Make Ahead

Prebranac (Serbian Baked Beans)

November 10, 2012
11 Ratings
Author Notes

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 Originally made by farmers during long winters – it’s nutritious, wholesome and by far one of the cheapest dishes ever made.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

  • Prep time 8 hours
  • Cook time 3 hours 30 minutes
  • Serves 12
Ingredients
  • 1 pound dry Lima beans
  • 5 medium yellow onions (about 2lbs), sliced into thin ribs
  • 1/3 cup sunflower oil
  • 1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 pinch Salt and pepper
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Soak the beans overnight (for about 8 or so hours) in plenty of water.
  2. 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 the beans and keep the cooking water.
  3. Preheat oven to 375F.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 cooking water, and mix gently. (The beans should be somewhat covered in water, but not swimming in it.)
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Threemoons
    Threemoons
  • samanthaalison
    samanthaalison
  • Frank Skrzyszowski
    Frank Skrzyszowski
  • Nathaniel Parr
    Nathaniel Parr
  • Dunja
    Dunja
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.

44 Reviews

Threemoons December 20, 2020
Put casserole in oven covered or uncovered? I would assume uncovered but just checking...thanks!
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy December 20, 2020
Uncovered.
 
Threemoons December 20, 2020
Thanks so much! Will try with reduced oil per other comments.
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy December 20, 2020
Yes, I updated the recipe to address the comments. Hope you will like it,
 
samanthaalison November 17, 2020
I made this with Rancho Gordo large white limas. I used 1 cup of oil as written and though the flavor was good, I found the end product way too oily. It was unappealing on the plate and even the small portion I ate didn't agree with me. Using paper towels to sop up some of the grease helped a little. I'd cut the oil back by at least half if I made it again (and I might, since the ingredients are easy to find and the flavor was otherwise good).
 
Frank S. November 18, 2020
100 percent right. I too was thrown off by the oil and used the bare minimum to get the job done , less than half of that and I add to the mix a little lovage, a favorite herb in Europe but just adds another note, but pure reflection of personal taste . the recipe is very good
 
Frank S. September 29, 2020
I am going to make this with Corona beans today but I don't understand the logic of throwing out the bean water that you cook the beans in. I never do that such a waste of flavor and nutrients. I would either boil it down so it was thicker if not so much liquid was needed. But curiously here the recipe calls for adding water before you bake them, go figure so why would you drain them again lol?
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy November 2, 2020
Frank, you are absolutely right. I wrote down the recipe as my mom used to make it and just kept doing it her way -- attachment to family traditions I guess. Using cooking water adds lots of depth, so I updated the recipe to reflect that. Thank you for pointing it out.
 
Frank S. November 18, 2020
absolutely, the prebranac recipe is so delicious but reuse the aquafaba. I have made it a couple of times with giant limas or coronas
 
Frank S. November 18, 2020
I would have edited but I do not see the option.so I add. . I was curious about the cultural history of reusing the bean water, aquafarba and this is a relatively newish process. There are cultural and potential biological reasons for soaking and discarding, sapanoids, phytic acid etc. The verdict is hardly in. I reuse and do not discard to concentrate flavor but our ancestors were on to something by trail and error as in your mother's time honored recipe. Just more food to consider. More info is always better than being in the dark, It is a controversial subject and much more reading ahead, just sharing
 
Nathaniel P. February 26, 2020
I've made this recipe a couple of times, with giant white beans (sometimes called corona beans) instead of Lima. It is so good, I think what I like is the natural sweetness of all the onions, and the texture the beans get after baking. I am going to try it again with some homemade chicken stock this time. I have some Serbian smoked pork as well and I think I'm going to try adding some of that.
 
Dunja December 10, 2019
I've been looking for a prebranac recipe for ages and gave this one a try. Unfortunately I think your prep time of 24hrs is misleading as soaking the beans for 24hrs made then really mushy when cooked. I even cooked then for half the time the recipe says. I think they shouldn't be soaked longer than 8hrs or so to prevent the mushiness.
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy December 11, 2019
Hi Dunja, the recipe calls for soaking overnight, and not for 24 hours. I posted this recipe many years ago, and back then there was no prep time information on the site. I think that someone added prep time later (24h 10 min is a bit weird). I updated the recipe, thank you for letting me know.
 
Kelly October 3, 2016
After eating this dish at my favorite Serbian restaurant this weekend, I've decided to make it myself! I'm using baby lima beans which I think will work just fine. Everything smells great thus far. Psyched to eat this tomorrow. It's hearty food weather, after all.
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy October 3, 2016
Look forward to hearing how it turned out!
 
