Every now and then a cooking trick comes into your orbit that flips the way you think. Suddenly something you never imagined could be true isn't just possible, it's easy, healthy and saves you money!
I'd heard about using the brine from canned chickpeas as a substitute for egg whites, but I'd never really given it any credence. It just seemed too... well... weird. Then I tried making mayonnaise with a few spoonfuls of the brine from a can of chickpeas instead of an egg and - hey presto - it worked like a dream!
This magical egg replacement goes by the name aquafaba (the Latin for water and beans), and it's an ideal ingredient for vegans, those with egg allergies and, in fact, anyone wanting to save money and reduce waste. Big tick.
It turns out that the brine found in cans of chickpeas and other legumes has amazing properties allowing it to mimic egg white. During cooking, the starches, proteins and other soluble plant solids in the legumes migrate from the seeds to the water. This gives aquafaba a wide spectrum of emulsifying, foaming, binding, gelatinising and thickening properties - you can even use it to make meringues and chocolate mousse.
Aquafaba is slightly beany tasting, but when cooked this seems to dissipate completely. In a mayonnaise flavoured with mustard and lemon the flavour is almost indiscernible and the aquafaba version is slightly lighter than egg mayonnaise - and, to my mind, better.
You can use the viscous liquid from any kind of canned legume but it seems that chickpeas and white beans are the most popular - possibly because the brine from kidney beans and black beans is darker. I've tried using aquafaba from canned beans, and it works just as well but the flavour has a more pronounced earthy, beany taste.
Keep in mind that 3 Tbsp of liquid from a can (you can also use home-cooked chickpeas) is the equivalent of one medium egg. If you want to lighten a pancake, fritter or pikelet batter, just beat in a couple of spoonfuls of aquafaba instead of an egg white. I've used it instead of beaten egg when crumbing meat and vegetables and had great success using it instead of egg whites in friands.
Ready in 5 mins, makes just over 1¼ cups
3 Tbsp of brine from a can of chickpeas
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
¾ tsp salt
¼ tsp fine white pepper
1 cup neutral oil
Combine all ingredients in a tall jug, sink a hand wand blender to the bottom of the mixture and whizz until thick and creamy (about 10 seconds). Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Annabel says: Once you have made aquafaba mayonnaise, like any mayo it can be flavoured any way - try a pinch each of smoked paprika and cumin and some coriander leaves for a chermoula-style mayo, or a spoon of red curry paste for a spicy, Thai-style mayo.
Ready in 30 mins, makes 6 slices
200g mushrooms, thinly sliced
3-4 tbsp Aquafabulous Mayonnaise (see above) or good-quality mayonnaise
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
6 large slices sourdough or 18 small rounds of baguette
Preheat oven to 180C fanbake and line an oven tray with baking paper for easy clean-up. Mix the mushroom slices with just enough mayonnaise to coat them and season with salt and pepper. Pile on to the slices of bread and arrange in a single layer on prepared tray. Bake until the bread is crunchy on the base and the mushrooms are golden (about 20 minutes). Serve hot.
Annabel says: This idea also works for prawn toasts (use mayo with a little sesame oil and finely grated fresh ginger and a few chopped chives), or canned artichokes drained and mixed with mayo and grated parmesan. It's such a simple way to make a filling and flavoursome starter to serve with drinks or accompany a bowl of soup.
Pumpkin and Chickpea Cakes
Ready in 1 hour, serves 4
500g pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and cut into 3cm slices
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra, to fry
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
2 tsp ras el hanout spice mix
2 x 400g cans chickpeas, drained (reserving aquafaba) then rinsed and drained
½ cup cashews, roasted and salted
¼ cup coriander or parsley leaves, chopped Aquafabulous Mayonnaise (see above) or good-quality mayonnaise, to serve
½ cup fruit chutney, mixed with 2 Tbsp tamarind puree if desired, to serve
Preheat oven to 180C fanbake and line an oven tray with baking paper for easy clean-up. Spread out pumpkin on the tray, drizzle with 1 Tbsp of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast until tender and starting to brown (about 30 minutes).
While pumpkin cooks, heat the remaining oil in a frypan and cook onion over a medium heat until softened (5-6 minutes). Add garlic, ginger and spice mix and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Transfer roasted pumpkin to a food processor and whizz to a puree. Add onion mixture, chickpeas, cashews and coriander or parsley and pulse to break up chickpeas to a coarse, mealy crumb - you want a little texture, so don't puree.
With lightly oiled hands, form 8-12 soft patties - I usually use about ⅓ of a cup for each.
Heat a little extra oil in a heavy-based frypan and fry over a medium heat until golden (about 5 minutes each side). Serve with a dollop of mayo and a spoon of chutney on the side.
Annabel says: These Moroccan-style vegetarian patties use the chickpeas left over in the can when you make Aquafabulous Mayonnaise. If you have cooked pumpkin mash to hand, use 1½ cups in place of the roasted pumpkin. It needs to be quite dry. You can also use kumara in place of pumpkin.
For more great Annabel Langbein recipes see her new winter annual Annabel Langbein A Free Range Life: Share the Love (Annabel Langbein Media, $24.95).