This is a traditional Romanian white bean spread with loads of garlic and a topping of caramelized onions with sweet and smoked paprika and tomato paste. We traditionally eat this around the holidays and especially in the lenten period leading up to Easter.
More Romanian recipes:
- Slow Roasted Caramelized Cabbage
- Sărățele: 3 Ingredient Cheese Sticks with Mascarpone
- Macaroane cu lapte: Sweet Cinnamon & Brown Sugar Pasta
- Plăcintă cu telemea: Homemade Phyllo Pie with Sheep Feta
- Mancare de Mazare: Green Pea, Tomato & Bacon Stew
We're now going into our fourth (or fifth who knows anymore) week of working from home in self-isolation and I said something this morning that I haven’t said in years. ‘I’m bored’.
I haven’t felt that deep sense of restlessness in ages. It’s so often the case that I have a ton of things I need to fill the empty spaces with.
But now, with so much extra time to slow down, I’ve done all of those things that I never seem to have enough time to do.
It feels like I’ve done it all during isolation. I’ve cooked. I’ve had time for my blog. I've connected more with family and friends, read up on photography, fallen in love with houseplants (in a very real way ?), watched the way light moves across the living room throughout the day, listened to the chirping birds and rustling leaves in the trees, and arranged my cookbooks by size.
Of course there’s always more to do, and always more to learn about managing one's time.
So when I said 'I’m bored’ this morning it came out as a sort of half-complaint, half-joke - Bogdan and I looked at each other after I said it and burst out laughing. It’s a good thing. It’s nice remembering this feeling. The feeling of endless summer days of childhood.
So for now I’ve decided to go with it and see what lessons this new way of experiencing the world has to offer.
As far as the kitchen goes, this week I’m moving into the Romanian culinary vibe because Easter is approaching and we Romanians love Easter. We’ve invited two friends over (perfectly in line with the current Dutch regulations on self-isolation) and I have a big menu planned.
I want to pick up some fresh lamb from the Turkish butcher, and maybe some lamb organ meats for drob if I can find any. Butter for homemade pastry, fresh parsley and lots of dill, baking chocolate, walnuts, potatoes, carrots, good pickles from the Bulgarian store and lots and lots of eggs to colour and to make traditional Romanian Easter cheesecake called pasca.
There’s been a lot of buzz about pasca on Instagram the past few days inspired by Irina Georgescu’s debut cookbook Carpathia: Food from the Heart of Romania.
I’m suddenly really jazzed up about exploring the regional cuisine of Romania on the opposite side of the country from where I was born, especially significant now that Easter is almost here.
Sadly, I didn’t think about it in time and my copy of Carpathia will only arrive next week but luckily Irina posted a recipe for traditional Romanian pasca online in Wanderlust magazine.
I really appreciate what Irina’s done bringing the beauty of Romanian cuisine to the public table. I hope it’s the first of many more explorations in regional cuisine in Romania and in other lesser known culinary gems.
As for this dish, it's a super simple one to pull off. In Romanian we call it fasole batuta or whipped beans, referring to the way the white beans are whipped together with a lot of fresh garlic.
The final bean spread is topped with slow caramelized onions simmered in a sauce made of sunflower oil, sweet paprika, and tomato paste. Serve at room temperature ideally on homemade bread like the Easy Braided Whole Wheat Loaf I made to go with it.
Fun fact: the Romanian word for beans is fasole - very similar to a lot of other languages like Turkish fasulye, Arabic faswlya, Spanish freijoles, and (surprisingly for me) Russian fasol.
According to Wikipedia, it all derives from Latin by way of Ancient Greek.
From Mediaeval Byzantine Greek φασόλιν (phasólin) < *φασιόλιον, from diminutive of Hellenistic Koine Greek φασίολος (phasíolos), a reborrowing from Latin phaseolus, diminutive of phaselus, from Ancient Greek φάσηλος (phásēlos) a bean probably of the Vigna genus.
Other languages in the general vicinity that don’t at all have a similar word for beans include Albanian bathë, Armenian lobi, Georgian lobio, Croatian grah, and Latvian pupiņas.
I'm willing to bet that if you type any one of those words into Pinterest search, you’re probably going to get a ton of amazing lesser known recipes.
What is traditional Romanian white bean spread supposed to taste like?
Very strong on the garlic. We don't shy away from garlic at all - in fact we usually eat it raw in a sauce called mujdei.
