Battle of the Beans 1: Small is Beautiful

14 July 2016

When it comes to food, Turkey and Greece have more in common than they’ll often admit. They share a love for small cups of strong coffee and sweet tooths all around the Aegean Sea love baklava,  made from chopped nuts and layers of filo pastry drenched in honey.

On the savoury side, no selection of starters is complete without that famous yogurt dip made with cucumber and garlic – known as cacık in Turkish, tzatziki in Greek. A Turk’s ıspanaklı börek is a spanakopita to a Greek.

One area where there is some clear water between the Greek and Turkish kitchen is the choice of which bean to combine with a rich tomato sauce. While the Greeks favour dried giant white beans to make the dish known as gigantes plaki, in Turkey this dish is made with the smaller haricot, or navy, bean and is called kuru fasulye. Greece also has a dish made from small white beans called fasolada, but this is more of a soup.

Dried white beans awaiting a soaking

This week on Knidos Cookery Club, we’ll be looking at the Turkish version. When thinking about Turkey’s national dish the döner kebab or köfte, meatballs, generally spring to mind, but in fact it is the humble kuru fasulye that takes the honour. It’s the ultimate Turkish comfort food when served up with pilav, a portion of rice cooked with orzo pasta.

Kindos Cookery Club’s take on the Turkish classic kuru fasulye and pilav

The version that came out of the Knidos Cookery Club kitchen was a bit drier than some found in Turkish cafes. For a saucier version of this dish, add more liquid during the cooking stage; perhaps 100 ml more of water or stock or reserved cooking liquid from the beans.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

250 g dried white beans (haricot or any small white beans you can find) soaked overnight

Four medium-sized plum tomatoes

One medium-sized red onion

One green pepper (the long, thin banana-shaped one)

3-4 teaspoons red pepper paste

200 ml cooking liquid reserved from the beans (use 100 ml more for a runnier sauce)

Seasoning: pinches  of salt and pepper, a teaspoon of cumin

Fresh parsley to garnish the finished dish

50 ml olive oil

100 g orzo pasta (pasta shaped like grains of rice)

300 g washed rice


Cook the beans in a pan of water. Bring to the boil, then simmer over a lower heat for up to 45 minutes or so until the beans are cooked but not going soft. Skim off the foam periodically.

Heat the 25 ml of oil in a heavy-based pan and then add the chopped onion. Cook until translucent over a medium heat. Add the diced green pepper and keep cooking for another 4-5 minutes.

Add  the tomatoes – grate them to remove the skins. Add the red pepper paste and season with salt, black pepper and cumin. Pour in the reserved cooking water from the beans and stir. Add the beans, give it a good stir and keep it bubbling away for 15 minutes or so. You want the beans to stay firm.

To make the rice, heat 25 ml olive oil in a heavy-based pan then add the orzo and stir. Cook until the orzo starts to turn a golden colour. Now add the drained, washed rice and keep stirring. When the rice is coated with oil, pour in water or stock so the rice is covered by about 1 cm of liquid. Add salt if required.

Turn the heat down and cook until all the water is absorbed. turn off the heat and allow it to stand for 10 minutes or so and cover with a clean tea towel or some kitchen roll and put the lid on.

Serve the rice and beans together, garnishing the beans with some chopped parsley. have some crusty bread like a baguette on hand to soak up the juices.




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