The basis for Lebanese food is fresh vegetables, olive oil, garlic, lemon and fresh herbs and spices. Rich, savory, and tangy flavors and an eye toward contrasting textures are also fundamental. Yes. It’s a vegan dream. Like many cultures, the preparing and sharing food is an act of friendship and love. If you share a meal with a stranger, that person becomes your friend. It’s an easy language to learn. I’ve never felt more welcome in a country where I didn’t speak the language, and to do this day, Lebanese is my “comfort food”: creamy fattoush with sumac and crunchy pita, maqluba, chopped salad, balila (cumin chickpeas)…
This is one of those dishes. It also reminds me of home: bare feet in the garden dirt moist from the morning dew, looking up through the trellis for hidden green beans. It’s a great recipe for those of you who have an overzealous harvest of green beans, or were taken in by some extra beautiful beans at the market. Pick a few heavy, juicy heirloom tomatoes to pair and you’re just about set.
Know that this tastes best after letting the flavors meld for at least an hour – I love to get everything going in the morning and let it simmer, turn it off and let it sit in the fridge until dinner. You can do the same for a next-day lunch or dinner. It only gets better with time to rest. Fortunately, the hands-on time is negligible, especially if you are using store-bought hummus (although I’ve shared my favorite Israeli-style whipped, fluffy hummus at the bottom of this post).
This a great, savory, rich way to prepare veggies – not all vegetables have to be barely cooked and super crunchy, and these green beans stewed in fresh, sweet tomatoes with aromatic, warm spices is a testament to the idea that sometimes “over-cooking” your veg is delicious. Add the creamy hummus on top and it almost melts into the sauce.
It’s not essential to split the green beans, as it only slightly improves the texture – it’s just a bit more traditional that way. By all means, skip that step if it seems a little crazy.
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 5-8 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 1/2 lb fresh green beans, trimmed and sliced in half lengthways*
- 4 cups chopped tomatoes (including seeds and juice)
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- 1 1/4 cups water
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- Hummus (your favorite recipe or mine; recipe below)
- Sumac (optional)
- Olive oil
- Lemon slices
- Warm pita (optional)
- Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the cumin and coriander seeds and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the onion and sprinkle with the salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until browned, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir well for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the paprika and tomato paste and stir well for two minutes.
- Add the green beans, tomatoes, cinnamon stick and water. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally for 1 1/2 hours. It's best to let this sit all day for the flavors to blend or at an hour at the minimum before reheating.
- When reheating, add the lemon juice and stir. Test for salt before serving.
- To serve, scoop green beans and some sauce into a bowl, dollop with hummus, sprinkle with sumac, and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with lemon slices.
- *This is the traditional way to prepare the beans, but isn't essential. Make sure to trim their hard stems, however - pluck them off between your first finger and thumb (a good job for young chefs), or just line them all up and cut them off at once.
- 1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 cup tahini
- 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 6 1/2 tablespoons ice-cold water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons table salt
- Cover the chickpeas with plenty of cold water and soak overnight.
- Drain the chickpeas and add to a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan with the baking soda. Cook over high heat for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add water to generously cover the chickpeas (maybe 2 inches of water above). Bring to a boil and cook, skimming off any foam and chickpea skins that float to the surface. Depending on the freshness of the chickpeas, they will need to cook 20-40 minutes, occasionally longer. When they are done, they should crush easily when squeezed between thumb and forefinger (not yet mushy but very soft).
- Drain the chickpeas - you should have about 4 cups. Place them in a food processor with the garlic and run until you get a stiff paste. With the machine running, add the tahini, lemon juice, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Pour in the ice-cold water and let the machine run for another 5 minutes until the hummus is smooth, creamy, and fluffy.
- Transfer the hummus to a bowl and let cool for at least 30 minutes. Refrigerate until needed but let rest 30 minutes at room temp before serving.