Just when I thought the winter has lost its grip on us, it’s snowing again and it’s bitter cold outside. I guess I’ll have to patiently wait for the spring.. In the meantime I decided to cure the winter blues with a cup of familiar, good Bosnian Bean Soup. In Bosnia and the regions of Balkan, this soup has been around for hundreds of years. It is simply called “beans” (grah) and when you say “grah” everyone knows what you’re talking about. Most families have their own, family recipe which they swear to be the best one around. I think my recipe is pretty darn good too! This flavorful, hearty soup is made from dried beans, so it takes a while to be done, but I’ll tell you the wait is absolutely worth it. If you would find yourself in a conversation with an older Bosnian lady and if you (God forbid) mentioned that you have used canned beans to make grah, she would be seriously mad (if not offended) and she would use all of her powers of persuasion to change your mind and to point you in the right direction when it comes to preparing grah.
Although I am not going to be mad if you use canned beans, I would strongly suggest – don’t. I am speaking from my own experience here. Take the time and make this soup the proper way and you will be rewarded with a best cup of bean soup you ever had.
Since I don’t have a way to get the real Bosnian beans here in the US, I tried substituting them with pinto beans, black eyed peas and kidney beans. None of these have worked too well. Recently I found peruano beans which are just perfect for this soup and if not the same, then they are very similar to my favorite Bosnian beans.
As we (Bosnians) are pretty serious meat eaters, we like to add some nice smoked meat to the soup. I usually add authentic Bosnian smoked beef, but smoked pork ribs or similar will also give it a great flavor. Smoked meat from Balkans would require a whole new post, so I will just say that if you would really like to have some, try any store with products from Balkan. Serve the soup with some good, crusty bread. This is essential because you will be dipping that bread into soup and using it to pick up the last drops from your cup! In the winter time we also might serve this soup with pickled vegetables such as pickles, pickled peppers, sarena salata (a mix of various pickled veggies), pickled peppers stuffed with sauerkraut, etc.)
Bosnian Bean Soup (Grah)
- 500 g (17 oz) dry peruano beans
- 1-2 l water
- 1 medium onion
- 1 medium carrot
- 1/4 of a green bell pepper
- 250 g (9 oz) smoked beef (cubed)
- 1 TSP salt
- 1 TSP vegeta
- 1/4 TSP fresh ground black pepper
- Bay leaf (optional)
- 1 TBSP tomato paste
- 2 TBSP cooking oil
- 3-4 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
- 2 TBSP flour
- 1 TSP ground paprika
*** Soaking the beans in cold water over night will reduce the cooking time.
- If you have pre-soaked the beans, rinse them, place in a large cooking pot and go to number 1.
- If you didn’t soak the beans, place them in a cooking pot, add water and let it boil for a few minutes, rinse and add fresh water.
- Finely chop onion, carrot and the bell pepper. Add it to the beans and let it boil. Reduce the temperature to medium, cover the pot slightly and let it cook for about 1 hour. Occasionally check if water level has decreased, add additional water to always keep the same level of liquid in the pot.
- After 1 hour add all spices and cubed smoked meat (polish sausage or similar can be used too, but then you will add them at the last half hour of cooking time). Cook for another 1 to 1.5 hours. To check if beans are ready take a few out of the pot and squeeze them between your thumb and index finger. If they are soft and creamy, and the peel comes off they are ready. The soup will look thick and it will smell wonderfully.
- Now add tomato paste and let it incorporate well into the soup.
- It is time now to make the roux to thicken the soup.
- Peel and finely chop 3-4 garlic cloves. Using medium setting, heat 2 TBSP oil in a small frying pan. Toss the chopped garlic in oil just until fragrant.
- Add flour and mix it with a wooden spoon until all crumbs disappear and flour starts changing its color to a very light brown. Now add paprika and again mix well. Pour the roux into the soup. This might produce a lively reaction. Give it a nice stir, reduce the heat and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
- Serve warm with a slice of a nice, crusty bread.
- This soup freezes well and keeps well in the fridge for at least 3-4 days.