Fried butterbeans with feta, spinach and sumac

Food & drink
Butter beans with spinach, feta and sumac from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

I seem to always pick the one recipe in a book that revolves around some new and exotic ingredient that I’ve never even seen before, let alone used.

The other week, it was goat.  This week, it’s sumac, the dried, ground fruit of the rhus plant.  Sumac is common all over the Middle East, where it’s a common ingredient in mezze dishes and added as to salads for its sharp lemon flavour.

It might be common in Turkey, or Iran, but it’s nowhere to be seen in Yorkshire.

Three supermarkets and two Asian stores were barren of sumac, and then in the third Asian store, a small packet of sumac, the last one, the name spelled somaq on the front.  One packet of spice took me over two hours to find.

I’m that dedicated.

You need to start this dish the night before by soaking 450g of dried butter beans in plenty of water with two tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda.  Inevitably, you’ll forget this step, so feel free to experiment with canned beans.  They won’t be as good, but they’re definitely convenient.

The next day, cook the beans in plenty of fresh water for at least thirty minutes, until they’re soft, but not falling apart.

Drain the beans, then lightly fry them in olive oil in a large frying pan, in batches – the beans need to brown and maybe catch a little on the bottom.  You’re aiming for texture and flavour.

When the last batch of beans are in the pan, add a sliced red chilli, eight spring onions, sliced lengthways into thin strips, a crushed clove of garlic and 200g of roughly chopped spinach.  If you can get it, sorrel would be even better.  Saute the contents of the pan for a minute or so, until the garlic starts to cook, the chilli softens and the spring onions wilt.

Add the rest of the beans, remove from the heat and season with plenty of salt.

Let the beans cool down until they’re either just warm or even completely cool, then squeeze some lemon juice over the top, maybe a couple of tablespoons worth, and sprinkle over two tablespoons of sumac.  Finally, crumble 150g of feta cheese over the top and garnish with some chopped soft herbs – dill or parsley would be ideal.

The result is an earthy salad, the mealy butter beans acting as a mellow counterpoint to the sharp and cutting feta cheese, the sumac adding a dash of piquant spice in the background.  Good warm, this is even better cold.

This recipe is from the frankly incomparable Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi.

11 comments… add one
  • JulesLt Oct 16, 2010

    I found some hidden in an Earl Grey tin in the cupboard earlier this week; I've no idea how long I've had it, but it must date back to when I was trying to make Lahmacun . . . so not that recently. Anyway, I think that came from somewhere round Harehills.

  • Magic of Spice Oct 16, 2010

    Wow, love these flavors…looks delicious :)

  • Priya sreeram Oct 16, 2010

    looks delicious! will try it out !

  • Anna's Table Oct 18, 2010

    We are fortunate to have all sorts of ingredients available in Montreal, Canada. This is a blessing and a curse at the same time. I often come home with interesting ingredients with little knowledge of their use and no recipe in mind. My latest acquisitions were some Iranian zereshk berries and Tibetan goji berries. Heaven only knows what I will come up with but that is part of the fun and challenge of cooking.

  • Becs Oct 18, 2010

    You're photography is insanely good. I'm a bit hit and miss most of the time.

    I tried feta for the first time in about 20 years tonight and I actually quite liked it, so will have to give this a try!

    • rich Oct 22, 2010

      …I'm COMPLETELY hit and miss. Many more shots, set ups, etc end up in the recycle bin than on the blog…

  • Bravo for keeping up your search! The dish looks magnificent. Perhaps you can help me on my search for muscovado sugar! Not easy to find here in my rural corner of North Carolina. When I do though, I hope my dish looks half as good as yours!

  • Sasa Oct 21, 2010

    Ooh, get YOU with your new look! I like it, I like it a lot…I also like butterbeans and sumac and this photo, good stuff.

    • rich Oct 22, 2010

      I'm free – FREE – of Foodbuzz at last…my sidebar is my own once more…

  • Rose George Oct 22, 2010

    I generally find Ottolenghi's recipes horrid. But that one is lovely. I am going to London soon and will head straight for sumac-laden Turkish groceries in Dalston.

Leave a Comment