Tavče gravče, or Macedonian style baked beans which are thought of as the national dish of North Macedonia. They are of course eaten in various forms across the region, for example in Serbia they are called “prebranac”.
The main ingredient is white kidney beans (a little like cannellini beans, and in North Macedonia famously the best ones come from Tetovo and the surrounding area). This tastes best when you start with dry beans. The beans are pre-soaked (ideally overnight) then cooked with onion, peppercorns and bay leaves. The cooked beans and resulting liquid are then flavoured with what I like to think of as a “Balkan roux” of oil and sweet paprika (sometimes with sauteed onion or spring onion), with lots of mint (dry and fresh, to balance the…”effect” of the beans). The beans and traditionally baked and served in an unglazed earthenware pot. “Tava” is the word for a baking dish/skillet, and is derived from Turkish and “grav” is beans, hence the diminutive name of “tavče gravče”.
I generally make a vegan version of this dish, topped with just tomatoes and/or peppers (sweet or spicy, fresh or dried).
However, I wanted to show you the more indulgent version with pork that you can find across the Balkans. Usually this would be made with smoked pork ribs and/or the equivalent of pancetta, or a spicy smoky sausage called “sujuk” (a spicy sausage similar to chorizo found across the Balkans, inherited from the Ottoman Empire, but in the Balkans made from any (or a combination of) pork, beef, or lamb depending on regional or religious preference.
Balkan style smoked pork ribs aren’t easy to come by in London, so I use fresh pork ribs and pre-roast them with a rub made of smoked sweet paprika and smoked sea salt, black pepper, salt and olive oil and pre-roasted, before adding them to the baking dish and surrounding them with the cooked beans then baking everything slowly together until the beans thicken and obtain a lovely crust.
I have not included a quantity for the meat because anything goes really and it is up to your personal preference.
Using the below dry bean quantity will result in dish that will comfortable serve 4 as a main, or 8 as a side.
500g dry white or cannellini beans
(or substitute with 4 cans of beans)
2 medium white onions
2-4 bay leaves
1 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 tsp ground cumin
3 tbsp sweet paprika
2-3 tbsp dry mint
Fresh mint leaves – generous handful, reserve some for serving
Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional Additions
Pork ribs, rubbed with smoked sweet paprika, smoked sea salt, black pepper and olive oil and roasted until rendered and starting to caramelize
Sujuk or chorizo, or any spicy sausage
Tomatoes, sliced to top
Peppers, sweet or spicy, fresh or dry to top
- Wash and soak your dry beans overnight. In fresh water start cooking your beans. Keep skimming the froth. Once the beans stop frothing, pour out the water, rinse the beans and add fresh water to just cover the beans and bring back to the boil. Add 1 of the onions, peeled and quartered, the bay leaves and the peppercorns. Do not add any salt at this stage, it will harden the beans. Gently simmer (topping up with water if needed to just cover the beans), stirring occasionally, until the beans are cooked/soft. Set aside (do not drain the beans).
- Meanwhile, finely chop your other onion and in a large frying pan, sweat the onion in 2 -3 tbsp of sunflower or olive oil until the onion is soft and translucent. Add your sweet paprika and stir for 1 minute taking care not to burn the paprika. Start to add water to the frying pan, stirring constantly until you have a sauce. Add the dry mint, a pinch of cumin, salt and pepper and stir through the beans.
- Transfer the bean mixture into a large baking dish. Stir through the fresh mint leaves. Add the pork ribs/sausages if using and/or top with tomatoes or peppers. Cover with foil and bake at 170C (electric fan) for at least 2 hours, topping up with water occasionally so the beans don’t dry out. When you notice the beans starting to naturally thicken in the baking dish, remove the foil, top up with a little more water and bake for 20 -30 minutes more to obtain a nice crisp top, taking care not burn.
- It works beautifully with all fresh salads, pickles, savoury baked goods, bread, cheese or of course, as an accompaniment to roast or grilled meats. Enjoy!