Sunday, September 14, 2008
Lebanese Green Beans in Oil
When I was engaged, I spent a lot of time at my future mother-in-law's house, gobbling up all her exotic Lebanese food. She was one terrific cook! I clearly remember eating this dish for the first time - she cooked it so slow and so long that not only the onions, but also the green beans themselves were carmelized. Yummy. This is the most simple dish ever - you'll ask yourself, now why didn't *I* think of that?
Middle eastern food has a reputation for being very intricate, with lots of spices, and in some respects that is true. But all the wonderful Arabic cooks that I met over the years agree about vegetables - buy the very best quality, prepare them simply, and dress them with olive oil. This dish follows that advice perfectly.
(I hope my limited store of Arabic hasn't left me completely, and that I spelled it right below! Other than liturgical Arabic, I only learned the words for food - go figure - an endearment or two, and a couple of "colorful" phrases. A big thank you to Taft Hanna and Mary Salah who answered my endless questions about what everything meant, and to Marge Hanna, a fellow Italian, and the very best Arabic cook I ever met, who taught me pretty much everything I know about cooking Arabic style, and what it means to be an Orthodox woman, just as if I was one of her daughters. I've lost touch with them over many years and many moves, and I hope and pray that they are all well and happy.)
Lubee bi Zait (Stringbeans in Olive Oil)
1 lb string beans, ends snapped and washed
1 large onion, sliced very thinly
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil
Garnish with sauteed pine nuts (optional - I used pumpkin seeds)
Saute the onions over medium heat in the oil until they are translucent and the edges are just beginning to turn golden. Add the string beans, sprinkle well with salt, and continue to saute for a few minutes. Add about a half cup of water, cover tightly for 3 or 4 minutes until the string beans are al dente, then uncover. Raise the heat to high to boil off the water; when that happens, add a drizzle more of olive oil to keep everything from sticking, and add the garlic. Continue sauteeing everything together until the onions are carmelized and the string beans are cooked to your taste. Taste for salt and pepper.
NOTES: As is always the case with carmelized onions, the more you have, the better everything tastes, so don't be afraid that your onion is too big or that you are using too many. Its important to add the garlic near the end, because carmelized garlic has an unpleasant bitter taste. Use the best olive oil you can, because the flavor of it is important to this dish. This dish is just as delicious cold or room temperature as hot, and is better the second day, if it lasts that long. This dish takes a lot of salt - I used about a half teaspoon, maybe a little more. I wouldn't use broth instead of water in this dish, because it is the flavor of the olive oil and the carmelized onions that should shine. You can cook this dish extremely slowly for almost an hour, and the string beans will become very soft and very carmelized -- this is the MOST delicious dish ever! But who has time for that nowadays, especially when dear daughter is begging for dinner?
You could easily make this a one-dish dinner by adding sliced potatoes to the saute, and a drained can of chickpeas.
This would also be delicious made asian-style using peanut oil for the sauteeing, adding a little grated ginger and soy sauce near the end of the cooking time, and dressing it with a few drops of roasted sesame oil - just a few drops because that is pretty potent stuff.
This was a big hit with dear daughter. She could have eaten the entire pound, and was rather annoyed that I insisted on having some.
Total time, including prepping the beans - about 20 minutes or so.
Serves four as a side dish, or Elisabeth