Come winter, I crave hearty, comforting dishes and I pull out my Balkan food cookbook, sitting lonesome, shunned and tucked away the rest of the seasons. As earthy as the Balkan dishes are, they possess their own intricacies and flavor pairings sensibilities, and every winter I look at the cookbook for a refresher on the Balkan cuisine subtle flavor pairings brilliance.
In Israel, a melting pot of cultures, one of my good friends growing up was of Romanian descent. Later on, while in the Israeli army, I made a friend, I cherish to this day, who is a third generation Israeli of Bulgarian background. There is a small Greek community in Israel, mostly from Saloniki. The elder generation survived the work camps during WWII. The countries included under the Balkans umbrella stretch to Turkey and some lists even include parts of Italy. I mentioned in my Romanesco Floret Fritters in Beer and Honey Batter post that I was introduced to Kashkaval at the home of one of these friends. Read the Romanesco post for more detail.
A note on dry herbs: I usually use fresh tarragon, sage, basil, oregano and mint, but what better timing to use them in their dry form than, relatively speaking, barren winter. I am reminded again at the sensational pairing, as in this dish, of oregano and mint, and take much pleasure at the astounding results. I tend to use less than what is called for in original recipes, with some exceptions if the original measurements make sense to me.
A note on photography: I have been frustrated somewhat. With the exception of my photograph Indian Shakshuka - Poached Eggs in Curry Sauce, I always want to bring my food styling and photography up by a notch. I have a Pinterest account now for awhile but it has been mostly dormant. Recently I have been engaging in what seems like mindless pinning, but if you study my boards you can see how they inspired me and made me think hard about depth, color palettes, textures and dimension in my photography.
Lastly, I was not sure whether to be embarrassed or proud at the state of some of the pots and pans in my kitchen cupboards until I used one with the golden patina as a background in this photo shoot.
adapted from Balkan Cooking by Benny Saida
2 cups dry Cannellini beans
4 tablespoons canola oil
1 celery rib, diced
3 medium onions, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 bell peppers, diced
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
4 medium tomatoes, blanched, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small 8 oz can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon paprika
1 scant teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried mint
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon
6 cups water
Saute onions, garlic, celery and jalapeno in oil for a few minutes until soft and onions are translucent. Add the bell peppers and saute for a few minutes further. Add tomato, tomato sauce, paprika, oregano, mint, salt, pepper and lemon and cook for few minutes. Add the Cannellini beans and cook for 10 minutes. Add water, bring to a boil, turn down to simmer on low/medium heat and cook covered for about 3 1/2 hours or until Cannellini beans are super creamy and soft. Mix occasionally and add water if necessary.
1. You can substitute canned beans for the the dry ones. Use 4-5 cups rinsed and drained canned beans, approximately 3-4 15oz cans. Cook stew for 30-45 minutes after adding beans to the mixture. You might want to start with adding 4 cups of water first and add more water if necessary.
2. You can cook stew on stove and once beans added you can continue cooking in a slow cooker or a pressure cooker according to directions. I do not own either a slow or a pressure cooker, so I am not able to give you directions.
3. This dish is a chili of sorts you can also add some more water and serve it as soup.