I have a bit of an obsession with protein. I’m not sure when it started or why, but the idea of a meal without protein makes me nervous. Obviously when I make something with meat or fish this is no problem, but when I make vegetarian meals it’s sometimes more of a challenge. Often when I trawl the internet at about 4pm in search of dinner inspiration, and click on “vegetarian” on a recipe website, I find things that are little more than side dishes in large portions, or a pile of vegetables beefed up into a main course because it has cheese dolloped on top. I’ll save my anti-cheese ranting for another time, but suffice to say that I do not consider cheese to be an acceptable addition to a meal (I wouldn’t eat it myself but I can accept a cheese course, or possibly a small amount of cheese added to certain foods as a seasoning). Anyway, I’ve got lots of recipes for lentils and chickpeas and so on that are all excellent, but I have searched for a long time for protein-rich but dairy-free risotto recipe.
Before you get all “how can you not have cheese in a risotto” on me, can I just point you to a random website I found which quotes a possibly famous Italian chef as saying never to use butter or cheese or cream in a risotto, but to only use olive oil. And even Jamie Oliver says you should never mix cheese with fish in a risotto or pasta, so clearly cheese is not an essential risotto ingredient.
I’ve made risotto with chicken before (chicken and mushrooms) but it felt a bit like a delicious mushroom risotto with irrelevant pieces of chicken in it. I’ve considered making risotto using chickpeas or other beans, but although I love chickpeas I think the texture would be too incongruous in a risotto, and I don’t really like most beans because they taste too… beany.
So how did I come to make a risotto with beans? Like this: in our house, Jon does the shopping. I think about what I want to make for supper for the next few nights, mentally assess what ingredients we already have and then email a shopping list to Jon, who goes to Waitrose on his way home. When he gets in I eagerly unpack the shopping and say things like, “I asked for 6 onions, why did you only buy 3?” and he replies, “Because we already had 3”, to which I say, “But I factored those 3 into my calculation of how many onions we needed! Don’t second-guess my shopping list!” But then he points out the 4 gradually deteriorating bags of fresh mint in the fridge and I am forced to accept that my amazing capacity to remember exactly what we have in stock at any given moment may not be quite so amazing after all.
That aside, his shopping skills are excellent, but sometimes he comes home with random ingredients and wants them incorporated into some meal that I had already planned. Last week I asked him to buy broad beans because I wanted to make a risotto with them and other green things (as a starter – protein less essential). He did return with broad beans, but also with a can of azuki beans, because he’d read the nutritional values of all the different beans written on the cans and determined that azuki beans had the highest amount of protein and were, as proclaimed by the packaging on the can, a superfood. Yes, my protein obsession has rubbed off on Jon. Yes, in typical male fashion, he has taken it to another level.
So I put the can of azuki beans in the cupboard and promised to find something to do with them. After a bit of internet research, I discovered that (a) they are also called adzuki or aduki or adjuki beans; and (b) they are used mostly in Asian cuisine and usually made into red bean paste, which is sweet and used in Chinese confectionary. I didn’t want to make anything sweet so after sifting through a few cookbooks and more websites, I came across a quite appealing spicy azuki bean risotto recipe. I made a few changes to it when I made it, one of the most important being that I adopted Delia’s technique of shoving the risotto in the oven to cook, rather than standing over the pan stirring. I think if I had to do that I would never make risotto, but the oven baked technique works really well, and the fact that you don’t have to slave over the pan for 30 minutes makes you enjoy it all the more. In fact, with that change, this meal became one of the quickest and easiest to make, and it’s all in one pot!
I really liked this risotto, which should possibly be categorised as “Asian fusion”, because it is risotto in texture but Asian in taste. Most of all I enjoyed the protein-richness of it, and the non-beany taste. In fact, the beans were the least beany I’ve ever had, so if you think you don’t really like beans, try this anyway. It’s really good.
- 1 can azuki beans
- 500 ml vegetable stock
- 2 tsp rapeseed or other vegetable oil
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 4 spring onions, sliced (white and half the green parts)
- 1 box shiitake or other mushrooms, sliced
- 1 green pepper, seeded and diced
- 2 red chillis, seeded and cut into rings
- 6 fl oz carnaroli or other risotto rice
- 75 ml dry white wine
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds (optional)
- Prepare the vegetable stock.
- In a large saucepan that can go in the oven, heat the oil over medium heat. When hot, toss in the onion and the white parts of the spring onions, and stir for a couple of minutes until the onions start to go translucent.
- Add in the green pepper, chilli and mushrooms and saute for about 5 minutes until they begin to soften.
- Turn the heat down to medium-low. Add the rice and stir gently to coat the grains with oil.
- Drain and rinse the azuki beans, and then add them and the rest of the spring onions.
- Pour in all stock, wine and soy sauce, stir to make sure all the rice and vegetables are submerged.
- Cover and put the pan in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove, stir and replace for another 15 to 20 minutes.
- Serve immediately, garnishing with sesame seeds if desired.
I think this dish is a little too spicy and salty for Joe as it comes, so the baby-friendly version goes like this:
- Have another, smaller pan on hand.
- Use low sodium or salt free vegetable stock.
- Follow steps 1 to 5 as above, but without the chillis (or using fewer)
- Before step 6, remove from the pan your baby’s portion and put into the smaller pan.
- Add the chillis to the main pan and continue stirring.
- Add enough stock to the smaller pan to fully cover all the rice and vegetables.
- Add the remaining stock, wine and soy sauce to the main pan together with some salt if you used salt free stock.
- The smaller pan cooks in the oven in the same way, but you may want to monitor more closely how it is cooking and, if necessary, add more liquid during the process because it is hard to be precise about the liquid when separating the risotto like this.
*Approximate nutritional values (adult portion)*
- Calories: 390 kcal
- Carbs: 68g
- Fat: 6g
- Protein: 12g
- Sugar: 9g
- Sodium: 726mg