Libyan Fasoulia

A bowl of Libyan fasoulia with fresh bread.

Time for another post in my fasoulia series. I know it’s been almost a month since my last post. I had to order a few ingredients for this one, and then got excited about and sidetracked by some other cooking projects that kept pushing this one off for another day. As tasty as beans are, sometimes we like to eat other things too.

If you haven’t been following along for the last few months, fasoulia is the Arabic word for “beans”, but throughout the Middle East and North Africa there is a particular dish that often goes by that name, consisting of beans and meat in a spiced tomato sauce. While the basic dish is the same, the spices do vary from country to country, and I’m exploring those subtle variations.

My last several recipes have come from the small countries at the eastern end of the Mediterranean (Israel, Lebanon, Jordan…). This time we’ve moved to North Africa. Libya is a large county, lying between Egypt and Algeria. As I mentioned in my last post, I was hoping for a different set of flavors coming out of North Africa than I was getting, and Libya didn’t disappoint.

The biggest difference isn’t actually the spices, but the tomato content. My previous fasoulia recipes have all had a sauce that was very much tomato based. This dish only contains a couple tablespoons of tomato paste, with most of the sauce being the liquid the meat and beans were cooked in.

But, of course, there are also different spices. Cumin remains a constant across all the recipes so far, but while the more eastern recipes have revolved around allspice and/or coriander, here in Libya we see turmeric, harissa, and Bharat, or “7 spice”.

Harissa is most commonly associated with Moroccan and Algerian cuisine, but is found throughout the region. It’s usually a condiment or sauce made with red peppers, and is often intensely spicy. But, I’ve also seen the word applied to a powdered spice blend* , and that was how I interpreted the recipes I looked at that called for harissa. In retrospect it’s probably more likely that they were using a sauce, and I don’t think it would drastically change my dish to use one versus the other, but you’ll see me using the powder in my photos.

Bharat* is another spice blend used throughout the Arab world. The exact spices used vary a little from country to country and spice vendor to spice vendor, but it contains mostly what we might consider “sweet” spices; cinnamon, cardamom, ginger… It’s basically the Garam Masala of the Arab world. This gets added close to the end of the cooking time so the flavors stay bright.

Another difference between this version and previous ones is the meat/ bean ratio. I suspect this might have more to do with how I create my recipes than an actual reflection of common practice in Libya, but this wound up as more of a lamb stew with beans than a bean stew with lamb. (There’s also the fact that I used my entire package of lamb even though it had an extra four or five ounces of meat beyond what I wrote into the recipe, but I don’t think that accounts for the entirety of the balance shift). Of course, it’s still delicious, just a little different consistency than I’ve been used to recently.

I chose to serve the fasoulia with home made Libyan bread, called Khubzit Howsh, similar to pita. I used a recipe from , which was tasty and easy. You could also serve it with rice or couscous.

Libyan Fasoulia

Serves: 2-4
Prep: 0:15
Cook 2:00
Total: 2:15, plus soaking time

⅔ cup dry white kidney beans
⅔ cup dry great northern beans
2 cups fresh borlotti beans

1 lb lamb stew meat
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 ½ cups water

1 ¾ Tablespoons olive oil
1 ¾ Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
1 ½ Tablespoons tomato paste
½ teaspoon turmeric
¾ t cumin
1 teaspoon harissa powder
⅓ teaspoon black pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small chili pepper, minced
1 ⅛ teaspoon bharat or 7 spice

⅓ cup cilantro, minced

1 lb. beef chuck, in place of lamb
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne
Lemon wedges, to serve

Pick over your dry beans and remove any bad beans or foreign objects. Rinse, drain, and cover with cold water. Leave to soak over night. (If using fresh beans there is no need to soak; proceed to the next step)

Season the lamb with salt and pepper and place in a pot. Add water and bring to a boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 1 hour. Drain your beans, add them to the pot along with another generous pinch of salt, and continue to simmer. 

In a sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat, and add the onion. Sauté until golden, then add the tomato paste, turmeric, cumin, harissa and black pepper. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes, then add the mixture to the pot with the beans. Continue to simmer for about 45 minutes, until the beans are soft and the lamb is tender.

Stir in the garlic, chili pepper and bharat, and continue to simmer for about 10 minutes, to cook the garlic and chilies. 

Stir in the cilantro, taste for seasoning, and remove from the heat. Serve with fresh bread, rice or couscous. 

*I receive no compensation for mentioning this product.

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