Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Israeli White Bean Soup

There's an Israeli hole-in-the-wall restaurant that the CC has patronized for more than a decade now.

The owner is a curmudgeon who knows exactly how amazing his food is.

(For US readers: think Soup Nazi from Seinfeld and yes! the CC is perfectly aware of the idiocy and offensiveness of using the term "Israeli Nazi" but that is the only characterization that fits.)

Only two things soften him up — an appreciation for his cooking, and cute chicks, and the latter sometimes doesn't cut any mustard. He once tossed out out two clueless cute giggling girls. Then he turned to the CC and said, "They don't know anything about food."

The CC has always been on the good side but it took time and patience to become an insider. One fine day, the maestro said in a mocking and ironic way, "So you like my soup, eh?"

And that was that. The gates of paradise had been thrown open.

A decade later (yes! it's a slow burn), the CC asked him why his soup was so good and the answer was as blunt as the man, "Everyone knows the recipe. It takes time, and people don't want to spend the time."

The ingredients are humble, the technique is straightforward and there's nothing difficult about it.

People just don't want to take the time.


1 cup white beans

1 large red onion (diced fine)
4 cloves garlic (diced fine)

4 tbsp tomato paste
8 tomatoes (passed through a food mill)

4 tbsp olive oil

pepper (lots!)


Note 1: You can't hurry this recipe up. Don't even try. In fact, this is ideal for a slow cooker kind of situation except that since it involves two steps, it doesn't fit the mold of the slow cooker recipes.

Note 2: For most of the recipe, you are doing nothing. It's eminently week-day friendly. Set the timer and forget about it.

Note 3: It is very important to use fresh tomatoes. If you don't have any double down on the tomato paste. Do not use canned tomatoes. The final color of the soup should be a pale orange not a deep red characteristic of tomatoes. The beans are the star not the tomatoes.

Note 4: You may be tempted to add herbs — the dish is very Mediterranean and Israel is part of that Mediterranean culture but be judicious. Less is more here.

Heat up the olive oil in a pot. When it shimmers, add the onions and garlic. Let them cook at a medium heat until they are translucent. Do not let them caramelize. You want the color to be this sublimely clear white.

Add the beans and stir them around. Add 3 cups of water, salt and black pepper. Turn the heat down to the lowest possible setting. Let them cook for an hour. Sample to see if the beans are barely done.

When they still not cooked, add the tomato paste and the tomatoes. Cook for another 20 minutes. The acid in the tomatoes will slow down the cooking of the beans.

Check again that the beans are done. More salt and pepper if necessary. Add more water if necessary. It's a soup after all.

Serve with some pita.

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