Loubia are wonderfully comforting Moroccan stewed white beans. The beans are cooked in a simple tomato and spice mixture but despite the small list of ingredients, these beans have lots of tasty flavor. Hearty, healthy and great for a cold day.
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Moroccan cuisine has a wonderful range and depth of flavors, with primarily Arab and Berber influences but also some Mediterranean, Andalusian and others over the centuries including Persian and French. The Arabs brought the spices that are a key feature of many dishes, including cinnamon, ginger and blends like ras-el-hanout.
Many fruits and vegetables are grown locally and they feature prominently in all meals. Beans and pulses are also common, particularly as a less expensive staple than meat. In fact a number of dishes have meat as the minor ingredient for a little extra flavor, or it's optional, as in both harira and these Moroccan beans.
What is loubia?
Loubia translates as "beans" which are, indeed, the star of this dish. However it also slightly undersells it as there are lots of wonderful flavors added to really brighten them into something special.
This dish is traditional in Morocco as well as other neighboring countries Tunisia and Algeria. The origins are unclear, but it's a dish you'll find made often, particularly in colder months as a main or side. You'll also find it sold as a street food.
Ingredients in Moroccan bean stew
You'll find a few different ways to make this white bean stew, but the core list is pretty short. Here I have gone for a meat-free version as this is probably more common and it makes it even easier to make.
- White beans - the star of the dish! Traditionally you start with dried beans, soaked overnight, then cooked in the flavored broth to soak up all the flavors. Cannellini or other small white beans like navy beans are best.
- Tomato - this adds the color and part of the base flavor. Some versions use only tomato paste, but here I have used both fresh tomatoes and tomato paste. You grate the tomato so you don't end up with chunks in the end dish. The sauce should be soup-like.
- Onion - this is the other part of the base flavor, giving a bit of aromatic flavor. Like the tomato, you grate the onion so the end sauce is relatively smooth.
- Garlic - another base aromatic ingredient, again grated or crushed.
- Parsley and cilantro (coriander) - a few fresh herbs help to add a little freshness to the dish. Some add one, some add both. Personally, I add parsley during cooking and cilantro after. I find this a fresher balance, partly as cilantro can be more bitter when cooked a while. However, adjust to taste.
- Dry spices (cumin, paprika, ginger) - these each add some aromatic flavor to the dish. They are gently aromatic but also keep the dish fresh.
- Stock or water - you need plenty of liquid to cook the beans in and for the various flavors to mingle in. Stock adds a little more flavor, but water also works given the other flavors you are adding. To keep it vegan, I have used vegetable stock.
Top tip - soak the beans!
Dry beans need to be soaked at least a few hours but ideally overnight to make sure they rehydrate - you can see the difference before and after soaking above. Soaking helps the beans to cook evenly as they have already largely re-hydrated before cooking.
If you are running short on time, a trick is to cover with water and bring to a boil. Boil them for around 3 - 5 minutes then let them soak in the hot water for another hour. I have yet to try this myself, though, to compare results.
However you prepare them, be sure to check the water level as they can absorb more than you expect so you may need to add more water as they soak.
The actual hands-on preparation and cooking time is very short. You simply soften the onion in some olive oil to bring out the sweetness, add the garlic then the tomato followed by everything else. Then, bring to a simmer and leave the beans to cook and soak up the flavors.
By the time the beans are cooked, the sauce will still be a little liquid but it will have reduced and thickened slightly. It will continue to thicken a bit more off the heat, so keep this in mind. You want some sauce, but it also shouldn't be watery.
Can you use canned beans?
While you can speed up cooking by using pre-cooked canned beans, I recommend you don't, if at all possible. The beans take on the flavors of the cooking liquid as they cook, and this just doesn't happen as much starting with cooked beans. Also, they are more likely to break up during cooking.
Using canned beans, the equivalent amount is around 1 ½ cans, and you should reduce the cooking time to around ½ hour. Also, you wont need as much liquid, so reduce the liquid by about ¼. You might also want to cook with the lid slightly off so that it reduces quicker.
