The Turk, His Beans, and Me

ImageA little over six years ago, when I was taking a round-the-world trip as the New York Times’ “Frugal Traveler,” I happened to spend several days working at an organic apple orchard in the undulating hills of Turkey’s Anatolia region. The experience was both weird and wonderful: There was no one on the farm but the farmer, a 55-year-old former engineer named Kemal Görgün, his cat, Simi, and me, and Kemal spoke no English but the words yes, no, okay, and wow.

Over the course of my stay, Kemal and I grew unexpectedly close—or as close as two people can who have almost no way of communicating. Our days were full of tending to the apple trees, driving through the area’s hills, having sweet tea with his farmer friends, and playing backgammon on his terrace in the evenings. The story I produced out of my time there was one of the most popular I’d ever written. (Go on, read it here.)

One of the things that stayed with me ever since, besides Kemal’s generous nature, was his approach to cooking. Essentially, he’d chop up a lot of vegetables, put them in a pot over very low heat, and leave them slowly stewing while we were working in the fields. By the time we returned for lunch, the dish would be done, and we’d eat it with loads of fresh, crusty bread and thick local yogurt with a mineral tang.

My favorite of these rural “set it and forget it” dishes involved cranberry beans, also known as borlotti, and at summer’s end here in New York, when the runner beans show up at farmers’ markets in their long green, white, and red pods, I make it as often as possible. Even my wife, Jean, who won’t eat beans unless they’re sweet red beans served over crushed ice, loves them. Here’s the recipe (serves 4):

Apple Orchard Cranberry Beans

  • 2 cups freshly shelled cranberry beans
  • 1 large red or white onion, chopped
  • 3 (or more) cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 cup good extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon roughly ground dried Turkish chili (optional)
  • 1/2 cup parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (American, Turkish, or Greek)

To prepare: Put everything but the parsley and yogurt in a saucepan, along with 1/4 to 1/2 cup water. Set over medium-high heat, and bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low. Cook at least an hour, stirring if you remember to, until beans are soft. Then stir in the chopped parsley.

To serve: Divide the beans evenly among four bowls, along with all of the cooking liquid. Garnish each with a big dollop of yogurt, and serve with fresh, crusty bread to sop up the juices.

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8 responses to “The Turk, His Beans, and Me

  1. I would love to make this as it is a simple, rustic dish that would appease my vegetarian diet. However, I have never heard of cranberry beans. I live in Florida. Could you tell me where I may be able to get them? Also, are they normally found in fresh, dry or frozen firm? Thank you for your help!

  2. I apologize for the question on where to find the cranberry beans! Once I found images of them in the raw form I know they are carried at my local Whole Foods Market! I am looking forward to making this!

  3. Well this sounds really interesting, I have never before heard of cranberry beans! I’m certain though that the dish is delicious, sounds just like a rich thick Hungarian bean soup :) Now over to the story of the trees…

  4. Love the story and the recipe, can’t wait to see the book!

  5. I surmised this to be the basis of the most popular book, The Turk who loved apples? This is one wonderful blog and I am happy to have seen this one :) Kudos to your Matt.

  6. Sounds yummy! Not sure if we can find cranberry beans down here in Ecuador (at least not by that name) but one way or another I am definitely going to try making this recipe.

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