At the risk of sounding about 12, I have a Best Friend.
I met my Best Friend at my first job after university. We were both teaching English at a French university. She has many pseudonyms, ‘Dolly, Dorry, ‘Our Mutual Spanish Friend’, Sange, Sandros’, but her actual name is Sandra. We are very different. We look different, we sound different, we come from different backgrounds and we like different things. Yet somehow, it just works.
She is the person I may not speak to for weeks and weeks, but on a really bad day, I can pick up the phone in tears and she will comfort me without any preamble.
There has only been one time when she didn’t appreciate a phone call from me. It was the day Princess Diana died, and I was 8 hours ahead of the UK in China, watching CNN and feeling rather distraught. I picked up the phone. As there was no answer, I rang back and back again. Eventually her sleepy voice answered. In the manner of an overexcited cub reporter I blurted out the breaking news. There was a pause. ‘I. DON’T. CARE. It’s Sunday and it’s 5.30 in the morning. Click. [sound of phone going dead]’. Poor Sandros, she does like her sleep.
During those heady days at our first job, when we were young and thought everything was possible, we organised a trip to the UK for 50 of our French Students. We had completely underestimated the enormity of the task. We are also terrible at maths. We sat one day in despair, staring at the figures; the payments from students, the cost of the ferry and the hostel, desperately trying to get the books to balance. We thought we had done it. Then two days before the trip we remembered the bank charges for transferring the money to the hostel. We really didn’t have any money left. So we came up with a plan.
As we sat on the deck of the cross-channel ferry we were performing our very own international transfer. I had £500 secreted in my Doctor Marten boots, and she had £500 secreted in hers. Unfortunately, she hadn’t put her money in an envelope and must have very sweaty feet. The notes looked a bit smudged when we got to the hostel, they were convinced they were fake and wouldn’t accept them. We stood in the lobby with 50 students thronged behind us, and thought it was all going to go belly up. Thankfully, we managed to persuade a nearby bank that they weren’t counterfeit and they swapped them for crisp new ones. Our much-needed English beer slipped down well that night.
I have just spent the weekend with Sandra. It was almost like the good old days. Almost. If we don’t count my four children. But once they were in bed, it was JUST like the old times. We nattered, and drank and ate. I cooked her these beans. It would be handy if she were Mexican and I could justify the title. She is Spanish though, I think that’s close enough? The beans are vaguely Mexican to me because of the coriander and the chillies. I hope you enjoy them.
Vaguely Mexican Beans (Click here for tips on how to avoid cross-contamination)
(serves 2 girlies with some left over as a side dish for lunch the next day)
2 large baking potatoes
1 medium onion
Some olive oil for frying
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
3 large mushrooms
2 green chillis (finely chopped) (optional, they are not for Sandra, she doesn't do spicy)
A good bunch of fresh coriander / cilantro
about 0.5-1tsp paprika
0.5-1 teaspoon gluten-free yeast extract
1 tin kidney beans (400g)
2 big tomatoes
5 tbsps red wine
1 tsp cornflour mixed to a paste with red wine
splash of red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
To coat the potatoes:
Ground sea salt
Ground black pepper
Ground chilli flakes (optional)
- Pre-heat the oven to about 180 / 190 degrees Celsius. When it is at temperature, prick the baking potatoes all over with a fork, place them on a baking tray and put them into the oven. Depending on the size of the potato, they should take about an hour to cook
- Peel and slice the onion and peppers into strips and place them into a large frying pan. Splash in some olive oil and fry them gently. You don't want the onion to go brown, so stir occasionally and keep the heat low
- Slice the mushroom and finely chop the green chillis if using. Add them to the frying pan and stir it all round
- Roughly chop the the coriander and add half of it to the pan. Stir, and let it all fry until the mushrooms have started to give off their juice
- Sprinkle over the paprika and drop in the yeast extract, stir to combine it all. Cut the tomatoes in half, hold the halves above the frying pan and squeeze so that all the juice and pips drop into the pan. Try and get some of the pulp to go in too, but no skin, I can't abide tomato skin. Add the red wine and and stir it all round.
- Drain the can of kidney beans, add them to the pan, and let it simmer for about 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Mix the cornflour with the red wine to form a smooth paste. Add it to the frying pan and stir frantically. I was a little alarmed at how thick everything went at this point, panic not, just add some more red wine to loosen it all up
- Add the splash of red wine vinegar (about a tablespoon or so)
- Add salt and pepper to your taste, sprinkle the remaining chopped coriander over the top, turn off the heat and set it aside
- Now, your spuds should nearly be cooked, test this by sticking a knife into them. When they are almost done (only about 10 more mins to go), remove them from the oven
- On one plate, pour some olive oil, on another plate, grind lots of salt, black pepper and chilli flakes
- Put the potato first onto the oily plate, and use your fingers to smear oil all over the potato skin
- Next put the oily potato onto the salty plate, and again use your fingers to make sure it's all coated in yummy seasoning. Repeat for the next potato
- Place the potatoes back into the oven for about 10 mins, until the skins are golden and crispy
- Put the beans back on a low heat
- When spuds are done, remove from the oven and put onto your serving plate. Cut a cross in the top, peel back the skin and artistically insert some beany mix. Add a little extra on the plate, and perhaps a sprig of coriander
- If you can eat dairy products, you could add some sour cream or feta cheese to the top of your potato
- Sandra and I accompanied our spud with a rocket and cucumber salad, drizzled with oil and red wine vinegar. For fear of a hangover, we decided to stick with champagne and not bother with any red wine. You do as you see fit.