Mar 012013

plain beans with shmaltz

Got a bagga beans?

In my mixed-heritage kitchen (Sephardic/Ashkenazic/Latin/Israeli/American – did I leave anyone out?) – well, in my kitchen, beans are cooked with plenty of herbs and spices. Black beans, white beans, red beans, all kinds of beans. But a recipe that my friend Varda Eptstein recently gave me captured my imagination: beans, plain and simple.

Well, it’s a bit more subtle than it sounds. The recipe involves shmaltz. The staple fat in Ashkenazi homes for centuries, shmaltz fell out of favor when vegetable oils became more easily available. Vegetable oils, you buy and pour out of a bottle. No worries about cholesterol if it’s good olive oil. Shmaltz, you have to render, flavor with onions, strain…more work.

But how sweet it is. There’s no flavor to beat that of shmaltz. The days are gone when busy mothers would hand their little ones slices of bread spread with a glistening layer of it, but we moderns still enjoy a light flavoring of shmaltz in many dishes. Just use it in moderation.

All the natural meatiness of beans comes out in this dish, making them savory in a heimisch – homely – way. I had a bag of frozen kidney beans that needed using up before Passover, so that’s what I cooked, and they turned out very well. The whole thing took about 10 minutes from start to finish. I’m going to serve these beans on Shabbat, resisting the temptation to add them to a  cholent or anything else.

Just beans, pure and simple. Really good.

Thank you, Varda!

(My notes follow after)


Plain Beans from Varda Epstein

Yes, I’m a foodie. But I’m not interested in trying new and unusual recipes. I like plain food that is true to its earliest ancestor.

But since I’m of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage and enjoy family research, I have melded these two interests in the form of recreating authentic Ashkenazi recipes. This is the kind of food that weighs you down and makes you groan. But hey! We only live once. I definitely don’t want to have lived without enjoying my favorite foods.

Here’s an example of a simple recipe my mother once described to me. Lithuanian Jews don’t generally use much sugar in their cuisine, so this recipe is kind of an anomaly. Still, you can see why this recipe was popular for the plainness of its ingredients, for its simplicity and for its cost effectiveness. It’s also a stick-to-the ribs kind of dish and probably kept a lot of Litvaks warm in those dreadful Eastern European winters.

 When I finally reveal the ingredients, you are going to have a bit of a shock and may doubt that this is a dish worth trying, but I have to say it’s absolutely scrumptious.


 The ingredients are:

  Dried lima beans–cooked until slightly mushy

 Chicken fat (schmaltz

 Salt, pepper, and a bit of sugar.

 That’s all. It’s unctuous. It’s sublime. You will have to try it to find out. Believe me, this is authentic, plain food at its absolute best. I dare you to try it. You’ll swoon with pleasure.

My measurement notes:

  • 3 cups of frozen kidney beans, cooked 8 minutes in plenty of boiling water, then drained.
  • 1 tablespoon shmaltz
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste.
  • Mix gently and serve hot.

Varda Epstein is mother to 12 children,  food blogger for The Times of Israel, and communications writer at Kars4Kids.

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  One Response to “Plain Beans, A Guest Post”

  1. I generally save schmaltz for Pesach, but I recently read about how someone cooks her vegetables with her chicken – I gave it try (potatoes, onions, & garlic) under chicken thighs & the potatoes had that schmaltzy flavor that I so look forward to during Pesach.

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