If you ask anyone in Turkey which meal they would consider the national dish, they’d pretty much say all the same: Kuru fasulye. (Mind you, desserts are excluded here – that would spark a very heated debate!)
What is White Bean Stew (Kuru Fasulye)?
Kuru fasulye is bean stew cooked with tomatoes or tomato paste on low heat and served with rice. Many variations include sucuk (a kind of spiced sausage), pastırma (well-seasoned cured beef) or cooked meat.Jump to Recipe
Compared to its European neighbors, Turkey was rather late to the party with the trendy new legume known as beans brought to Europe from the Americas. Europe started using beans in the 16th century, and they found their way to Anatolia over the many trade routes.
By the 18th century, the bean has found its way into Turkish kitchens, from the palace kitchens to the soldiers’ canteens. Some travelers from London complained in their journals from 1744 that the bean stew had “but little of meat to monstrous deal of vegetable.”
It might be argued that the Turkish bean stew is nothing special compared to other versions around the world, but the renowned gastronomical encyclopedia Larousse Gastronomique listed the Turkish version in its own right.
The addition meat can be traced to the love of meat in the Ottoman kitchen, where even dolma that were not filled with meat was called “yalancı,” or fake dolma.
The bean stew served to enlisted Turks drew the attention of an English army surgeon in the 19th century. He observed that no soldier from any other nation in Europe was so “plentifully rationed” as the Turkish ones. Turkish soldiers would cook their meats and stews in tinned copper pans slowly over a low heat, requiring a minimum amount of fuel. This slow cooking technique enhances the flavor of the beans.
Kuru fasulye has recently elevated to cult status in Turkey and is cheaper and more filling than any meat-based street food. Especially in Istanbul, in the shadows of the mighty Süleymaniye Mosque, there is a street filled with restaurants exclusively selling the bean stew. It is a bit off the beaten path for tourists, and during lunch hours both workers and students swarm the small establishments to get their fill.
The dish Kuru fasulye commonly uses white beans such as cannellini. “Kuru” means dry and “fasulye” means beans. Fasulye itself stems from the Greek fasulia. The Greek version of this dish is called “fasolada” and generally does not contain meat and includes vegetables such as carrots and celery.
Kuru Fasulye - meet beans the Turkish way!
- 360 gr drycannellini beans
- 2 onions
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- dash of oil
- salt, sugar
- Let the beans soak in water overnight to speed up the cooking process. Do not use the same water the beans soaked in. Transfer the beans into a pot and cover with water. Simmer for 25-30 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the beans rest with the lid closed.
- In a separate pot add the oil, chopped onions and garlic and sauté until they start to soften. Add tomato paste and stir it all together for 2 minutes. Pour beans with their water into this mix and let bring it to a simmer for 30-40 minutes until the beans have softened. Close to the end of the cooking process, add a pinch of sugar and salt to taste. Serve over or aside a generous portion of rice.
TipsServing the dish with mint is a savory way to enjoy these beans.
If pastırma is not added to this dish, some fenugreek can elevate it immensely. But as it is very potent it is advised to put in just a little, such as the tip of a knife or ¼ of a teaspoon, depending on amount of stew).
Every kind of bean cooks differently, so keeping an eye and testing the beans throughout cooking is essential. As this is a popular homemade dish, many housewives cook their beans in advance and freezer them for a quick dinner.
Bibliography(1) Deniz Gürsoy, “Tarihin süzgecinde mutfak kültürümüz”, 2013
(2) Priscilla Mary Işın, “Bountiful Empire: A History of Ottoman Cuisine”, 2018