Yemeni Fasoulia

A bowl of Yemeni fasoulia with cilantro and pita bread.

Wait, what? There’s actually a country where fasoulia is a drastically different dish from the rest of the places we’ve looked at? This isn’t what I was expecting from the last stop on this little adventure.

Ok, so the ingredients are pretty much the same. The biggest departure from other versions is the lack of meat, and the type of beans used (pink or red kidney beans seem to be the bean of choice here). But the cooking method? Way different. All the other versions (yes, even the ones with green beans) are stews, but this is pretty much Middle Eastern refried beans. It’s actually pretty similar to the way my family often prepared beans when I was growing up, so this was a trip down memory lane as much as it was an exploration of world cuisine.

Given that Yemen is yet another Middle Eastern country currently torn apart by civil war, famine and disease, I was somewhat surprised to find an adequate number of posts in English to base my recipe off off without having to resort to translating Arabic. Apparently there is more of a refugee community sharing their culture on line in English than there is from Sudan or Syria.

Apparently this is commonly eaten for breakfast in Yemen, although it can be served at any time of day. One post claimed that Yemenis eat beans twice a day, every day, for breakfast and supper! I wasn’t quite feeling up for beans first thing in the morning, so I went for lunch and dinner.

I believe that in Yemen this would traditionally be cooked in a stone pot. I don’t own such a thing, so I used my cast iron skillet.

I will encourage you to adjust any and all ingredients to taste. I left the quantity of beans somewhat loose to encourage you to adjust to your taste and the number of people you are feeding. I tested it with three cans of beans, and I’ll say that’s about the limit with the other ingredient quantities I’ve listed, as it didn’t have nearly as much flavor as I was expecting. In the future I’d probably use two cans, or increase the other other ingredients a little.

Also, feel free to add additional water if you like. While the process of allowing the beans to dry out and form a crust adds flavor to the dish (do be careful not to actually burn them though!.. that’s not the desired flavor), it does make for a pretty thick paste. If you like your beans a little looser you can either skip that step, or add more water afterwards.

I served these with store bought pita bread. I think that the traditional flat bread in Yemen is actually something called malawach, which is flaky and fatty, made with a layered dough like a croissant. It sounds delicious, but I didn’t feel like turning this nice quick canned bean recipe into a cooking project that would take all evening.

Yemeni Fasoulia

Serves: 2-6
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: ~30 minutes
Total: 40 minutes

1 ½ Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 ½ Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ jalapeno, minced
2 small tomatoes, diced

1 Tablespoon tomato paste
¼ cup cilantro, chopped, plus extra to garnish
1 pinch salt, or to taste
¼ teaspoon black pepper
⅔ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon paprika
⅔ teaspoon curry powder

1-3 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1-3 cans white beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup water 

1 ½ cups green onion, chopped, in place of diced
⅓ cup green bell pepper, diced
1 teaspoon margarine or ghee, to garnish

Heat oil in a skillet or stone pot over medium heat. Sauté the onion until it turns translucent, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat a little, add the garlic and jalapeno, stir, and cover. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the onion is soft. Stir in the tomato, cover again, and cook for another 5 minutes, until the tomato is breaking down. 

Stir in the tomato paste, cilantro, salt, pepper and spices. Add a little water if needed to help the tomato paste dissolve. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. 

Add the beans and ½ cup of water. Bring to a simmer and use a potato masher or the back of a heavy spoon to smash about half of the beans, or until the mixture reaches your desired consistency. Raise the heat slightly and cook without stirring for a few minutes, until the bottom dries out and begins to form a crust (but don’t let it actually burn). Stir well, scraping up the fond from the bottom of the pan. Repeat this pattern of forming a crust and scraping it up 2-3 more times. If desired, add a little more water to loosen mixture.

Taste for salt and garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve with pita or other Arab flat bread. 

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