Eating well does not mean deprivation and it is quite possible to eat healthy food without giving up some traditional dishes. Cassoulet is one of them.
Cassoulet is a french one dish meal, a regional specialty of Languedoc. Originally it used to be a peasant family recipe made from white beans in which you would let simmer whatever meat was available in the pantry. The dish would be left on the stove to cook gently all day long in a special container called cassole.
There are of course in the world many recipes of bean dishes or stews. In Quebec, we have the traditional fèves au lard. In Lebanon, fassoulie is a white bean dish simmered and cooked without any meat. This dish that my mother prepared in winter was one of my favorites.
Now back to France. Come with me to Cordes-sur-Ciel, a charming medieval village, classified Grand site of southwestern France. It’s market day and vibrant colourful fruits and vegetables are shining bright on a beautiful September day. If you are like me, then you will understand that the availability of fresh produce on the stalls of the market will determine the choice of your menu for the next meal. Which was the case. Some elements in front of me, actually three, influenced my choice of what to buy and cook. First the fresh and firm white beans, then the ready made cassoulet dishes that were being sold at high price, and finally the fact of being in the region of the cassoulet.
So cassoulet it will be. First we buy the beans, but what about the meat? Personally, I find that cassoulet contains too much of it. According to the various versions of this stew, you may add goose or duck confit, bacon, rind, pork knuckle, sausage, lamb, or partridge. Phew! In order to finalize my choice, we head to the butcher to see what meat is in store for us.
At Ben Denis’s place, I am surprised to see that not much was left on the counter. The owners, a very charming couple, were about to close their shop in a few minutes for their annual holidays. After a few friendly exchanges and to our amazement, the lady owner asks us to wait two minutes, disappears in the cold room and comes back with a large Toulouse sausage. The sausage was reserved to the family for their return from the holidays, but she decided to leave it to us! What a service! So we headed back home with a fresh Toulouse sausage and confit of duck legs.
Why am I telling you all this? Because if on one hand we eat cassoulet, on the other we prepare it. You cook cassoulet only when you have time and you want to eat it. Is the effort worth it? YES!
Now let’s talk about the main ingredient: white bean. Why should should we integrate it into our menu? Dry beans are very rich in protein and iron and white beans are high in Potassium and Magnesium. Potassium regulates blood pressure, promotes muscle concentration and improves the electrical activity of the heart. As for Magnesium, this mineral currently studied a lot in the field of nutrition, relieves premenstrual syndrome and is beneficial to hypertension, cardiac arrhythmia, asthma and kidney stones.
Beans have this bad reputation of making you fat, but it is untrue.
Tip – To remedy the disadvantage of flatulence, consume beans more often, in small quantities and chew well because starch digestion begins in saliva, when chewing.
The recipe that I propose below is one among many others. Feel free to modify it and prepare it according to your preference of meat (not too fatty please). You may even turn it into a vegetarian dish by not adding any meat.
- 750 g white beans
- 6 Toulouse sausages
- 4 legs of duck confit
- 1 chopped onion
- 1 carrot sliced into rings
- 4 garlic cloves (which to of them 2)
- 2 Tbsp duck fat or olive oil
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 bouquet garni
- Thyme, salt, pepper to taste
- 2 Bay leaves
- The night before, soak the beans in a large bowl of water (3 times their volume). The next day, rinse and drain the beans.
- Put beans in a large pot, cover with cold water (unsalted), add 2 cloves of garlic, thyme to taste and bay leaves and cook about 30 minutes over low heat. Drain beans and get rid of the garlic, thyme, onion and bay leaves.
- Melt duck fat in a casserole. Add the onion, 2 chopped cloves of garlic and carrot and stir a minute or so. Add beans, tomato paste and mix. Cover with water at bean level, add salt, pepper (generously), the bouquet garni and simmer for about 1 h 30. The beans should be tender but not crushed. (The juice must be always at the level of the beans - if necessary, add water).
- Thirty minutes before the end of cooking, add to beans Toulouse sausages (which you would have grilled slightly earlier in a skillet) and the confit Duck legs.
- To finish the cooking, sprinkle breadcrumbs on the beans and put the casserole in the oven at low heat (300 F) for 1 h 30 or more. A nice crust should form. Serve hot!