Iraqi Fasoulia

A bowl of Iraqi fasoulia, with a green salad.

Welcome to post number 100! It’s hard to remember what the world was like 37 months ago when I hit publish on those first handful of recipes. I was still working in the restaurant industry. We were still living in our first home. Donald Trump hadn’t even been impeached the first time yet. And no one had ever heard of Covid-19. 3+ years later and we’re settling into a new normal. I’ve more or less adjusted to being back in the working world, after being unemployed for over two years. We’ve lived in our second, “we’ll live in it for a year and turn it into a rental”, home for over two years. Donald Trump doesn’t know when enough is enough. And I finally caught Covid about two months ago. (A very mild case, thankfully).

And through it all I’ve kept working on this crazy project. I’m not getting famous from this. Nor rich. But it keeps me engaged in a small way with the aspects of being a chef that I actually enjoyed, and gives me an outlet to share my explorations and creations with the world. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a way I could monetize this (see my comment about not getting rich), but I can’t really see a way to successfully do that without drastically changing what I’m doing.

Enough about that. You’re here to read about beans.

Today’s recipe is the second stop on our tour of the Middle East, trying out different versions of fasoulia. Last time we featured Egypt. This time we’re going to Iraq. I was a little surprised to find that I didn’t have to resort to searching in Arabic to find enough recipes to work with this time, although I did still try three different spellings of fasoulia to find enough. Of course, I should probably also admit that I still let one particular recipe have an outsized influence on my final product. Meera Sodha’s Iraqi white bean stew recipe, from The Guardian. Several of the spices I used come directly from that recipe, without being used in any of the other recipes I looked at, which means I normally would have ignored them, but her recipe kept popping up, and, honestly, the additional spices sounded much more interesting than just cumin that most of the other recipes called for. So, this may not be the most authentic recipe I’ve shared, but the spices work well with the tomato and lamb and it’s quite delicious.

Once again, my dish turned out more of a reddish brown than the bright red I saw in photos while I was researching. I’m pretty sure that’s because I nearly burnt my tomato paste though. I had turned the heat up to help with browning the meat, and apparently wasn’t paying attention and turned it all the way to high and then panicked when I realized things were about to burn and tried to correct it by rushing through the cook the tomato paste, add the tomato steps rather than pulling it off the heat. So things got a little dark, but luckily didn’t taste burnt, and my final sauce took on that color. Of course, I’m not convinced that amount of darker spices in there wouldn’t have darkened the sauce anyway.

The cilantro- lemon topping is also directly lifted from Ms. Sodha’s recipe. I have no idea if cilantro is generally used in Iraqi cuisine (I’m thinking not?), but it really does add something to the final dish. The lemon cuts through the “lamby” flavor, and the cilantro adds a fresh green element to the flavor. After I finished my first bowl I served myself a few more bites without the topping, and realized that I had forgotten to taste the stew for salt before serving. The acid from the lemon was enough to keep it tasting fresh and interesting without salt. If you’re one of those people who can’t stand cilantro I highly recommend at least squeezing some lemon over your fasoulia. While it wasn’t called out in most of the recipes I looked at, one video I watched did talk about how a lot of people serve fasoulia with lemon juice or vinegar, which supposedly helps with flatulence. (I don’t think I have enough evidence yet to support or deny that claim. I certainly wasn’t fart free today)

The other interesting thing about this recipe is that it contains no garlic! only one of the recipes I looked at called for garlic, and another, which was comparing this to another Iraqi stew, sat that the main differences were that this one has beans, and uses onion instead of garlic.

I’m also noticing that both this and the Egyptian version overwhelmingly called for some oil other than olive oil. I guess maybe Iraq and Egypt aren’t prime olive producing countries, but I would have assumed that Olive oil would still be the cooking oil of choice in that part of the world.

I used leg of lamb, being the cut I was able to find at the butcher shop I usually go to, which worked. Mutton might be more traditional, and beef or veal are other popular options.

Iraqi Fasoulia

Serves: 4
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: ~2:30
Total: ~3:00

1 ½ cups large dry white beans
2 14 oz cans cannellini beans

1 lb lamb shoulder, cut in 2” cubes
1 teaspoon salt

2 ½ Tablespoons canola oil
2 ½ Tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ brown onions, diced
1 ¾ oz. cilantro, leaves picked, stems finely chopped

2 ½ Tablespoons tomato paste

1 14 oz. can chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons cumin
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice

Boiling water, as needed (I didn’t need any)

For the cilantro-lemon oil:
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 lemon, zested and juiced
¼ teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons ghee, in place of oil
34 oz meat on the bone (beef, lamb, mutton, veal…),in place of lamb shoulder
2 bay leaves
⅜ teaspoon red chili powder 
Juice of 2 lemons
1 lb boneless veal stew meat, in place of lamb
2 large fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, in place of canned

Pick over your dry beans, removing any bad beans or foreign objects. Rinse, drain, and cover with cold water. Leave to soak over night. 

Drain the beans and place in a pot. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered until beans are just tender, 45 minutes or so. Drain and set aside, reserving the cooking water. (If using canned beans, simply drain and rinse them- do not save the water)

Meanwhile, place lamb in a medium sized pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface, reduce the heat, and simmer for 90 minutes to 2 hours, until meat is tender. Add the salt after about 45 minutes. Set aside, reserving broth. 

Heat 2 ½ Tablespoons of oil in a heavy pot or dutch oven. Add the onion and cilantro stems (reserve the leaves for the cilantro-lemon oil), and sauté until the onion begins to soften, 5 minutes or so. 

Add the cooked meat and brown for a few minutes on each side, then add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes, until the tomato paste darkens slightly. 

Add the canned tomatoes and spices. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the beans, and mix well. Then add the reserved meat broth, bean cooking liquid, and additional boiling water (if needed) to cover the beans and meat.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until flavors meld. 

For the cilantro-lemon oil, place 2 Tablespoons of canola oil in a small bowl. Coarsely chop the cilantro leaves and add them, along with ¼ teaspoon of salt, the lemon zest, and about 3 Tablespoons of lemon juice. Mix well. 

Top each bowl of beans with a spoonful of cilantro oil, and serve with rice and a green salad. 

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