Fassolia w Riz is one of those dishes that were both a school day lunch staple and a celebratory Sunday dish in the Lebanese home I grew up in. It’s simple to prepare, but rich in flavor. A poor man’s dish, and a rich man’s feast.
Naturally, my mother makes the best Fassolia w Riz in the world, with lamb shanks instead of minced meat, and rice that is smothered in butter and ghee. I always joke that she still cooks as if we were all going to have her food for breakfast then wander out into the fields to plow them for the day. Which is a silly thing to say really. My mother has probably never plowed a field, being a software engineer, but it’s how I justify the amounts of butter and ghee that goes into our food.
“I was recently asked what represents the smell of love to me and my mind instantly wandered to the smell of my mother’s rice.”
When I moved out of Lebanon, every time I was due back for a visit, my mother would ask me what I wanted her to prepare for me. Invariably Fassolia w Riz was always on the list, along with other Lebanese staples; Stuffed Vine Leaves, Kebbeh bel Sayniye, Kafta w Batata, Sheikh el Mehchi… These days I don’t go back home as often as i used to and I have started making these dishes myself, in my Paris then Dubai kitchens.
I like my Fassolia with green broad beens. You can only find those in Lebanon. I buy them at the airport on my way back, and store them in our freezer. A rare delicacy, shared only with the people we love the most.
Fassolia w Riz
For the salad, just chop some cabbage, press a couple of garlic cloves, add lemon, olive oil, and salt to taste. You can also add a little bit of dried mint.
For the Fassolia
- 2 Lamb Shanks
- One medium sized Brown Onion
- 8-10 Garlic Cloves
- A bag of dried beans (I prefer broad beans if you can find them)
- 3 Tablespoons of Tomato Paste
- Salt & Pepper
- Sunflower Oil
For the Rice
- 1/2 Cup of Vermicelli
- 1 Cup of Rice
- 2 Cups of Water
- Butter & Olive Oil
For the Fassolia
- Brine the lamb shanks in water and salt for about an hour for the blood to come out. Then discard the water, pat the shanks dry, and sprinkle them with salt and ground black pepper.
- Brown them in a pan with a little bit of sunflower oil. Don’t wash the pan. You will use it later.
- Then boil the lamb shanks with Laurel leaves, a cinnamon stick, an onion, a carrot, some salt and nutmeg. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat. This process is a couple hours long. In fact the longer they cook the better.
- Fry the chopped onion (1 medium sized) until it softens in the pan that you used to brown the lamb shanks, then add 4 or 5 crushed garlic cloves for another minute. Add some chopped tomatoes, or canned tomatoes.
- Add the beans, stir for a bit, then pour the mix into the pot where the shanks are cooking. Add tomato paste and top up with boiling water if there isn’t enough liquid. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and let them cook until the sauce has thickened.
- About 20 minutes before lunch time, take the shanks out, cut the meat off the bones and place it back into the stew.
- I usually add white pepper, salt, black pepper, and some Cayenne pepper into the stew, but I do it progressively. As the sauce thickens more flavors come out.
For the Rice
- Heat some butter and olive oil in a pot.
- Add the vermicelli. Stir often to avoid burning them.
- When the Vermicelli has turned a little red (passed the golden colour) add a cup of rice and mix.
- Add 2 cups of water for each cup of rice and salt.
- Bring the water to a boil then reduce heat to low. Cover the rice.
- When the surface of the rice starts to have craters in it, check to see the level of the water. If there is barely any water left. Turn the heat off, cover the rice, and let it sit for another few minutes.
- My mother adds a bit of butter at this point. The extra fat contrasts well with the acidity of the tomato sauce.
Tips: If you’re using dried beans, don’t forget to soak them over night. If like me you forget to do that a trick is to bring them to a boil for one or two minutes, then let them soak in the water for an hour. Here is a cheat sheet for soaking time based on the type of bean you are using.
Here is a quick highlights style video of the process.