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Loubia b'lham | Algerian White Bean Stew With Lamb

بِسْــــــــــــــــــــــمِ اﷲِارَّحْمَنِ ارَّحِيم

السلام عليكم و رحمة الله و بركاته
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Well, it's been abnormally warm for February here in Algeria, buuuuut the weather report says it will rain heavily last in the next few days. And for those sadly and literally stuck in Snowmageddon it's time to break out the large stock pot or slow cooker. And make some bone warming dishes for our loved ones come home to. Loubia b'lham is one such Algerian dish. You would remember this dish Loubia b'dersa a few years back. Today, we'll be revisiting this traditional Algerian dish with white beans .... but this another even more flavorsome version with meat.

Loubia b'lham, also called Tadjine d'haricot blanc, Tadjine Loubia, Loubia Algérienne, Loubia en sauce, cassoulet Algérienne or amicably just known as "Loubia". It's a slow-cooked Algerian specialty dish with white beans and lamb. Loubia b'lham could be considered the Algerian version of the French cassoulet.  The stew gets its flavor from dersa, a paste made from blend of ground dried  spicy red chilies and fresh red peppers. Dersa is similar to harissa, a spicy red pepper paste but isn't flavored with garlic, olive oil or any spices. But it has a deep rich earthy texture and taste. It's predominantly used in the eastern Algeria and in such dishes as Chtit'ha and eastern Algerian style couscous. You can easily make your own dersa by simply blanching a ripe red bell pepper to remove the skin, than pureeing the pepper and season by adding salt, little bit of olive oil. Or even simplier take a 1 whole jarred (roasted red pepper) and puree.

Traditionally, this stew is served in a cassole with a splash of olive vinegar and drizzling of local extra virgin olive oil is added at the table to counter balance the richness of this dish. And of course tons of bread. This dish is simple, economical and easily made with everyday pantry ingredients. It is especially good for cold winter days and easy enough to leave it simmering unattended on the stove top.

Today, I am presenting the method I learned from my late mother-n-law (Allah yarhama) using the favored flavoring of the north around Algiers lamb, carrots and fresh thyme. It uses a very modest of meat, only there for flavoring the dish so it's quite economical. I often just use bones in this dish. Other regions, have slight variations on this dish using chicken, beef, merguez, sheep feet or even khilli, which is an algerian preserved meat (kinda like jerky). You can easily subsitute lamb for beef here if you like. Even using wild game or bison would be killer in this dish I think!

Some cooks prefer to use fresh grated tomatoes in their Loubia, but hey fresh, ripe and flavorful tomatoes aren't available all year, especially when you want to cook this (winter) dish so for me it's just easier to use tomato paste. Cooks in the western part of Algeria would normally add Ras el Hanout spice mix to this dish, instead of the dersa. I tried it before, but totally thought is was better with dersa. Beans are cheap so do some experimenting in your kitchen with it. I would say using dry beans is best for many reasons, including the taste, nutritional value and cost. If you need some tips on using dry beans and ditching those cans just take a look at this post. 

Traditionally, this is slow cooked in a Cassole or a Tangia, both Earthen pots used for slow cooking but let's face it most people don't have these laying around in their kitchen. I know I don't! I usually cook this dish in a Dutch oven on the stovetop, but you could easily make this dish in any Earthen pot, cast iron casserole, slow cooker or pressure cooker. Tips can be found here for cooking beans in a slow cooker or pressure cooker.

{ loubia b' lham }
 slow cooked algerian style white beans stew rich in protein, vitamins and flavor, the prefect winter stew to warm up with. 

YIELD: 6-8 servings
INACTIVE PREP TIME: 12 hrs - overnight
COOK TIME: about 1 hour

Dutch oven, knife, cutting board, wooden spoon


  • 500g - 1lb white beans such as Navy, Great Northern (in Algeria loubia yabess)
  • 1 tsp baking soda 
  • water, 4x the volume of the beans
  • 500g - 1lb soaked and rinsed beans
  • 3-4 TBS olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced fine or grated
  • 2 large carrots, sliced or diced into bite size chunks
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 300g - 3 ½ oz  inexpensive cut of lamb (like scrag or arm shoulder chop)۞
  • 1 TBS tomato paste
  • 2 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp black pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 TBS dersa (or red pepper paste)۞
  • harissa or cayenne pepper (optional, to taste)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • few sprigs of fresh thyme OR 1 tsp dried thyme
  •  about 8 cups -2 liters chicken broth or water 
  • 2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • vinegar
  • more harissa, to taste 

SOAK the beans for least 12 hours or overnight in water with the baking soda. Or alternatively use one of the methods described here. Drain the soaked beans and rinse well.

