This Romanian Bean Soup with Smoked Meat and Tarragon (Ciorbă de Fasole cu Afumătură și Tarhon) is hearty, comforting and delicious. As with most recipes in Romania, every household puts their own little spin on it. This version is courtesy of my in-laws who live in Brașov, a city nestled in the Carpathian mountains in the Transylvanian region of Romania.
What You Need for Romanian Bean Soup with Smoked Meat
- Smoked Meat: The main flavour of this soup comes from smoked meat (AKA afumătură in Romanian). Smoked pork knuckle (ciolan) is most often used, but you can substitute just about any kind of smoked meat you like, such as smoked pork ribs or smoked sausage. My mother-in-law likes to use smoked turkey legs and wings, which still gives you a delicious smoky flavour and aroma, but a less greasy finished product.
- Beans: It wouldn’t be a bean soup without the beans! For sake of time and convenience, my in-laws like to use canned white beans in this soup. They make for a softer and creamier finished product, which I tend to prefer. You can use any kind of white bean you like, such as white kidney or cannelinni.
Dried, white beans, specifically fasole de boabe, are more commonly used in Romania. Keep in mind that if you use dried beans, you will need to soak them in water overnight and then boil them several times before adding them to the soup.
- Vegetables: This soup is loaded with a combination of onion, carrot, parsley root, celery root, and bell pepper. The thing that most Romanian soups have in common is that the vegetables are almost never sautéed, but rather are boiled.
- Fresh Herbs: Thyme, parsley and tarragon really bring this Romanian bean soup to life. Fresh will give you the best aroma and flavour, but you can substitute dried if that’s what is available to you. If you use dried herbs, use approximately half the amount listed for fresh.
The tarragon (tarhon) in particular adds a very pronounced flavour and aroma to the dish. It has the ability to overpower some of the other flavours in the soup, specifically the smokiness from the meat, so add a little at a time until you reach your preferred amount.
- Garlic: Adding lots of finely chopped garlic a few minutes before the soup is finished cooking will kick the flavours up a couple notches and compliment the smoky flavours.
- Sliced Red Onion: This soup is customarily served at the table with some thinly sliced red onion. Like the garlic, it helps cut through the richness of the smoked meat – especially if using smoked pork knuckle.
Romanian Bean Soup with Smoked Meat and Tarragon
- 1 pound bone-in smoked turkey legs or wings substitute smoked pork hock or smoked pork ribs
- 1 large white onion diced
- 1 large carrot diced
- 1 medium red bell pepper diced
- 1 medium celery root peeled and diced
- 1 medium parsley root peeled and diced, substitute parsnip
- 2 small sprigs fresh thyme substitute 1 teaspoon dried
- 28 oz canned white kidney beans substitute cannellini beans
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 4 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
- Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 small red onion thinly sliced, for garnish
- Rinse the smoked turkey and add it to a large stock pot with 5 quarts of cold water. Set over high heat, bring to a boil, cover partially with a lid and cook until the meat is tender and starts to fall away from the bone, around 1.5 hours. Reserving the cooking liquid, transfer the turkey to a bowl, let cool to the touch, separate the meat from the bone and roughly chop the meat. Set aside.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low or a gentle simmer and add the white onion, carrot, bell pepper, celery root, parsley root and thyme. If necessary, add more water to the pot for a total of 5 quarts. Cover partially with a lid and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have slightly softened, around 15 minutes. Add the beans, tomato paste, reserved shredded turkey meat and bones, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and fork-tender, around 10 minutes. Add the garlic, tarragon, and half the parsley. Cook for 2 minutes, taste for seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper as desired.
- For best flavour, let the soup sit for at least 30 minutes before serving in individual bowls garnished with parsley and red onion on the side.