Black turtle beans or svarta böner as they are known in Sweden, baked in the shape of spheres, served atop fresh tagliatelle. The baked black turtle beans are smothered in a marinara sauce infused with Herbs de Provence and parmesan. The delicate green leaf-stems on top of the dish is Olivenurt (Santolina Viridis). This herb is native to the Mediterranean and in this case, was imported from a cultivator from Denmark. It is highly aromatic of olives and popular uses include pasta, pizza, salads, meat / fish cooking.
Text Photo & Video © JE Nilsson & CM Cordeiro 2020

An pan (Japanese red bean bun), Dou Sha Bao (Chinese sweet, steamed, red bean buns), Penang Tau Sar Piah made with savoury green bean filling and Ling Yong Bao (sweet lotus seed paste steamed buns) are some identifiable warm aromas of the Singapore morning hawker centres, usually located adjacent to wet markets. These sweet and savoury food items were also some of my early childhood favourite eats.

When I was young, classmates of mine who fell ill were often fed a sweet sticky conconction of oatmeal porridge and condensed milk. This was literally known as ´hospital food´. The association of sweet oatmeal porridge with hospital food made me cringe, so whenever I fell ill, I requested for red bean baos. In one bout of gastritis when I was about 8 years old, I spent three days just eating steamed red bean baos. I´m not sure if that helped with any healing process, but the baos tasted heavenly when warm. I preferred baos that were made in smaller spheres because I associated them with more red bean filling. Come to think of it, I´ve actually got a much longer list of seed and bean-based Singapore dessert favourites I could diary on about. Yet, there exists a much larger variety of legumes and beans that I remained unfamiliar with till I arrived in Sweden and had the opportunity to visit the neighbouring Nordic countries in exploration of food.

Historically, green leafy vegetables have been difficult to cultivate and grow in the Nordic countries. There is also no culinary history of eating fermented soy products such as nattō, tofu or tempeh as found in East Asian and Southeast-Asian cuisines. Still, the food scene in the Nordic countries has evolved in distinctive ways in the past decades. In 2004, the Nordic Kitchen Manifesto was conceived and formulated by the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Nordic Council and Nordic co-operation, which involves Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland. The manifesto had the vision to integrate the culinary narratives of the Nordic region and encourages an exploration of Nordic ingredients, including more vegetable based dishes. Since then, a range of vegetables (including Nordic seaweed) are now enjoying the spotlight in Nordic cuisine and recipes, where we can today find familiar vegetables presented in relatively novel ways.

The summer months give plenty of time and opportunity to experiment with new recipes and novel cooking techniques. So on this event, we turned black turtle beans into large spheres that possibly resembled a falafel, a begedil or generously portioned Swedish meatballs, and baked them till they were firm and crisp top and bottom. The marinara sauce had a twist of Herbs de Provence.

For having never made this dish before, the black turtle bean balls turned out to be surprisingly palatable. I attribute the pleasant tasting session to the fact that I had bean based foods as favourites when growing up in Singapore. Otherwise, if left unexplained to guests, this dish could convey a misaligned visual cue, resembling Swedish meatballs but resulting in a fairly hollow and bland bite.

So, heads-up! These are no Swedish meatballs. But, on their own accord of being black turtle bean balls, they´re delicious!

I have a bag of adzuki beans (red mung beans) sitting in the kitchen pantry. I think I know what my next culinary project will be.

Ingredients, baked black turtle beans

400g boiled black turtle beans
1 dl barley, boiled to partially cooked and strained
1/2 dl rolled oats
2 cloves of garlic (small-medium sized)
1 small white onion, grated or finely chopped
2 tbsp bread crumbs
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground black pepper (substitute Allehånde for an autumn recipe or for festive flavour to the black turtle beans)
1 1/2 tbsp paprika or cayennepepper


Blend all ingredients. Portion out into even spheres. Bake at 175C°for about 20 minutes on each side, or until nicely browned.

Ingredients, Herbs de Provence marinara sauce

400g can of tomato sauce
1 medium white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic (medium sized, crushed)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp Herbs de Provence (thyme, marjoram, rosemary, oregano, basil and tarragon)
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
For garnish over cooked pasta: grated Parmesan cheese and additional olive oil


Place everything in a pot. You could sautée the onions prior if you prefer. Boil till flavours are nicely integrated.

In the background, a bottle of Primitivo, 2015, by L’archetipo, organic red wine from Puglia, Italy.