Sunday, January 1, 2017

Fassoulia: White Bean & Tomato Stew

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...


TheMDChef Culinary Dictionary
Pronunciation: [FA-SOOL-YA], /ɸαśʉḷʎα/

Etymology: Latin phaseolus borrowed from ancient Greek φάσηλος (fasilos)

1.    فاصوليا  (Arabic): A bean, green bean, haricot bean, string bean
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."

Fassoulia literally means "bean" in Arabic, which by no coincidence is the main ingredient in the stew bearing the same name. Variations of this bean and tomato dish are enjoyed by numerous countries along the Mediterranean. Lima beans, for example, are commonly used in Lebanon, whereas green beans and white beans are used in Armenia and Syria, respectively. Spices also vary by region and may include garlic, cumin, turmeric, and cinnamon. Chicken or beef is often added for a more substantial dish.

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.

Fassoulia remains my favorite winter staple despite living in the south. After six years, I've learned that "Hotlanta" is a cruel misnomer. "What-da-haale-lanta" if you ask me. It can be high 60's and sunny one day and then abruptly turn bitter cold and rainy the next.

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.

It reheats well and tastes better and better as it sits, so it's a perfect stew to make ahead for the week. It's also straightforward to make and forgiving. Sure, the beans require soaking overnight, but it's worth it.

I love this dish and I want you to love it too. Fassoulia is a brilliant example of a dish that is both heart-healthy AND heart-warming. Legumes, such as white beans, are a staple of a Mediterranean style diet which has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.

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.  

Fassoulia Ingredients:
  • 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)

Fassoulia Recipe:
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.


  1. I am really a big fan of your cooking.. Ur truly a great cook... I have tried many recipes of urs and it was awesome..this looks incredible! I love the colors in the dish and the sauce just tops it all off! Fassoulia is my favorite and what a wonderful version you have

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