Different cooking methods
Below I have described the stovetop method of preparing these beans, but you can also cook them in a pressure cooker or instant pot, if you have one. You'll need to reduce the cooking time by quite a lot, roughly half. It's worth checking your cooker's instructions on typical cooking times for beans to be more precise.
Using the stovetop method, I'd suggest using a heavy based pot or Dutch oven to cook the beans since they will be cooking a while. The heavier base helps distribute the heat more evenly.
You want to make sure you bring the beans to a strong simmer initally, then reduce to a medium heat or lower as they continue to cook. You want them to simmer, but not so vigorously the beans break up a lot.
In all cases, be sure to taste the beans after cooking to check that they are properly cooked, and to your liking. I'd suggest you want them tender but not overly soft. The beans tend to break up more the longer they are cooked. Also, check the seasoning after cooking as well, particularly to see if you need any additional salt and possibly some pepper.
Can you make these beans ahead?
These stewed beans are great for making ahead, and in fact you might argue the flavors are even better on the second day, as they've had a chance to mingle more. Simply cook the beans completely, let them cool then store in an airtight container in the fridge. They'll keep in the fridge for around 2 - 3 days.
To re-heat, the best method is to warm them on the stovetop over medium heat, stirring now and then to warm evenly. You can also re-heat them in the microwave. When re-heating, you may find you need to add a little extra liquid as the sauce may have thickened.
I don't recommend freezing this dish as freezing tends to cause beans to break down more so the texture is not as good.
How to serve loubia
These can be served in a number of different ways. As a main dish or snack, you would most commonly serve them with some Moroccan bread, in particular khobz. Any bread would work well to soak up and scoop up the flavors.
As a side dish, they work well with meats, in particular lamb, as well as chicken or fish. Grilled, roasted or Moroccan stewed meats like tagines would all work. Moroccan meals are often a collection of a various plates, including bread, salads and couscous, so this works well in the mix with a range of other dishes.
Loubia is a wonderfully simple yet flavorful Moroccan bean stew, combining bright flavors to make the humble beans something special. It's easy to make, with very little hands on time. Perfect to warm you and fill you up in cooler weather.
Try these other comforting stews:
- Fabada Asturiana (Spanish pork and bean stew - a heartier take on the theme)
- Lablabi (Tunisian chickpea stew/soup - also really simple yet flavorful)
- Youvetsi (Greek lamb or beef and orzo stew, an easy and comforting one pot meal)
- Plus get more North African recipes and main dish recipes in the archives.
Loubia - Moroccan stewed white beans
- ½ lb dried cannellini beans or other small white beans eg Navy/haricot
- water to soak beans, as needed
- ½ onion medium
- 1 tomato
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ tablespoon tomato paste UK: tomato puree
- 1 ½ tablespoon chopped parsley
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon salt (less if stock is salty)
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 cups vegetable stock or water
- ½ tablespoon cilantro coriander, chopped, to garnish
The night before
- Soak the beans in plenty of cold water overnight, topping up the water if needed if the beans are no longer covered with water.
The day of cooking
- Drain the beans and grate the onion and tomato (keep separate). To grate the onion, I find it easiest to peel back the skin but leave attached at stem to have something to hold, and for the tomato, cut in half and grate the inside, then discard skin (both shown in video). Crush or finely grate the garlic and chop the parsley.
- Warm the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy-based pot over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook a couple minutes to soften. Add the garlic, stir through a minute, then add the tomato and cook a few more minutes to soften.
- Add the dry beans, tomato paste, parsley and dry spices (cumin, paprika, salt and ginger) and mix through then add the stock. Cover and turn up the heat a little if needed to bring through to a boil. Then, reduce the heat to keep the mixture at a steady simmer.
- Cook the mixture for around 1 ¼ hours, or a little more or less as needed, until the beans are cooked through and tender, without being completely broken up. Check the liquid now and then as it cooks and top up if it is reducing too much - the beans should stay covered with liquid as they cook. Once done, the sauce should have reduced a little so the beans are peaking through - it will still be a bit liquid but not watery (it will reduce a bit more on serving). Check and adjust seasoning, if needed, Serve warm, topped with the cilantro.
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