Looking for the best Pkaila Butter Bean Stew recipe?
Our traditional Tunisian Jewish Butter Bean Stew is quick and easy to make, ready to serve in under an hour.
You’ll enjoy spooning through a nutritious bowl of homemade vegan Pkaila featuring flavourful garlic, cilantro, parsley, lemon juice, cinnamon, coriander and cumin.
Our healthy Butter Bean Stew recipe is vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, nut free and dairy free.
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What is Tunisian Pkaila?
Pkaïla, also called bkaïla, bkeila, or pkela, is a popular Tunisian Jewish dish that can be served as a condiment or stew. It is one of the local variants on the island of Djerba similar to hamin, made from beans and spinach.
Tunisian Butter Bean Stew falls into the T’fina category, a warm, slowly cooked Sabbath dish in the Sephardic tradition. T’fina is the Sephardic equivalent of the Ashkenazic cholent.
Pkaila is often served at festive Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), accompanied by couscous, fresh bread or simply enjoyed on its own.
The word pkaila simply means “spinach” in Tunisian Arabic dialect, the dish mainly consists of slowly stewed spinach.
For religious reasons, Jews do not cook on Shabbat. Pkaila, made of butter beans (also known as lima beans) and spinach, is one of those long-simmered dishes that can be prepared on Friday before sunset and continues to simmer gently during Shabbat.
Tunisian Butter Bean stew traditionally includes tender cooked beef (such as oxtail) but we’ve created a vegetarian and vegan-friendly recipe.
The origin of pkaila is not definitive, but the main ingredients and cooking method suggest that it was inspired by nearby Italy. Spinach requires a cool and humid climate, which is not characteristic of the countries of North Africa. Many culinary historians link the recipe to regional trade routes.
Travel to North Africa by Cooking Butter Bean Stew at Home
I love traveling to the Middle East and North Africa.
As a professional food and travel journalist, I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy amazing meals in the region, from authentic markets to award winning restaurants.
You guessed it! Some of my fondest food memories while traveling in the Middle East and North Africa feature steaming bowls of healthy Butter Bean Stew.
I ate Butter Bean Stew with flatbread at a traditional Moroccan riad, as a side dish with Turkish kebab in Istanbul and Bodrum, accompanied by kofta on a Nile Cruise and in bustling market in Cairo, late night soup feast in Amman, mid-afternoon slurp at bustling markets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and a massive Middle Eastern barbecue in the middle of the Dubai desert, while belly dancers twirled under the night sky.
Where To Eat Authentic Pkaila
Haven’t traveled to Tunisia before? It may be helpful to first sample Pkaila at a local restaurant to better understand how the stew is served. You’ll get an idea for the desired thickness of the Jewish stew and intensity of herbs and spices. You’ll also find inspiration on what to pair with Pkaila such as fresh salads and couscous.
My Family Loves Butter Bean Stew
My dad would often make cream of tomato soup and serve a bowl with grilled cheese sandwiches and pickles. Our family also loved slurping through bowls of Butternut Squash Soup, French Onion Soup and Chicken Noodle Soup.
During October in Ontario we’d often visit popular Fall Fairs in Norfolk County, Niagara and Prince Edward County to go on fun rides, run through corn mazes and purchase fresh local fruits and vegetables at the peak of harvest season.
Cilantro, parsley, spinach, garlic, onions, potatoes and canned butter beans are available in abundance year round in Canada but we especially love to serve this Tunisian Jewish Stew during the chilly winter season.
Vegan Butter Bean Stew Health Benefits
Our homemade Vegetarian Butter Bean Stew is packed full of healthy ingredients!
Olive Oil is ranked as one of the healthiest fats and is a staple in the Mediterranean diet. It contains vitamins E and K and plenty of beneficial fatty acids and antioxidants.
Onions are a humble vegetable packed with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Regular consumption of onions can help boost digestive health and reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
It is only recently that scientists have begun to identify the components responsible for garlic’s myriad health benefits. Rich in phytochemicals and potassium, garlic helps boost your immune system, fight cancer and protect your heart.