USING a Dutch oven brown the meat in the olive oil on a medium fire. Remove and set aside.  Add in the onion to sauté until transparent. 

PUSH the onions to the edges creating an open space in the middle. Add in the tomato paste and allow to caramelize on its own in the oil, about 5-6 minutes. This will take off the raw taste of the tomato paste and also impart a caramelized Earthy taste to the dish.

ADD back the meat, dersa, harissa (or cayenne), garlic, carrots and stir.  And then also add in the spices, bay leaves,  thyme and enough broth or water to cover the beans + about 3 in - 8 cm. A quick and easy way to measure how much water you need is by adding enough water to the pot that you have about 3 fingers width of water above the beans. 

COVER the pot partially with the lid and simmer on a low fire for about 40 - 45 minutes until the lamb is fork tender. Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Add in the salt and stir well. Let cook for additional 5 minutes, then check the seasoning. Adjust if needed. Once the beans are cooked through, the dish will be slightly thicken from the released starch of the beans  but it shouldn't be mushy.

This dish is traditionally served hot with vinegar made from olives, extra virgin olive oil  and lots of freshly baked homemade bread on the side. It's also really nice with some H'miss pepper salad on the side. White vinegar or any other  flavored vinegar except apple cider is fine. The vinegar cuts the rich heaviness of the beans. In my husband's family Beghrir is always served after the meal.

Red Pepper Dersa
Dersa is a pepper paste that is made by pounding dry chillies and red peppers with a mortar pestle until it becomes a paste. Unlike Harissa dersa doesn't contain any spices. Store bought dersa (sold in North Africa) tends to be very salty so if you are using this, beware of the salt you add. There are Turkish brands (called Biber salçasıof pepper paste like Tukas, Sera or Bafra that are really subsitutes as they are really the same thing. So if you cannot find either, then just simply remove the skin from a ripe red bell pepper, pure it and add into the pot. Or even easier take 1-2 whole roasted red peppers that you can buy jarred or in the deli section of the supermarket. Puree and add into the pot. Or optionally omit it completely. There is some slight difference in taste, but hey sometimes we have to improvise in life!

You can easily switch up this dish, by using other types of beans or even a mix of beans (like kidney, white beans and black beans or also by adding halal merguez sausage or meats of your choice. I would love to try wild game or bison in this dish! Another nice way to enjoy this dish is to serve a small bowl along side some grilled lamb chops. And finally, due to my Hungarian roots I find adding smoked (halal) meats makes it extra special.

Alternative Cooking
You can prepare this dish in a pressure cooker (coccotte ) as many Algerian cooks do. Same method, but the cooking time will be cut in half. Or if you have a slow cooker make this dish in the slow cooker. Some tips on how to cook beans in a pressure or slow cooker can be found here.

Canned Beans
I don't advise or encourage the use of packaged foods such as canned beans, but let's face it's faster and many cooks out there use them, so if you're not convinced by this to use dried then in this dish, that's fine I won't kill you. Just reduce the cooking time to 30 minutes to get the meat tender and add the canned beans towards the end.

If you find you've made a HUGE pot of Loubia and it's more then you can eat simply ladle into food storage container and keep in the fridge for up to 4 days. This dish actually tastes better the next day.

Leftover Recycle
And  you can use this recipe as a base to make Chourba Loubia (Algerian bean soup) enchallah I will post this dish in the future but just basically if you have any leftover  Loubia, you can easily turn the stew into a soup for tomorrow's lunch .... It's like Tuscan bean soup but Algerian style. Do this by adding the leftover Loubia to a pot with about 2 cups water per every 1 cup leftover, few more thyme sprigs, more garlic, more dersa and cubed potatoes. Simmer until the potatoes are tender. Season to taste. No need to add vinegar when serving but some olive oil would be good!

Freezer Friendly
Freeze this dish easily by ladling into your desired portioned out container. Label and freeze for up to 6 months. To use, thaw out on the counter top. And heat up on the stove on a low fire and stir constantly so you don't scorch the beans.

 CATEGORIES:  meat, Beans, frugal, winter, algerian savory 

SOURCE:  adapted from my late mother-n-law allah yarhamha

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