Kelly October 3, 2016
It's in the cooling stages now. Just finished baking it off at 9:15 ET. Gonna put it in the fridge in a bit and then eat it tomorrow! Probably first just at room temp, like you say, with some bread. And then maybe with an egg the next day. I imagine it keeps well for like 4 days in the fridge?
 
Sandra S. June 17, 2015
Works great with Romano beans and red kidney beans. My Dad made the best prebranac ever he would add a bit more garlic but I never learned the recipe for myself. Just came back from visiting Serbia and my aunt showed me how to make it and it was nearly exactly this recipe. You can add a dash of ground tumeric and the serbian staple Vegeta haha. Making it as I right now as I write this. So yummy.
 
Greenstuff May 6, 2015
I made this with chestnut limas (also known as Christmas limas), and it’s genius. You’d never guess it had such simple and so few ingredients. It was all I could do to keep my husband from eating it all straight from the oven. When told we should wait a day, he couldn’t imagine it could get any better than it was right now.
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy May 6, 2015
I never tried chestnut limas... In Serbia there are beans that are dedicated for making this dish, they call them Tetovo beans, because they come from the Macedonian city of Tetovo. The closest cousin to it I think are the small limas, but I like to use the large ones, for their buttery flavor. Must try chestnut limas now! Thanks so much for letting me know.
 
Tatyana April 26, 2015
I made this dish last night and it is so delicious! Everyone in my family enjoyed it so very much. We are transitioning to a plant based diet and this dish will become a part of our weekly menu. In step 5 I used three cups of broth I had left after cooking the beans instead of water! Thank you for the sharing the recipe
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy April 26, 2015
... and thank you for reporting back and sharing the broth tip. I think that's the proper way to make the dish, I just never really got to it -- look forward to putting it to practice next time I make the beans.
 
susan April 25, 2015
Holy cow, just tasted a little straight out of the oven and mushy or not, it's delicious!
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy April 25, 2015
So glad to hear that! It will be even better once it sits for a while...
 
susan April 25, 2015
Thank you. Good to know the recipe is forgiving and will still taste good! Smells great, but beans are definitely mushy. Also, I put in a little less water so beans were not covered but now as it's cooking, the water is higher? Hoping this cooks off as the hour goes by...Looking forward to trying it regardless.
 
susan April 25, 2015
I kept checking beans and they went from kind of firm to REALLY soft very quickly. They're falling apart. Tasty, but not pretty. Is this ok? Do they fall apart when "very soft"? Hoping I didn't ruin it...But maybe at least the taste will be ok?
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy April 25, 2015
The beans should not fall apart. They should be soft but still have a bite to them. It might happen if you cooked the beans a little bit loner and started with already very soft beans? But do not worry, you really cannot ruin this dish, it is very forgiving and it will be tasty.
 
Annie S. February 28, 2015
Yes I did. I followed the recipe exactly. They are not greasy although the oil did start to separate after several days.
 
Nan February 28, 2015
Annie when you tested this recipe did you let it rest for a day to taste it?
 
Nan February 28, 2015
I am making this dish now & is the cup of oil correct for the onions, the onions are swimming in the oil. Is this why this dish is so creamy?
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy February 28, 2015
You will be adding a lot of beans, so when you put everything together, it will not be that much. But you can go ahead and reduce the oil. But do not go beyond 1/2 cup, as it might be a bit dry.
 
Annie S. February 26, 2015
I tested this recipe for the contest. They are so tasty and creamy. I couldn't stop eating them and I even had them for breakfast with a fried egg! Thanks for sharing a great recipe.
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy February 26, 2015
Annie, I too like to eat them with an egg -- sunny side up! Thanks so much for testing and the feedback.
 
Nan February 20, 2015
This looks delicious, can I assume you don't cover the beans in the oven & never stir
the beans
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy February 20, 2015
Nan, yes, you are right. Leave the beans uncovered and do not stir them. Thank you for reaching out for clarification.
 
anotherfoodieblogger February 14, 2015
I will have to make this some day! What a great comfort-food dish.
 
healthierkitchen February 13, 2015
this sounded so good when you first posted it and then I filed it away and never made it. So glad to see it as a contender and glad for the reminder!
 
Tara C. December 28, 2014
Just made this as a Christmas side dish & it came out amazing. Didn't have a stovetop to oven dish, so I just transferred to casserole dish after doing the sautéing & it worked out fine. Took a bit longer than it said until they were done soaking up most of the water. This is such a great dinner party recipe because: 1.) make ahead, 2.) simple ingredients & preparation, 3.) makes a lot!!!! Don't pass this one up
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy December 28, 2014
Tara, I am so glad that it worked out! And you know what, it also gets better as it "ages" :)