Fasoullieh (Green Bean Stew)
If ever I am stuck for a recipe idea, I think back to my childhood when I lived in Damascus and the foods I grew up with. Much of the traditional home cooked Damascene cuisine is veg heavy and meat and dairy are most often reserved for flavouring a dish rather than as the center piece of a meal, which makes it easy enough to omit them without sacrificing flavour.
Syria is a mediterranean country that was once a part of the fertile crescent, global warming, questionable infrastructure and the ongoing civil war has left a lot of the once arid land unfarmable. Nevertheless, some of the tastiest fruits and vegetables are still a staple of the diet which makes copying the strong flavours of the cuisine difficult to replicate beyond those borders. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying and adapting.
In anticipation of the runner beans that are sure to make their way into our weekly veg bag, I went ahead and prepared this dish using frozen green (string) beans. I used the best Italian canned tomatoes and tomato paste I could find and a readily available spice that, although commonly used in Syrian cuisine, was not recommended by my mother (sorry mom!) as she finds it can be too sweet. Allspice is an ingredient of the most commonly used spice for this dish, ‘bharat, a combination of seven spices, but not easily accessible where we live. I didn’t add too much of the allspice and found that it didn’t overpower the stew.
In Damascus, this stew is often eaten at room temperature and drizzled with a good amount of olive oil. So I let the stew cool, covered in the pot, come to room temperature before serving. Unlike in Aleppo, hot chilli pepper is not big in Damascene cuisine, but I love it and so added a good amount to my dish. For added zing, a small amount of finely diced fresh herbs such as mint, parsley or coriander could be used when ready to serve.
The boys weren’t too crazy about this one. After taking their first bite they decided that they didn’t like the beans cooked this way, but they soldiered through and finished their bowls (albeit with a good serving of bulgur to overshadow the beans). I can’t blame them, I didn’t particularly like this dish as a child either, and for the exact same reason. Our boys prefer their green beans steamed, vibrantly green and with a crunch. I had a feeling that they wouldn’t take to it, but was pleasantly surprised that they took little notice of the onion in the tomato sauce, so we have some headway and hopefully over time they will grow to love this dish as I have.
As mentioned above, we served this pot with a coarse bulgur wheat that is similar in size to rice, the more common side to this dish. Bulgur cooks much more quickly than brown rice and we like the texture it adds to the dish. If you can get your hands on some extra coarse bulgur we urge you to give it a try. We cook ours with some added bouillon, but otherwise stick to the 1:2 proportion of cooking rice (1 measure bulgur to 2 measures of water).
Ingredients: (4 adults as a main)
- 500g green beans
- 1 medium onion
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 can of chopped tomatoes
- 5 whole garlic cloves
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1 tsp of salt, divided
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil, plus more when served
- Dice and sautee onion with olive oil and 1/2 tsp of salt on medium heat for 5 min. or until softened.
- Peal and gently bruise the garlic cloves and add whole along with 1/2 tsp allspice and sautee for a further 1 min.
- Next add the tomato paste and continue to sautee for another 3 min.
- Pour in the can of chopped tomatoes, 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper. Half fill the can of chopped tomatoes with water and add to the pot.
- Finally add the frozen green beans and gently bring the stew to the boil, cover and simmer for 45 min.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool before serving with a generous drizzle of olive oil.