What's especially nice about this white bean spread though is the contrast of the sharp and spicy garlic flavour with the mellow, smoky and sweet caramelized onion. It's an excellent flavour combination.
So overall for this white bean spread you're going for garlic first, then creamy, sweet, tangy, and earthy from the caramelised onions with tomato and smoked paprika.
The bean spread itself is good, but the topping is what really makes it. That’s why we often serve it spread out thin on a flat plate much like Middle Eastern labneh and hummus.
How do you make Romanian bean spread
the garlicky white bean spread
I started by boiling white beans that I had soaked overnight. After soaking for 8-10 hours I boiled them in salted water and it took about 90 minutes for them to soften fully.
Dry vs canned beans
Even with the additional time, I really prefer boiling my own beans. It’s cheaper, makes the beans easier to store and carry, makes the whole process less intensive from a manufacturing perspective, and isn't really that much harder than canned beans with a little forward thinking.
That being said, you can also substitute 3 cans of drained white beans for 250 grams dry.
What kind of white beans
As for the type of white beans. There are so many kinds of white beans - the ones I bought from the Turkish grocer don’t specify what they are, and the ones used in Romania are probably many and various depending on region and local cultivars.
Here is a Cooks Illustrated guide to 4 common varieties of white beans if you want some background. If not, then just use any white beans you can find.
Whipping the beans
Once the beans are fork tender remove them from the heat. The best way to whip them nowadays is to simply use a food processor. If you don't have a food processor you'll have to get inventive. A mortar and pestle could help, or a potato ricer. Likewise the garlic will need to be mashed very finely in a garlic press or mortar and pestle.
If using a food processor add the white beans and garlic along with 1 tablespoon each of sunflower oil and water. I used 6 cloves of garlic because this dish is garlic forward. If you don't like that much garlic you can reduce it to 3 or even 2 but I strongly encourage you go full force with the garlic since it creates a wonderful contrast with the sweet caramelized onion.
Process the beans with the garlic until they're very smooth, adding a tablespoon at a time of sunflower oil and water to help smooth out the mixture. You shouldn't need to use more than 3 or 4 tablespoons each of water and oil and keep in mind the more water you add, the more you dilute the flavour.
I used sunflower oil since I have a nice one I recently picked up and sunflower oil also happens to be the most traditional in my region of the country. Any flavourless vegetable or corn oil will do.
How to make the caramelized onion and paprika topping
While the beans are boiling is a good time to make the sauce for topping. Slice 3 onions into strips and add to a skillet with about a tablespoon of sunflower oil.
Cook on medium-low heat for about 20 - 30 minutes, stirring every so often so they don't cook unevenly.
Once the onions have reduced down and browned, add 2 tablespoons of sweet Hungarian paprika, 1 tablespoon of smoked paprika if you like a little bit of heat, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, and a ¼ of a cup of water. Mix well and continue cooking for a few more minutes until it thickens and looks like a sauce.
How to serve
When you are ready to serve, spread some of the whipped bean and garlic mixture in a relatively flat bowl and then spoon some of the caramelized onion topping over it. Spread on tasty bread and enjoy.
Traditional Romanian White Bean Spread with Garlic & Caramelized Onion
- 3 cans white beans or substitute 250 grams dry
- 6 cloves garlic
- 3 yellow onions
- 2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
- 1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon sunflower oil or other neutral oil
- salt to taste
- If using dry beans, soak the beans overnight for 8 - 10 hours. Drain, put in a pot of fresh water and boil for about 90 minutes or until fork tender.
- While the beans are cooking, slice 3 onions into strips and add to a skillet with about a tablespoon of sunflower oil.
- Cook the onions medium-low heat for about 20 - 30 minutes, stirring every so often so they don't cook unevenly.
- Once the onions have reduced down and browned, add 2 tablespoons of sweet Hungarian paprika, 1 tablespoon of smoked paprika if you like a little bit of heat, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, and a ¼ of a cup of water. Mix well and continue cooking for a few more minutes until it thickens and looks like a sauce.
- Returning to the cooked beans, process the beans with the garlic in a food processor until they're very smooth, adding a tablespoon at a time of sunflower oil and water to help smooth out the mixture.
- To serve, spread some of the whipped bean and garlic mixture in a relatively flat bowl and then spoon some of the caramelized onion topping over it. Eat with fresh bread.