Archeology Begins at Home

August 6th, 2008

Actually, at our house, archeology usually begins in the refrigerator. But yesterday, we were exploring the back of a few cupboards and chanced upon a glass jar containing approximately half a pound of very large ivory-colored beans. Even a perfunctory examination told us these were no ordinary dried pulses. Turns out they were Turkish fasulye, similar to what are known as gigantes in Spanish. While their size (about 3/4 inch in length) is more than twice the size of dried Italian cannellini, the most remarkable thing about these beans was that they were more than ten years old. Apologies for not taking a photo before we cooked them, but they were probably a cultivar of Phasoleus coccineus.

Turkish Fasulye Pilaki
Photo by Skip Lombardi

Holly had bought them at an Istanbul street market with many Bulgarian-Turkish vendors… that was all she remembered about this batch, left from a larger stash. But, needless to say, she did remember how to cook them, even though we were not sure what the outcome would be! Nonetheless, we thought we’d see what ten year-old beans tasted like. And the truth is, they were delicious, none the worse for their vintage.

We used our standard method for cooking dried beans—our pressure-cooker. But as the beans were at least twice the size of, say, kidney beans, we gave them twice the cooking time: 20 minutes under pressure, then a three hour rest in the sealed heat of the pressure-cooker.

Since the beans came from Turkey, it seemed appropriate to turn them into a Turkish bean salad, Fasulye Pilaki, which is served alone as a light lunch or as part of an evening spread of meze.

Fasulye Pilaki
Turkish Bean Salad


Olive Oil
1 Medium Onion, sliced thinly
1 Medium Carrot, sliced thinly
2 – 3 Cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbs. Fresh marjoram, finely chopped (or half that amount, if using dried)
Antep pepper (Turkish chili pepper flakes which are moderately hot & sweet. Substitute Italian dried peperoncini)
1 Bay leaf
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 Cup crushed tomatoes (canned or fresh)
1/2 Lb. dry white beans, cooked as above
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Additional olive oil
1 Scallion—green & white parts—minced
4 Tbs. Fresh mint, finely chopped


Heat a sauce pan (at least 1 quart) over medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan, then sauté the onion, carrot, garlic, marjoram, Antep pepper, bay leaf, and cinnamon until the onion begins to wilt and the seasonings are very fragrant.

Add the crushed tomatoes, cooked beans, and enough water to barely cover the beans. Simmer the mixture, leaving the lid on the pan but slightly ajar to let steam escape. When the carrots are nearly done to your taste (we like them al dente), turn off the heat, remove the lid and let the mixture cool. Season with salt and pepper as necessary.

Serve warm or at room temperature with a splash of fruity olive oil and a sprinkling of scallions and mint. Have some good crusty bread at hand to soak up the sauce.

Serves two for lunch. More if served as one of several meze.

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