I think in green in early April. It's too early for some of the brighter spring vegetables, but dark green collards, light green fennel and bright jalapeno are all available at my local supermarket. And in my pantry, there's a bag of very pale green dried flageolet beans; this early spring stew is a perfect home for them.
I call the dish a tagine because it tastes like a Tunisian stew; its warm triumvirate of spices - coriander, cumin and caraway - are always present in the classic Tunisian spice mix called tabil. It is inspired by the Tunisian tagines I make to serve with couscous, but I served this instead with whole grain flatbread.
A Tunisian tagine or ragout usually includes a lamb or veal shank, and the vegetables are simply thrown into the pot with the beans and shank. Since my version is vegetarian, I cooked the onions and fennel in olive oil before adding them to the beans so the dish would have a bit of fat and the vegetables would have more flavor.
I also omitted another signature Tunisian ingredient, the red chili paste harissa, in favor of a jalapeno. I craved a fresher kind of heat, something more evocative of springtime. The jalapeno has that wonderful grassy backdrop, as does the abundant cilantro. The final touch, a smidgen of preserved lemon, is optional. I wouldn't want you to skip this recipe just because you don't have preserved lemons, but they add a bright salty-sour accent that I love.
Collard Greens Tagine With Flageolets
Time: 2 hours, plus 6 hours' soaking for beans
1/2 pound (about 1 1/8 cups) dried flageolets, soaked at least 6 hours in 1 quart water, then drained (use small white beans if you cannot get flageolets)
1 large onion 4 large garlic cloves; 2 crushed, 2 minced
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound (about 1 large) fennel bulb, cored and diced, fronds chopped and reserved for garnish
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon paprika or Aleppo pepper
1 large jalapeno, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound (about 1 generous bunch) collard greens
1 large bunch cilantro, chopped (about 1 cup), plus additional for garnish
2 tablespoons minced preserved lemon (optional)
Cooked grains or couscous, for serving (optional)
1. Transfer drained beans to a large, heavy flameproof casserole or Dutch oven. Cut onion in half; cut one of the halves in half and chop the rest. Set aside chopped onion and add quarters to pot.
2. Add 5 cups water (6 if serving over grains or couscous), and crushed garlic cloves to casserole, and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Skim off foam, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer 45 minutes. Using tongs, remove onion and garlic cloves and discard.
3. Meanwhile, in a small skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat, toast coriander, caraway and cumin seeds together just until they begin to release their aroma, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer immediately to a spice mill and allow to cool for a few minutes, then grind.
4. Heat oil over medium heat in a large heavy skillet and add remaining onion. Cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add minced garlic, diced fennel and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, another 5 minutes, until fennel has softened slightly. Stir into beans. Add ground spices, paprika, additional salt (I use about 1 1/2 teaspoons), jalapeno and tomato paste and return to a simmer. Cover and simmer 30 minutes. Taste and adjust salt.
5. Meanwhile, stem and wash collard greens. Cut leaves in half down the middle. Stack and roll up several leaves, and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips. You should have about 5 cups of greens.
6. Add collard greens to beans and vegetables. Bring back to a simmer, cover and simmer 15 to 30 minutes, until greens and beans are tender. Stir in cilantro and chopped fennel fronds and simmer another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
7. Ladle into wide soup bowls. If using preserved lemons, place a teaspoonful on each serving, for guests to stir in. Garnish with chopped cilantro or a combination of chopped cilantro and fennel, and serve.
Note: The stew can be made 1 or 2 days ahead. You may want to add water when you reheat if you used only 5 cups.
Yield: 6 servings
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