In all parts of the world, bean dishes are vaunted. Saturday in Brazil is the day of feijoada, the famed pork-laden black bean stew. In Egypt, street vendors make a living selling ful, a fava bean stew, for breakfast. And then there’s Turkey’s etli kuru fasulye (fah-SOOL-yay), a winning combination of beans, tomatoes and meat that caught our eye.
It’s an everyday meal—a staple in the buffets laid out in Istanbul’s lokantas (workmen’s restaurants)—but it is revered as a national dish, just as much as kebab. Soaked white beans, cooked until slightly soft, are simmered with tomato and hunks of lamb until buttery but still distinct. They’re seasoned with hot pepper and served with rice or bulgur, pickles and sumac-seasoned onions.
To make beans this compelling, you must start with dried beans. They offer more control over taste and texture, absorbing the flavors of other ingredients as they cook, yet retaining their shape.
So for a proper rendition of etli kuru fasulye, we started with beans and water (and salt, which seasons and tenderizes). The traditional bean, a large white Turkish kidney bean called a dermason, was hard to find. Thick-skinned cannellini beans were the best substitute.
Working out the right way to cook the beans took more than a few attempts. Ultimately, the best—and simplest—method was to combine almost everything in a Dutch oven at the start: the soaked beans, a minimal amount of water, lamb or beef, onion, butter, spices and herbs. Brought to a boil on the stove, then transferred to a hot oven and baked over a few hours, the beans were light and discreet, with a rich, creamy broth.
Though not conventional, a handful of fresh dill and parsley added necessary brightness. We also stirred in tart-sweet pomegranate molasses, a staple in Turkish kitchens.
In Turkey, the beans are often served with pickled vegetables, so we pickled plum tomatoes in cider vinegar, sugar, salt, some spare fresh dill and Aleppo pepper (you can substitute ancho chili powder or crushed red pepper flakes). Finished with the tangy tomatoes and a scoop of yogurt, our Turkish beans were a one-pot wonder—one we’ll revisit often.