Tavče gravče (Тавче гравче) is the name for a traditional dish we make in Macedonia. It’s a white bean casserole. Besides beans the dish contains a variety of vegetables, of which most can be resourced in winter time as well. For me tavče gravče is a winter food, mountain food and comfort food all at once. The only uncomfortable thing about this dish is that you have to start soaking your beans a long time before serving it up.
This dish is also very suitable for vegetarians and vegans by the way. And also for all of you that are fasting this time a year. They way I made it, it’s totally vegan. Posno, we would say in Macedonian. Traditionally, sometimes it is served with a sausage or bacon on top. If you order it in a restaurant somewhere in Macedonia, be sure to ask if that’s the case if you prefer a vegetarian option.
What more can I say to introduce this dish to you. I think you should just try it out. It’s very easy to make and the only uncomfortable thing about it, is that it takes some time to serve it up as I said. But it’s mostly off-hands time, so you will have your time free to do other things and just enjoy the smell of your house while it’s cooking. Ideal dish to make on a day during the weekend. Especially if it’s cold and raining outside.
Let me write down for you how you can make it. Be warned, I didn’t use any exact measurements. I often use whatever I have on hand to make this dish. If I have carrots, I use carrots, if I don’t, I use celery. If I have leeks, I use leeks and if I don’t have I use onions, and the other way around. The only things that I always use are: beans, tomato sauce, oil, something from the onion family, sweet pepper powder and other spices. Those make the basic flavour of the dish. Also, it’s worth mentioning that I used a homemade tomato sauce from our freezer. I made it in big batches this summer from our own homegrown tomatoes. The tomato sauce was made with onions and tomatoes. You can use store bought sauce, but make sure that it’s a tasty natural sauce.
Ingredients (for one big casserole)
- 6 cups of big white beans (dry)
- 3/4L (homemade) tomato sauce
- 1/2 leek (I used the green part)
- 3 onions
- 3 sticks of celery
- 10 bay leafs
- 3tbsp red pepper (Hungarian)
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 4 bouillon cubes (I used Vegeta which is very salty)
- 10tbsp sunflower oil
- 2 sweet peppers
- handful cherry tomatoes
- salt & pepper to taste
Depending on how big your beans are, start soaking them a long time before you start preparing the dish. I started about 14h earlier. Take a big bowl with handwarm water and place the beans in the water. Cover and let soak. The day after, start early. Drain the beans. Throw the water away. Take a big pan and place the beans in the pan. Cover it generously with new water (about 2x the volume of the beans), bring to boil and add three bouillon cubes and five bay leaves to the water. Leave it to cook on a very low fire for about 30-45 minutes. Make sure you will have enough water in the pan not to burn it. Your house will start smelling amazing during this cooking period. Turn the fire off afterwards and now leave the beans in the water for a few hours so that the beans keep absorbing the water. I left the pan on my warm stove (we have an old-fashioned electric cooker).
About two hours before you want to serve the dish up, you can start preparing the last part of the dish. Taste one of the beans, to see if they are soft enough. They should be totally soft at this point, but not mushy (and very tasty, be careful, you might not be able to stop tasting them). Drain them (there shouldn’t be much water left) and take the bay leaves out.
Take a new pan and use a good amount of oil to cover the bottom. Chop the onions and leek finely. Throw them in a heated pan and bake them while stirring. Now add the finely chopped celery and mashed garlic cloves. Add more oil when needed. Stir again for a few minutes. Make sure it doesn’t burn. At the same time you can preheat the oven at 190 degrees. Now add the rest of the bouillon cubes and the red pepper powder. Stir. Add the boiled beans. Mix. Add the tomato sauce. Stir and turn off the heat. Now add salt and pepper to taste. I didn’t add any salt. My bouillon was very salty. I did add a lot of pepper. Mix again, try not to mush the beans while doing this.
Now oil your casserole and place the mix on top, flatten it out and if it’s not soaking wet, add a glass of water to it so that it can keep on baking in the oven. Place five (or any other number) of bay leaves flat on top. After an hour of baking in the oven, you start with the finishing touch. You can start doing this if the dish is dry enough. If it feels compact, it’s good. It should not be burned on top at this point. Slice the peppers and cherry tomatoes in two halves and place them on top, while pushing them down into the dish. You push them down so that they will grill up evenly on top in this last step. Place everything back into the oven and change your oven from an even warmth to the grill option. Raise the heat to 220 degrees and grill it for five minutes. Not longer if you have a powerful grill.
When you take it out of the oven, it’s ready to be served. Like that, or with a piece of white bread. It’s also very good the day after and the day after as well.