Alubias Blancas con Carne de Ternera

alubias blancas con carne de ternera

This is a fairly typical Spanish stew/casserole of beef with white beans. Most people have a family recipe for the dish, with variations on vegetables (according to season), along with a preference for the type of beans, herbs, spices, etc.

alubias blancas

I have been meaning to mention an unusual naming convention for Spanish beans (alubias) for some time. Back in 1991, when I was quite new to Spain and cooking a stew, my Valencian (non English speaking) flatmate asked me if I was cooking judías blancas? I replied, confused, that I was cooking alubias blancas. To which he said, that judías and alubias are the same thing. Confused further, I said that I thought judías were Jews. He said that was indeed true. Toni had no explanation for why beans are sometimes called Jews, in Spanish, but said that it has always been that way.

I have been asking people for years about alubias and judías, but have never found a satisfactory answer. Claudia Roden mentions judías and alubias in her book, the Food of Spain, attributing this anomaly either to the Arab word for black-eyed beans, lubia, which the Jews historically cooked in Spain at New Year, or to broad beans, which they cooked to celebrate Passover.

I’m not entirely convinced by the argument that the word lubia might have changed to judía over time and to add to the mystery, most beans arrived in Europe after Columbus discovered America in 1492, the same year that the Jews were expelled from Spain! However, I did come across an interesting Spanish text yesterday, on the etymology of judía. It states that there’s no written historical explanation, but there is a precedent relating to the Moorish occupation of Spain. It goes on to say that many of the foods specific to Jewish cuisine in the Levant, were prefixed Jewish in al-Andalus (Mooorish Spain), such as Jewish thistle, Jewish vegetable, etc. This naming convention also applied to foods of other ethnic groups, such as Carthaginian, Kurdish, Persian, etc. It has been discovered that broad beans were originally domesticated in Israel, 10,000 years ago, which probably predates the farming of wheat and barley!

I have long thought that calling beans, judías, probably related to slow cooked Sabbath foods, such as Hamin (the Sephardic version of Cholent). These days hamin (from the Hebrew word for hot) contains any kosher beans, like this one with white beans, beef cheeks and pimentón, but in a Pre-Columbian Europe there would have been broad beans or chickpeas.  Dried beans and pulses work perfectly in Sabbath dishes, because of the long cooking time. In 1492 a considerable number of Jews (and Moors) chose to convert to Christianity rather than be expelled. Instead of disappearing, Jewish foods have been assimilated into Spanish cuisine – many of Spain’s regional stews (cocidos) are a variation on adafina, probably from addafína, meaning buried or hidden, as in cooked under hot coals. Even the famous Galician Torta de Santiago (the very Christian, St. James’ tart) is really a Passover cake! New beans brought back from South America quickly became popular and have found their way into traditional recipes, including the Jewish ones.

carne de ternera

Alubias Blancas con Carne de Ternera receta (serves 4):

1 1/2 b beef shin (cubed)
3 slices smoked streaky bacon (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 pieces garlic (finely chopped)
1 large carrot (chopped)
1 large red pepper (chopped)
1 stick celery (chopped)
2 tomatoes (grated)
1lb cooked judías blancas (white navy or haricot beans)
3/4 pint beef stock
1 glass red wine
a splash sherry vinegar
a squirt tomato purée
a squirt anchovy paste
1 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera picante
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
2 bay leaves
2 heaped dessertspoon fresh parsley (chopped)
2 dessertspoons seasoned flour
extra virgin olive oil for frying

I used dried alubias blancas (navy/haricot beans), soaked for 1 hour in boiling water and then cooked for 8 minutes, using fresh water, in a pressure cooker. Otherwise, soak the beans overnight or use 2 tins of beans. As long as the bean have been soaked, it is possible to cook this recipe entirely in a pressure cooker, cutting the time by several hours, however, I prefer the dish cooked slowly, where it becomes thicker, relative to evaporation.

