Prebranac is one of the staple dishes of Serbian, Bosnian and Macedonian cuisine. It is one of the classic comfort foods of Balkans – a casserole of caramelized onions and white beans, in a sauce flavored with bay leaves and sweet Hungarian paprika. Originally made by farmers during long winters – it’s nutritious, wholesome and by far one of the cheapest dishes ever made. Prebranac is typically served at room temperature with warm crusty bread. In the Balkans, every family has their own way of making Prebranac, it’s the kind of recipe passed down through generations. Here is the one I “inherited” from my mom. She never wrote it down, always guided by her inner sense of perfection. Although Prebranac has an amazing quality that no matter what you do to it, it can never go wrong, it took me many years of experimentation, until I finally nailed the taste of my mom’s dish. And so it goes... —QueenSashy
3 hours 30 minutes
dry Lima beans
medium yellow onions (about 2lbs), sliced into thin ribs
Soak the beans overnight (for about 8 or so hours) in plenty of water.
Drain the beans. Place the beans in a pot and cover with water. (For each cup of beans use three cups of water). Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are very soft, for about an hour and a half (cooking time will depend on the type and the size of beans, so check them from time to time). Drain and discard the water.
Preheat oven to 375F.
In a large casserole or Dutch oven combine the oil with the onions over medium heat (alternatively you can heat the oil first, but starting the onions in cold oil will help release their flavor gradually and will give them mellower taste than the hot oil method). Simmer the onions for about 30 minutes, until very soft and deep yellow. You might have to add a drop of water from time to time to prevent onions from drying.
When the onions are done, add the beans, garlic, paprika and bay leaves to the casserole. Season with salt and pepper, add about 3 cups of water, and mix gently. (The beans should be somewhat covered in water, but not swimming in it.)
Place the casserole in the oven and bake for about an hour to hour and a half, adding more water if necessary (the beans should never be completely dry). When done, the top layer of beans should be gently caramelized and fairly dry, most of the moisture having evaporated, while the beans inside should be wonderfully creamy and coated with onions.
Let Prebranac completely cool before serving. Let it rest for a day in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature (but not cold) with crusty bread.
Aleksandra aka QueenSashy is a scientist by day, and cook, photographer and doodler by night. When she is not writing code and formulas, she blogs about food, life and everything in between on her blog, Three Little Halves. Three Little Halves was nominated for 2015 James Beard Awards and the finalist for 2014 Saveur Best Food Blog Awards. Aleksandra lives in New York City with her other two halves, Miss Pain and Dr. V.