Moroccan White Beans + Greens in Tomato Sauce (Loubia ma3 Silk) + The Melancholy of Tangier
“Nothing evokes melancholy like cities do”
-Tara Isabella Burton, The Geography of Melancholy, American Reader
…And oh, the melancholy of Tangier.
I have always loved that word- melancholy. It sounds particularly poetic and romantic to the ear, and yet to feel it is quite another matter. Lately this city has been sucking me into a lazy, slouching form of this feeling. Burton writes also that “Nearly every historic city has its brand of melancholy indelibly associated with it,” and Tangier definitely has a special, sloth-like brand, with people moving in hazy slow motion while the winds whip violently around them in a somewhat haunting contrast. I am convinced that something about the Mediterranean inspires humans to build cafes and sit in them for hours, taking slo-mo sips of nos-nos coffees (half milk, half espresso). I was equally convinced, upon arriving here, that I would live starkly against this leisurely way of life, hustling despite the lure of laze.
Most of the time, I am equal parts completely thrilled and completely exhausted by this city, but lately it has been more of the latter.
I think I have been pushing too hard against the natural pace of Tangier. Not to say that it is good to completely let your body aimlessly float down the river, not knowing where it leads, but sometimes you have to let go. Just a little.
The melancholy of this city perhaps has been creeping up on me for a while, unbeknownst as I bury myself in lists, planning, schedules and activity. It tends to be my comfort to stay so-called “productive,” but the inevitable result is complete body and mind burnout. Melancholy of the entire self, crashing onto the couch and melting into the cracks with no hope of standing up for several hours.
Without the distraction of busyness, I have had to come face to face with the flow of where I am. Embrace leisure and lack of structure. Embrace a lost sense of time and stop getting frustrated when the answer to everything is inshallah because sometimes it’s true, only god or that spirit-of-the-whole-universe or whatever-you-call-it does know where we are going in life.
I have decided it is finally time to let the pace of this place gently ease me out of this slump. There is this tendency I have to feel guilty about relaxation- that it is wasting time. I am fairly sure a lot of people in Tangier would tell you the opposite and in fact, as I was skimming through Brainpickings the other day I found this quote by Albert Camus from one of his essays that spoke directly to my present state of thought:
“Being active is still wasting one’s time, if in doing one loses oneself. Today is a resting time, and my heart goes off in search of itself. If an anguish still clutches me, it’s when I feel this impalpable moment slip through my fingers like quicksilver.”
I am newly in love with that idea that resting time is when the heart goes off in search of itself. We must let go of the anguish of wanting to move faster faster faster and not let any moments of quiet get away from us. I am ready to accept this city as a guide and teacher in the art of leisure and rest.
It was the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, also having something to say on this subject, who commented “Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy — to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work.” Isn’t it true? Food and work are two of the major streams of life, so what is there to be brisk about? They should be relished, drawn out among pregnant pauses of going back to our hearts and quiet spots.
With my adoption of this Tangier/Moroccan attitude towards relaxing, it seems only appropraite to take more time in preparing Moroccan food. Loubia (white beans cooked in tomato sauce) is a dish I have been making and tweaking for a while, and I finally feel like I have got it down absolutely perfect every time now. I ate traditional loubia for the first time at a local cha3bi restaurant- $1 for a giant bowl- and I had no idea white beans could be so rich and full of flavor. M mentioned one day that his mom loves to add chopped up silk for extra flavor and texture and I knew I had to try because his mom is nothing short of a genius in the kitchen.
Silk, by the way, was once mysteriously translated to me as simply “leaf,” but since then I have done a bit of googling and found out that it is in fact collard greens and they are a delicious addition to this saucy dish. Loubia with silk is my go-to, easy-to-whip-up weeknight dinner, plus it is so simple to make a huge batch on a Sunday afternoon and freeze some for later. So take a little quiet moment out of the busyness of life to brew up this dish and relax into the contentment of eating truly good food for your soul.
*Side note: If you’re wondering why there are these 3’s among letters, it is because when Darija is typed in english characters, there are certain letters we don’t use that have to be represented by numbers. The 3 makes sort of a throaty “aaAh” sound (I usually feel like a muppet when I do it). Fun language fact of the day.
Loubia ma3 Silk - Moroccan White Beans & Greens in Tomato Sauce
Makes about 4 servings, vegan + gf
- 3 cups cooked white beans (I usually keep them in their cooking/canning liquid- the starch helps thicken the sauce a bit)
- 2 medium tomatoes, peeled and diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp fresh minced cilantro
- 2 tbsp fresh minced parsley
- 2 cups loosely packed collard greens, roughly chopped
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp sweet paprika
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (if you like a hint of spice)
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- salt & pepper to taste
- 2 cups water or vegetable stock
In a large pot, heat your olive oil over a medium flame, then add the garlic to sauté just until lightly browned. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, spices, salt and pepper, then stir just for a minute or so to start blending flavor. Add in the beans (it's okay if several tablespoons of the liquid from cooking/canning goes in as well) and minced herbs and mix for another couple minutes. Pour in your stock or water, stir, taste test for more salt or pepper, then cover and let it come to a boil. Turn the heat down to simmer and cook for about 20-25 minutes or until it has formed a rich, thick tomato sauce. Toss in the chopped up collard greens and cook until fully wilted- about another 5 minutes. Serve with dipping bread + olive oil and enjoy.