Did your mother serve you spaghetti and meatballs every Wednesday night, with thick slabs of garlic bread?
Mine didn't. Instead, she regularly served this rich tomatoey stew, full of hunks of beef and softly cooked green beans, scooped high over cinnamon and all-spice seasoned rice. The smoky-sweet smell of behar, all-spice, quickly brings me back to her kitchen, to the covered pot of rice on the stove top, and the second pot of bubbling green bean stew.
In Palestine, fassoulia means green beans. In other parts of the Arab world, fassoulia refers to other types of beans, kidney beans and the like.
This looks like a lot of steps, but each step is simple. You might be tempted to just throw the raw green beans into the tomato sauce and let it cook down in there, but beans do not cook well in the tomato sauce because of the acidity.
Green Beans for Dinner
One feature of Middle Eastern cuisine is that the dishes are named after the main ingredient of the dish - and that main ingredient is always a vegetable.
What are you making for the meal today, one woman asks another.Green beans, she replies. Tomorrow we will have zucchini.
And, as far as most Palestinians are concerned, there is only one way to prepare green beans, fassoulia. Stew it gently, with or without beef, with tomatoes, pour over rice. Tuck a few loaves of bread onto the table, finely chop up a salad, and dinner is ready.
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 cup of olive oil, divided
1 lb grass fed ground beef
28 oz. can of good quality pureed tomatoes or equivalent pureed skinned fresh tomatoes
3 tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup of homemade stock or water
2 tsp allspice, divided
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 lbs green beans
salt and pepper to taste
1. Over medium heat, saute onions in two tablespoons of olive oil until transluecent. Reserve.
2. Season meat with one teaspoon allspice, salt and pepper and brown over medium high heat until deeply carmelized, breaking up with a spoon.
4. Return onions to pot with meat, pour in the tomato puree, tomato paste, and stock. Scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to release the drippings. Season with all spice and cinnamon, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer over very low heat for half an hour, stiring occaisonally.
5. In the meantime, wash the green beans and trim off the ends; cut in one inch pieces.
6. Boil the beans until very tender, and then saute them in remaining olive oil over medium heat until slightly browned.
7. Add the green beans to the tomato mixture, cover and simmer for a few minutes, adding additional water or stock if too thick.
8. Check seasonings, then serve.
Serve over rice spiced with more allspice and cinnamon.
Like all stews, this is much better the second day, once the flavors have really incorporated.