Cut the beef into bite sized pieces, dust with seasoned flour and (using a cast iron casserole) brown in hot olive oil. Do this in two or more batches and reserve to a plate.

tocino y cebolla

Using the same pan and oil, cook the onion and bacon until the onion goes translucent. Bacon and other pork products became common to recipes of Jewish origin in Spain – the food was then seen as Christian, protecting against persecution from the Inquisition.


Grate in the tomato.


Stir the tomato in along with the vegetables.


Put the meat back into the casserole, along with all the other ingredients, except the wine, stock, beans and 1 dessertspoon of parsley (which is used for the garnish).


Stir the ingredients and pour on the wine and beef stock.

judías blancas

Mix in the beans, put the lid on the pot and place in a preheated oven at 160º C.

cocido a fuego lento

Cook for 2 – 3 hours, stirring occasionally, until the beef is tender. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.

beef casserole

Sprinkle with the remaining chopped parsley – serve with toasted sourdough bread and a glass or two of La Flor del Flor (flower of the flower) Samsó, which is kosher!

…and to throw a fly into the ointment, broad beans are called habas in Spanish, relative to their Latin name fava or faba. In Asturias, they make the very well known Fabada Asturiana, a stew of white beans, pork and chorizo which dates back to at least 718. Just from the name, you can surmise that the dish was originally made with broad beans – white beans, along with the pimentón (the main flavouring for chorizo) did not exist in Europe until some time after 1492! Fabada Asturiana is almost certainly descended from Hamin and is a likely cousin to cassoulet.

About Mad Dog
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16 Responses to Alubias Blancas con Carne de Ternera

  1. Eha says:

    Thank you for this week’s fascinating history lesson and a stew I shall most certainly copy since, at long, long last autumn seems to be in the air. Use a lot of white beans throughout the year and, with the “Mad Dog’ additions, methinks I and friends would enjoy ! Off topic . . . Watched the Rick Stein ”Secret France’ episode of Languedoc Roussillon about Catalan cooking last night . . . absolutely fascinating – thought of you when ingredients like pimenton were explained ! If you have not seen – catch up as the local behavioural differences v the rest of France are also interesting . . . meanwhile to shopping lists . . .

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Eha – I saw Rick Stein’s Secret France – he’s particularly at home there! I’ve been to his Seafood Restaurant a few times, my parents lived in Padstow.

  2. Janet Mendel says:

    Enjoyed your treatise on bean etymology. I think you’re right, that judías once meant “jewish beans.” Nice recipe too–with or without the bacon!

  3. Ron says:

    As always, an intriguing food history lesson as well as a great sounding recipe. Although they say spring has arrived, it still doesn’t feel that way so a good stew will go down well.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Ron – it’s actually been quite mild here and I can see an Elder tree covered in green leaves from my window (much to the delight of some fat wood pigeons), but I have been known to cook stews in summer!

  4. Karen says:

    Another interesting history lesson. For all the bean dishes I’ve made, I don’t believe I’ve had one that includes beef…they usually have some form of pork. This is an easily doable recipe and know we will enjoy it.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Karen – it’s definitely one for the cheap stewing cuts of beef (including the cheeks, which are delicious if cooked long enough) and I’m quite sure when times were hard the bean content went up and the meat went down.

  5. TammyRenea says:

    I never thought I would find bean etymology so very interesting, but I did!! Wonderful article and equally wonderful recipe.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Tammy – I marvel at the way beans have traveled around the world. The Spanish brought these (and most known beans) back from South America, they were quickly adopted in Europe and then went back to North and South America in recipes like this, with the colonists.

  6. This looks like a delicious stew – of a type that I’ve never had before, which makes it all the more interesting to me. Thanks, though, for the information. I love language, and am always curious about the history of words.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Jeff – you can see how this old world food, with slow cooking could become the baked beans of cowboys and pioneers. There are some fascinating similarities and peculiarities in Latin based languages, especially with words creeping in from other sources. One of my favourites is ham, gammon, jamón (Spanish ham), jambon (French ham), jambe (French leg), gamba (Italian leg), and gamba (Spanish prawn, which look a bit like a leg or ham).

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