICKLED LEMONS
Serves 2 as a light lunch, 4 as part of a mezze selection
200 g/7 oz frozen broad beans
30 ml/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
1.4 ml/1/4 tsp ground turmeric
2.5 ml/1/2 tsp harissa, or to taste + a bit more for sprinkling
1/4 pickled lemon, scraped clean and finely chopped
10 g/1/3 oz fresh coriander/cilantro, coarsely chopped
Fine sea salt
Wholemeal pitta bread, to serve - optional
For the yoghurt:-
250 ml/8 fl oz/1 cup coconut yoghurt such as Coyo
15 ml/1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Fresh lemon juice, to taste
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a saucepan of water to a good rolling boil, add the broad beans, bring back to the boil and cook for 5 minutes. Drain, refresh in cold water, drain again and shake out any excess water. Slip the skins off.
Mix the yoghurt with the olive oil and some seasoning and spread it out in a shallow bowl or soup plate.
Heat the olive oil in a roomy frying pan and add the sliced garlic. Stir-fry over medium heat until the garlic just starts to turn golden, then sprinkle in the spices and some salt. Continue stir-frying for a further minute or two, until lightly aromatic. Toss in the broad beans and pickled lemon and cook for another minute to heat them up.
Check the seasoning and stir in the coriander. Spoon the beans over the yoghurt, making sure to scrape up all the fragrant oil. Sprinkle lightly with harissa.