Happy New Year...
Or more appropriately, Mutlu yıllar! (It's Turkish).
"My hairdresser says that everything this year is going to be Turkish..."
Hmm...I think someone may need a new hairdresser. As much as I love flamboyant feather hats and all things Turkish, my first recipe of 2017 is actually Arabic. So, kul 'am wa antum bikhair (happy new year to all). Let's travel (first class, obviously) to the Middle East for a gastronomic exploration of Fassoulia. A childhood favorite.
"Fassou-what?" you ask...
Etymology: Latin phaseolus borrowed from ancient Greek φάσηλος (fasilos)
Like other members of the legume family, Fassoulia is a staple of a heart healthy Mediterranean style diet.2. Magnificent stew made from beans, tomato and spices
"Fassoulia is popular throughout the Mediterranean, especially countries like Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Greece, and Libya."
As Libyan Jews, we use Great Northern beans and boeuf. It's the quintessential cold weather comfort. It's how my family survived the bleak Jersey winters. Waking up every Saturday morning to the savory aroma of tomatoes and spices simmering for hours was hypnotizing. I'd spend those mornings camped out in the kitchen like a desperate puppy awaiting the opportune moment to sneak a taste when my mother was distracted.
While I never know whether to wear short sleeves or an oversized, fur-lined parka, my pantry is always stocked with the simple ingredients needed for Fassoulia...
Yes, my meticulous spice collection is excessive and meshugana, but don't fret. Even if you can't live up to Ina Garten and my ridiculous "basic" pantry standards, you can easily get all the ingredients at your local market.
My family traditionally makes this dish with flanken, a glorious cut of short ribs butchered across the bone. It's a luxurious cut of meat for stews and worth trying for a special occasion. I usually substitute the flanken for beef chuck, which tends to be leaner and a bit healthier, but will still melt in your mouth!
Tips/Tricks to Make Perfect Fassoulia:
- The meat simmers for about an hour prior to adding the beans. Think of this as a spa treatment for your special cut of beef. Check that the meat is already fairly tender prior to adding your beans.
- This dish is best made a day ahead. The longer it sits, the richer the flavor will be.
- It tastes wonderful as a standalone stew, but also great over rice or couscous.
- Use a cast iron enamel dutch oven, such as Le Creuset, or another heavy bottomed stew pot to avoid your stew from burning
- Experiment with your flavors. My family traditionally uses cumin, cayenne and garlic. I like to add turmeric and cinnamon as well and finish each bowl with freshly squeezed lemon juice for some acidity.
- 1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons good olive oil
- 1.5 pounds chuck beef, cut into 1.5 to 2-inch chunks
- 8 cups water
- 1 cup dried Great Northern beans, soaked overnight and drained (should be around 2.5 cups)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne papper (optional)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Cilantro, roughly chopped (for serving)
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice (for serving)
In a medium sized dutch oven or stockpot, sauté the onions over medium heat for 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1-2 more minutes till onions are translucent.
Dry the beef cubes with a paper towel and sprinkle all sides with kosher salt. Add the meat and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally until lightly browned. Add the 8 cups of water. Over medium-high heat bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered until meat has softened (~1 hour). Skim off any surface foam while cooking.
Add the white beans, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, tomato paste, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne (if using). Bring to a boil over over medium-high heat, reduce heat and simmer covered for 2 hours.
Remove lid and adjust seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Continue simmering uncovered until beans and meat are soft and tender, respectively, and the stew reaches desired thickness.
When ready to serve, add a splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice to each bowl and finish with a generous amount of cilantro.
Enjoy as a soup or serve with rice, couscous, ptitim (Israeli couscous), or crusty bread.