“Do you know how to cook these?” asked Anna whilst ringing up my purchases. I had not been to the Italian grocers for months and grabbed the bag of lupini as an impulse buy because they looked like yellowy broad beans.
“Erm, boil them, I reckon?”
Franco butted in: “you must soak them then cook them an hour; after that you store them in cold water for five days.” Now I was intrigued and had to have them. “They get sweeter as the time goes on. Don’t get in a hurry, though.” His admonishments were confirmed on several cooking sites with many suggesting two weeks storage. Here is the chronicle of our efforts to prep lupini in time for the 2nd May Bank Holiday this year (although they weren’t ready until the following weekend for the birthday debauch).
Whilst prepping another meal, I boiled half a bag of the thumbnail sized seeds and they began to plump up after 20 minutes. I left them to simmer another 2 hours whilst throwing in bits of vegetables and the fat from some sausage, then drained them, packed them in a Kilner jar (Mason jar, Yanks), covered them with cold water and stuck them in the fridge.
As a reference point, I tasted one of the freshly packed beans. It was the most bitter thing I have EVER tried to eat and for two hours it ruined the flavours of everything else I tried to eat or drink…cookies, iced tea, aged provolone, gin and tonic: they all suffered.
The beans are the seeds of the yellow lupin and are reputed to have the highest protein content of any beans except soy; that’s as may be, but you have to wonder who first decided to try them and then who came up with this convoluted method of preparation. Most of the Italians in town are Calabrian and most sites I have scouted place lupini in Calabria and Puglia so I am guessing this is sort of Italian soul food, but the question is still begged: from whence does it hail?
At work at the CCRC in the mid Oughties, I developed methods for immobilising lectins on silica gel to make a separation material for specific complex carbohydrates largely because so many of these are extremely toxic to humans and other mammals. The lectins in lupini are likewise specific to particular carb-chains and are also allergens to broad swathes of the population and carry warning markers (such as the persistent bitterness I experienced) for the rest of us.
Some, but not all, of the bitter flavour comes from the skins of the shells. Many of these peel off easily after the first couple days of soaking, but I only tasted the intact beans and the bitterness subsided somewhat even in these after just ten days so this might be overkill. For now, we’ll just take the easily removable husks and leave the rest for the taste test.
They were finally okay to eat on the 1st of June, three weeks after we started them. I minced a clove of garlic and covered it with a splash of olive oil then added a sprig of oregano and some cayenne pepper; this would be tossed with the beans to make the long-awaited snack. The beans didn’t have to be heated but I thought this might be nice.
The verdict? In the deep south, you get boiled peanuts served up, hot and wet, in a brown paper bag that taste as good as these do. The boiled peanuts take an hour or two from start to finish and there is never a chance of lectin or alkaloid poisoning if you aren’t already sensitized to peanuts. I’m wondering if the seeds will sprout, though; lupins are lovely plants.