Very soon I will be going to California for WOF which theme this year is Arc of Flavors. I am looking forward to the conference of course but I also can’t wait to see my newly-engaged nephew and his fiancee and my niece and all my friends including lovely Amy, who as some of you may know, helped me cook my birthday party. I love cooking with Amy. Not only is she a marvellous chef (at Chez Panisse) but she is also a fabulous partner in the kitchen with the sweetest character and no ego in play; and she is very silent as she works — I am totally paranoid about noise. And to make things even better, Amy loves my Lebanese food as much as I love hers. So, when we saw the fresh borlotti beans at la Fromagerie, I told her about my mother’s fassulia (beans in arabic) bil-lahmeh (meat), and how she used to prepare it with pork skin in a tomato sauce. As luck would have it, I had received that morning wonderful pork belly from Packington Free Range farm. So, we decided to buy the beans to cook with the pork.
I gave Amy my Lebanese cookbook for her to look at the recipe before we could discuss how to prepare the dish slightly differently to avoid the beans becoming mushy and have an elegant presentation (which sadly you will not be able to see because I forgot to photograph the final dish which did look beautiful!). We decided to start more or less the way my mother does and as you can see from the picture below, Amy sliced the onions beautifully.
As for the meat, the butcher at Packington had already scored the skin in little squares for maximum crispness which was very clever.
And this is when Amy surprised me by cooking the slices vertically with the skin down to crisp it up before searing the meat. Incredibly good tip which I will not only use but also pass on to my mother who is bound to appreciate it.
As you can see, it was a very good idea.
Then Amy seared the meat and removed it onto a plate to sauté the onions.
And here is when Amy started veering away from my mother’s version. She added garlic (fresh, also from la Fromagerie) to the onion and cooked the meat completely with the seasonings but not the tomato concentré.
Amy then strained the meat and onions and placed the cooking broth in the refrigerator to make it easier to defat. she skimmed the broth and cooked the beans in it until they were just done (about half an hour) before adding the meat and tomato concentré. Here again, Amy changed my mother’s recipe and used a lot less tomato concentré. By the end the broth had reduced to a thick sauce and all the flavours had melded together to resemble my mother’s albeit more subtle!
Here is my mother’s recipe but as much as I love her, I have to say I prefer Amy’s version and I am only sorry that I was so taken by our guests that night that I forgot to snap the final dish which Amy made look gorgeous. By the time I remembered, It was too late and all that was left was scraps but here is a snap of the beautiful golden skin which I hope will make up for my attention lapse!
250 g dried cannellini or haricot beans, soaked overnight in plenty of cold water with 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (or 500 g fresh borlotti beans)
500 g pork meat from the hand and spring joint or lamb meat from the shoulder
2 or 3 bones (optional)
60 g unsalted butter
1 large onion, sliced medium-thin
140 g tomato concentrate
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
If you are using pork and intend to cook the skin with the meat, singe it first over a gas fire to get rid of any fluff. Rinse the meat under cold water and cut it in chunky pieces, separating the skin from the meat (if the skin is very fatty cut off and discard any excess fat). If you are using lamb, strip the skin off, discard it, and get rid of as much fat as you can and cut as with the pork.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat and sauté the pork skins (if you are using them) until crisp and golden. Remove them onto a plate and brown the meat. Remove the meat onto the same plate as the skins. Add the sliced onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and transparent. If you are using the bones, rinse them under cold water before adding to the onion. Sauté the bones until they lose all traces of pink. Return the skins and meat to the pan, add 1 litre water, cover and bring to the boil. When the water is about to boil, skim the surface clean and boil gently for 15 minutes.
Drain the soaked beans and rinse them under cold water. Add to the meat and onion and boil gently, covered, for 45 minutes or until the beans are tender (if you are using fresh beans, cook the meat for 15 minutes longer then add the beans).
Dilute the tomato concentrate in a little water and stir into the broth. Season with cinnamon, allspice, pepper, nutmeg and salt to taste, put the lid back on and simmer for 10 more minutes or until the sauce has thickened and the beans are cooked. Taste, adjust seasoning if necessary, and serve hot with plain rice.
©anissa helou from Lebanese Cuisine
Tagged : amy dencler, borlotti beans, chez panisse, fassulia, fassulia bil-lahmeh, la fromagerie, lebanese bean stew, lebanese cuisine, packington free range, pork belly, pork skin, searing pork skin, World of Flavors conference 10