a passel of pasulj

The Krusic family befriended my family ’way back when I was still a grad student back at Caltech. Since that time, I have eaten, with considerable gusto, many a Balkan appetizer and meal. Ruth, my sister by choice, even gave me a Serbian cook book, so that I could make my own.

Pasulj (almost pronounced PA-sool) is a Serbian white bean soup—a hearty stick-to-the ribs repast that can be made with or without meat. This version is with meat. I am told that the true Pasulj is made with using tetovac beans, but, not having access to any, I substitute libbity beans, which seem to work well, if taste be the judge. The soup need not be thickened, unless desired, and it may be partially or totally puréed. I prefer mine chunky.

  • 1 lb libbity* beans
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
  • 5 to 6 whole peppercorns
  • 1 lb kielbasa, in ½” cubes
  • 1 tsp <salt>
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 tbsp flour

Pick over the beans for bits of grit and chaff, and rinse them twice in cold water. Put the beans in a large saucepan and cover them with water to a depth of 1” to 2”. Bring the water to a boil and then turn down the heat. Leave to simmer gently for half an hour.

Remove the pan from the heat and pour in enough cold water to just cover the beans. The beans will settle on the bottom. Leave them for a minute or two; then pour off the water and replace with fresh water. Bring the water to a boil and then turn down the heat to simmer.

Add the onions, garlic, bay leaves, parsley, tomato paste, carrot, and peppercorns to the beans. Cook gently over very low heat for 1½ to 2 hours, until the beans are soft. After 45 minutes of the cooking, add the kielbasa.

Fifteen minutes before you are ready to serve, add the <salt>. When finished, in a separate small pan heat the oil until it is smoking lightly; then quickly stir in the paprika, followed by the flour. Mix to a thin paste. Add this to the soup, stirring well. Simmer for 5 minutes, until the soup is thick and rich.

Serve with plenty of bread and good red wine.

Serves 5 to 6. Time: 2 to 2½ hours