101 Tastes of Croatia: 6. Beans

Total Croatia News

Tea Hrzica

Štef and the magic beans…

Beans (grah, bažul, fažol, pasulj) are a very common ingredient in Croatian cuisine, used in the continental and coastal part of the country. We have beans to thank for feeding and nurturing our ancestors ever since they arrived to Europe back in the 16th century and were used as a meat substitute when the times were hard (as my granny likes to say). No wonder beans still hold a sacred place on our tables and in our traditions.

We used to make a bean soup on Chrismtas Eve as part of the fast, while in Slavonia on their way to the mass, women used to throw white beans on the road beliveng it will bring more eggs in the new year. Our fortune tellers foresaw the future from beans and therefore we have a saying today ”Tak’ mi je grah pal” which literally translated means ”That’s how my beans fell” which is used when describing ones generally poor fortune.

We know and use many varieties, depending on the recipe, but the brown and the colourful one are most common ones.

It’s mostly eaten in a stew form (all of our farmer ancestors were built on thick stews with a piece of bread) which in earned a cult status in Croatia. The bean and sausage stew aka čušpajz grah s kobasicom is predominantely a male dish which almost any guy, no matter how unexperienced in the kitchen, knows how to make. If you go to Sljeme, you’ll probably end up eating beans with sausage at Puntijarka stop. It was a dish most popular in the Yugoslavian army and the recipe was kept as a top military secret (maybe because it gave us extra amunition).

But beans also come in the shape of a salad, a casserole and a side dish. One of the most popular current recipes using beans is baked beans, aka zapečeni grah (a recipe we took from Macedonians and their gravče na tavče). Fulfilling and flavourful, it became a pub hit side dish and here’s my version o fit. I came across these very large beans (they became a new market trend this year) and tried them out, but most commonly, brown beans would go with this recipe.

Ingredients for 4 people:

– 500 g of beans

– 4 yellow onions

– 100 g of bacon or pancetta

– 2 table spoons of tomato puree

– Salt, pepper

– Handful of parsley leaves

– 1 table spoon of ground sweet paprika

– 1 table spoon of flour

– Optional:chilli


1. Rinse the beans and leave them to soak overnight in the cold water.

2. Drain them the next day and cook (always use cold water). Generally it takes 30-45 minutes for it to cook, but all depends on the type you use. Cook until soft and drain, saving a couple of spoonfuls of cooking liquid.

3. Finely chop bacon and onions then fry on a table spoon of oil until soft. This is when you add chilli if you’d like a spicy twist.

4. Then add the tomato pure, flour and paprika and stir well. Add the beans with the liquid, salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes.

5. Transfer to a baking dish, sprinkle with parsley leaves and bake for 20 minutes on 250 Celsius degrees.

Enjoy, and remember to crack open a window in your bedroom!


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