Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Mildly Spiced ‘Persian’ Bean Soup Recipe

At the end of last term, our girls were performing a Persian play at school. Parents were asked to provide food with a Persian flavour; it being the middle of winter, soups and breads were suggested.  Now Persian suggests to me richly woven carpets, rosewater and perhaps jewel-like pomegranate seeds, sorbets, sherbets and such-like delicacies. I’ve obviously been reading too many fairy-tales!

For a more down to earth perspective and less daunting challenge, I turned to my trusty Madhur Jaffrey book, which includes recipes from the Middle East, Iran, Turkey and Japan, as well as India. I found several recipes that sounded good, featuring mild spices and many pulses, poor man’s Persia perhaps. In the end I created a soup inspired by elements from several recipes and added my newly favourite spice combo – garam masala. I’ve recently fallen in love with its aromatic and gentle spiciness having ignored it on the shelf for years, so it deserved a starring role for once.

Here is my final recipe, first tested at the girls’ play, then at our Midwinter Festival, at both of which events it disappeared very quickly. It finally managed to get photographed today after being served up for Middle Daughter’s 13th birthday lunch. Perhaps it doesn’t sound very birthday-ish, but she has planned  a birthday tea with chocolate cake and cheese biscuits, shortly to be followed by a braai fire with boerewors, stick bread and marshmallows, so a lunchtime healthy soup sounded like a good foundation for the feasting to follow!

It’s simple to make, filling and warming and goes down well with all but the most ardent vegetable refuseniks.

Recipe for Persian-Inspired Bean Soup
500g dried haricot or other small white beans
2 onions
1 clove garlic
2 tomatoes
2 potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½  teaspoons cumin
1 ½ teaspoons garam masala
½ teaspoon turmeric
Salt and pepper
2-3 teaspoons lemon juice

Soak the beans overnight in plenty of water. Rinse and then put into a pot with enough water to cover the beans by 2 cm or so. Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour.

Chop the onions and garlic quite small. Chop tomatoes and potatoes into small cubes.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the onions and garlic. Cook until starting to soften. Add the spices and cook stirring for a minute. Add the tomatoes and then the potatoes, stirring well to coat everything.

Check the water level in the beans. It should just cover them. If there is too much water, remove the excess. Now add the contents of the frying pan to the beans, season with salt and pepper and cook for another hour, until the beans and potatoes are very tender. Check for seasoning. At this stage it can be left and reheated later.

Just before serving, add the lemon juice to taste. Don’t be tempted to leave this out, as it really lifts all the flavours to a new dimension and adds a lively touch.


I’m taking part in the PicknPay Freshly Blogged SA bloggers competition, which started last Friday and will be carrying on for 11 weeks, with 5 people being eliminated each week and a grand finale cook-off for the last three in September. It’s a Masterchef mystery box style challenge where we are given set ingredients and have to come up with a recipe. I’ll be publishing my first recipe here very soon, which I’ve submitted to their site today. The deadline for our submissions is tomorrow and the Freshly Blogged site goes live on Monday, when you’ll be able to vote for your favourite recipe. (Hint - mine is delicious!)  It’s  been great fun, stimulating creative food thinking, so I hope to stay in for as many rounds as possible, and there’s plenty of worthy competition among all my fellow SA food bloggers!

Our list included Thai frozen vegetables, phyllo pastry, garlic, ginger and dhania paste, 2-minute noodles, a pineapple and an orange... we were allowed to omit one ingredient and add one ingredient of our choice... what would you have made?


  1. I'm not very good with pastry so I would leave that out and make a stir-fry but that's pretty unimaginative.

  2. I'd never used phyllo pastry before, Scriptor, but it wasn't too hard - looks so much fancier than it really is!

  3. Hey Kit - thanks for the inspiration! I'm going to make the bean soup in my crock pot with canned beans. Garam masala is one of my all-time FAVORITE spices! Anything masala, really. Chicken tikka masala is my very favorite Indian dish - just had it on Friday night, actually. I could probably eat that every day and never tire of it.

    As for phyllo... if you want to make something abfab with that, make a filling out of sauteed spinach and garlic, stir in some crumbled feta cheese when it's cooled down, and spoon that onto phyllo and fold it into triangular shape. Brush on some eggwhite, bake in the oven, and MMMMMMMMMMMM!

  4. Hi Marcheline, Glad you like the garam masala idea! If you use canned beans it won't need such long cooking, but it's still good to cook slow for the flavours to all absorb.
    Thanks for the phyllo suggestion - love spinach and feta as a combo and we have plenty of spinach in the garden right now, so I'll give it a try.


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!