I·ATE: Bean and thyme: bean stews around the world

February 4, 2017 10:00 am

As one of the world’s most common and widespread crops worldwide, the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) serves as the main ingredient in a multitude of dishes; in particular, bean stews are popular meals in several regions of the world, particularly in the winter – they make hearty meals to keep you warm and help you brave the cold weather!

Portuguese feijoada

Portuguese feijoada, especially feijoada à transmontana (from Trás-os-Montes, the northeasternmost region of the country), is cooked with red or kidney beans and some kind of cabbage (usually Savoy cabbage or collard greens). Other common additions include several different sausages (like chouriço – Portuguese chorizo, morcela – a blood sausage, and farinheira – a smoked sausage with flour, paprika, wine and pork fat), smoked pork ear and snout, carrots, and onions. When fully cooked, it is served in bowls with a portion of white rice on the side.

Other parts of the world are familiar with bean and meat stews of different kinds, not least Portugal’s former colonies. Brazilians cook their feijoada with black beans, while the Cape Verdean cachupa includes corn, sweet potatoes and several kinds of fish or meat (like sausage, beef, goat or chicken) alongside the beans. The picture below shows traditional Brazilian feijoada.

Brazilian feijoada

Latin Americans enjoy frijoles negros, a black bean stew with ham hocks, onions, garlic and tomatoes; beans are also an important element in some recipes of chili con carne and take centre stage on baked beans, a British-American specialty. In Asia, the Minahasans of North Sulawesi (Indonesia) eat sup brenebon, a kidney bean and pork stew/soup (a sign of the influence of the former Dutch colonizers in the cuisine of this mainly Christian region, unlike the rest of Indonesia).

Returning to Europe, other examples of meat and bean stews include the Spanish olla podrida, fabada asturiana (Asturias), caparrones (La Rioja), and alubias de Tolosa (Basque Country), the French cassoulet (with white beans), the Romanian fasole cu cârnați (lit. “bean with sausages”), the Italian fagiolata, and the Polish fasolka po bretońsku (a name derived from the Breton dish cocos de Paimpol à la bretonne, a white bean stew made from a cultivar native to Brittany). The picture below shows traditional Polish fasolka po bretońsku and Spanish fabada asturiana.

Polish fasolka po bretońsku and Spanish fabada asturiana

Serbians cook pasulj (known as grah in Bosnian) and Croatians grah i varivah (lit. “beans and stews”), both including several different types of pork meat. Moreover, in the Northern Adriatic region it is common to eat jota, commonly known as Istrian stew (Istria being a peninsula shared by Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia, from which it originates), made with beans, sauerkraut, potatoes, bacon, spare ribs and garlic. Hungarians cook beans in a special kind of goulash (babgulyás or bableves); one of its most famous variants is Jókai-bableves (“bean soup a la Jókai”, or “Jókai bean soup”), named after nineteenth century writer Mór Jókai, who famously asked for this sausage and bean stew every time he ate at restaurants.

Other, generally vegetarian options include the French haricots blancs à la provençale (Provençal-style white beans) and the Greek fasolada (EL φασολάδα), with white beans, tomatoes, assorted vegetables and topped with olive oil, which has counterparts in Albania (jani me fasule), Turkey (kuru fasulye) and the Middle East (fasoulia, AR فاصوليا‎‎) (with lamb meat, if any). Given their geographical proximity, these dishes may share a common origin with the Bulgarian bob chorba (BG боб чорба), with white beans, tomatoes, carrots, onions, red peppers and spearmint. The picture below shows traditional Greek fasolada (φασολάδα).

Greek fasolada (φασολάδα)

Last but certainly not least, cholent (Yiddish: טשאָלנט), also known as hamin (Hebrew: חמין‎‎) and as sólet in Hungary, is a traditional Jewish bean stew with meat and potatoes, cooked as a Sabbath dish in the Ashkenazi and Sephardi cuisines. To circumvent the rules that prohibit cooking on the Sabbath, the beans are prepared and left to stew before sunset of Friday and only taken out after the next sunset.

Do you know any other bean stews? Is it something you enjoy eating? Do you have any recipes to share? Let us know in the comments!


Written by Luís Domingos

Translation Trainee at DG TRAD’s Portuguese Translation Unit. Translator, copywriter, proofreader, language consultant and scholar with five years combined experience. Research interests include the fields of Political Communication, Political Translation, Nationalism and International Relations Theory. Native Portuguese speaker, fluent in English and Spanish. Founder and head writer of The EP Experience, a European Portuguese language blog (now also on Facebook).




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