Beans are rich in cancer-fighting vitamin C, energy-boosting B vitamins, and gut-healthy fibre.
Packed with folate, vitamin C, and potassium, spinach helps keep your blood, immune system and eyes healthy.
Potatoes are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Studies have linked potatoes to a variety of impressive health benefits, including improved blood sugar control, reduced heart disease risk and higher immunity.
A rich source of phytochemicals and vitamin C, lemons help boost your immune system and neutralize free radicals that cause disease and skin aging. Lemons also protect against heart disease and help improve blood flow to the brain.
An excellent source of vitamin K, as well as vitamin C, folate, and iron, parsley helps keep your bones and blood healthy, and protects your skin from damage by free radicals.
A good source of bone-strengthening vitamin K, cilantro is also rich in antioxidants that help protect the eyes from damage by free radicals.
A rich source of blood-building iron, cumin may also help balance your blood sugar levels and reduce bad cholesterol. It is also traditionally used as a digestive aid.
Rich in energy-boosting manganese, cinnamon is also antibacterial and may protect your brain against Alzheimer’s disease.
Pkaila Recipe Tips
This healthy homemade vegan Jewish North African stew is quick and easy to make at home. We’ve included a few tips for first time soup makers!
- Use a large cast iron dutch oven with a high rim to reduce splatter when cooking.
- We suggest using a high quality rubber spatula spoon when making soup so you can easily stir, scrape down the side of the pot and sip to check if it needs to be seasoned further with more salt before spooning into bowls.
- Our recipe recommends using a food processor to easily blend the herbs and spinach together. While using our favourite kitchen gadget will save you a lot of time, you can always use a sharp French knife and chop manually.
- Traditional Pkaila ingredients vary based on old family recipes from Tunisia’s Jewish community. Many recipes include a tough cut of beef that slowly cooks in the stew until tender. Our Butter Bean Stew recipe is vegan but you could always add beef cuts like oxtail or short rib if you want to add meat to the dish.
What To Serve with Butter Bean Stew
If you’re hosting a large dinner party you might want to serve our simple Butter Bean Stew as an appetizer before serving heartier mains. This healthy soup would be an excellent edition to a Tunisian, North African, Jewish or vegetarian inspired dinner menu.
After dinner why not dazzle your guests with one of our popular desserts such as Oat Flour Cookies with Chocolate Chips, Dark Chocolate Lindt Lindor Cookies, Maraschino Cherry Cupcakes Recipe or Cinnamon Babka For Chocolate Lovers.
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Best Pkaila Butter Bean Stew Recipe
Tunisian Butter Bean Stew
- French knife
- measuring cups
- measuring spoons
- Dutch Oven
- Spatula or Wooden Spoon
- 80 g Cilantro chopped and divided
- 30 g Parsley
- 450 g Baby Spinach
- 1/2 cup Olive Oil
- 1 Spanish Onion finely chopped
- 5 Garlic Cloves crushed
- 2 Green Chiles seeds removed and finely chopped
- 1 tbsp Ground Cumin plus 1 teaspoon
- 1 tbsp Ground Coriander
- 1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
- 1.5 tsp White Sugar
- 2 tbsp Lemon Juice
- 1 L Vegetable Stock
- Kosher Salt and Pepper to taste
- 500 g Yukon Gold Potatoes peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 19 oz Canned Butter Beans drained
- In batches, put the 80 grams of cilantro, parsley and spinach into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Set aside.
- Put 5 tablespoons of the olive oil into a Dutch Oven or large pot. Add the onion and fry for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, chiles, and all the spices and continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Increase the heat to high and add the chopped herbs and spinach to the pot along with the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the spinach turns a dark green. Stir in the sugar, lemon juice, stock and 2 teaspoons of salt, scraping the bottom to ensure it doesn't burn. Bring to a slow boil, then decrease the heat to medium, add the potatoes and cook gently until they are soft, around 20-25 minutes. Add the butter beans and cook until warmed, around 3 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the remaining 20 grams of cilantro. Divide among four bowls, drizzle with some olive oil and serve with lemon wedges.
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