‘Sulja – Bean Stew (my way)

‘Sulja is my version of grah, pasulj, whatever you want to call it, and can be made vegetarian or with any kind of nice smokey meat you have available! A diverse dish that can be a main or a side not disimlar to cowboy beans from the olden days!

The food you will see in this post is the most peasant like, villager meal you could imagine. Like the cowboys of the wild west from the movies that would sit and eat bean stew from a tin bowl outside in the corral, this is it.

This is a traditional Balkan bean stew, aka ‘pasulj’, or ‘grah’. My version and recipe, is a take on all the regional influences of this dish from my family. My dad for example, will soak beans in water, and cook this with his own homemade double smoked bacon and its more soupy. My aunty will make this vegetarian as its usually at the time of a Saint day celebration and my mother-in-law will make this drier, somewhat like the version you see here.

I like all variations. And like all recipes, I like being able to represent many influences in my life.

What I absolutely love about this dish is the simplicity. It’s quick to make, and you can modify it in any number of ways. Need a vegetarian dish, then don’t add any meat. Want a side, make it drier. Want a main, make it soupier. This can be whipped up very quickly and only needs a few ingredients.

'Sulja - Balkan Cowboy Bean Stew

Recipe by Life on Milo's Farm


Prep time


Cooking time



In the Balkans, this is traditionally called pasulj, or grah, depending on the region you are from. But I have also seen a lot of recipes calling a similar dish to this cowboy stew. As this is my take on it, a mixture of recipes from my family and my in-laws, I have decided to call it Balkan Cowboy Bean Stew to cover off all cuisines! This dish can be vegetarian, and is excellent as a side or main meal.


  • 2 large onions

  • 2-3 tins of beans. Canellini, broad, kidney, all work. In the images pictured in this post I used 3 tins with all styles of bean

  • 1 tbsp Vegeta

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1 tsp pepper

  • 1 tsp ea garlic and onion powder

  • 1 tbsp hungarian paprila

  • Smoked meat - hock, double smoked bacon, speck, smokey sausage (omit if you want to keep it vegetarian)

  • 500ml water or stock


  • Chop onions at your desired thickness. I prefer rough chopped and chunkier for this recipe as it gives a nice texture but if you prefer onion to be unseen, you can chop it smaller. (pic 1)
  • Drain tins of beans and rinse well.
  • In a heavy bottomed pot, dutch oven or similar, add lard or oil of choice and onion. Saute until translucent.
  • Add washed beans and mix with the onion well. When looking at it, it should roughly be an even match. (pic 3 & 4)
  • Add herbs. I eyeball this so couldn't tell you exactly, but roughly, 1/2 tbsp Vegeta, 1/2-1 tbsp paprika, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 1 tsp garlic powder. Note: If adding meat, omit the salt. The meat will have seasonings in it already, particularly salt. (pic 3 & 4)
  • Add meat if using. If using double smoked bacon/speck, you can either add it as a chunk or slice thick pieces with the skin on. If adding regular bacon (think bacon and eggs), pan fry until crispy and if adding sausage, pan fry prior to adding to this mixture. It’s best to use meats that have been pre-smoked as opposed to fresh, but something like a fresh bratwurst or chorizo pan fried could work also.
  • Add water. It only needs to just cover everything. (pic 5)
  • Cook on the stove with the lid mostly covering for about 20 mins, or until water has almost all evaporated. (if you want a drier consistency like the pictures). My husband prefers drier so these particular pics show the drier version, but if you want it saucier or soupier, you can remove from heat earlier so you achieve this consistency.
  • Alternate: you can cover this with a lid (if using a dutch oven) and put it in the oven for 30 mins to bake. This will achieve a slightly saucier consistency to the ones pictured one but still drier.
  • When chosen level of sauciness is achieved, remove from heat. Serve with fresh crusty bread, and fefferonke chilies. (pic 6)
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