Luscious Winter Bean Stew from Algeria

Lubya Bayda bi'l Basal wa'l-Tumatim (Lamb and White Bean) (Algeria) (2) Winter stews in North Africa, called tagines or maraqat, are typically named after the major vegetable in the dish and not after the major protein, which actually plays a small role in the stew acting more like a condiment than a meat as we use it in North American stews.

This stew from Algeria is typical family fare. It’s called lūbya bayḍā bi’l-baṣal wa’l-ṭūmāṭīm which means “white beans with onion and tomatoes” without even a mention of the lamb. It would typically be found at the lunch table, the main meal in Algeria, when the father returns home from work to eat. The stew is made with lamb or often mutton and dried white haricot beans with lots of onions and tomatoes. It is seasoned in a spicy hot way with cayenne pepper, fresh chile pepper, and the ubiquitous chile pepper paste called harīsa. In Arabic, the name of this preparation doesn’t even hint at the presence of the lamb. In fact, the original recipe given to me that is the basis for my recipe here called for nearly four pounds of dried beans for less than two pounds of lamb. Although it is not necessary to serve this stew with anything because the beans make it substantial enough, it would be delightful with a platter of fresh salad greens, seeded and sliced cucumbers, and ripe tomatoes all chopped up and dressed with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, very finely chopped garlic, a dusting of cayenne, and fresh lemon juice.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 3/4 pounds boneless leg or shoulder of mutton or lamb, cut into smaller than bite-size pieces
1 tablespoon salt and more to taste
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper and more to taste
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon harīsa
3 large onions, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 pounds canned plum tomatoes, chopped
1 quart water
1 pound (2 cups) dried white haricot beans, soaked in water to cover overnight, drained
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
1. In a stew pot, preferably earthenware, using a heat diffuser if necessary if you are using earthenware, heat the oil over high heat, then brown the meat seasoned with the salt, pepper, and cayenne, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the harīsa, stir, then add the onions and tomatoes, reduce the heat to low, cover, and leave to simmer for 15 minutes.
2. Add a quart of water, the beans, and the coriander leaves, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and let it simmer until the beans are tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Correct the seasoning then serve hot.
Makes 6 to 8 servings

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