beans and meat stew (grah varivo)

Croatian Bean and Meat Stew (Grah Varivo)

Classically delicious, but with a few changes in the steps and ingredients, this first-class Croatian bean and meat stew is one of those hearty winter dishes that, due to the practicality and length of preparation, I always cook in a big pot.
Although thickened without the roux, it combines traditional flavors of beans and cured dry meat with a few secrets on spices which make it even better! I've also prepared a few tips on how to cook beans to make them less gassy.

Secrets to Really Good Bean Stew

Just like when it comes to the recipe for Croatian Sarma, each of us who likes to cook for our family has our own little tricks to make the bean stew so good that everyone in the house will love it. It’s just that I decided to share everything I learned about this dish with you, so let’s get started!

Brine the Beans Before Cooking

Some types of beans, such as black beans, don’t need to be soaked in water, but the types of beans that are mostly used in my country will definitely benefit from this step. Although soaking in water the day before will help the beans cook faster, some beans may cook sooner, while others remain hard.

It must have happened to all of us, right?

Therefore, I was curious to try the trick from Serious Eats, in which they claim that it’s best to brine the beans in water with some salt and baking soda. And it works!

Dry Cured Meat and Beans Go Together Really Well

Dry smoked pork ribs, sausages, or ham hock are perfect additions to hearty, winter bean stew.

I tend to cook bean and meat stew most often in autumn and winter when dried cured meat is the most available. This kind of meat will add a looot of umami flavor and saltiness to this recipe, so go to your local butcher and ask for a really good piece of meat.

Add Something Sour and Spicy

A pickled pepperoni or two, leftover pickle juice, or even some vinegar – this is how beans and meat stew have been served in my home. I still remember my grandfather adding a generous amount of white vinegar to a plate full of steaming hot beans.

All my readers who always like to have some hot sauce on hand will probably agree with me when I say that some hot paprika powder will complement other flavors in this dish really well.

Bean and Meat Stew Should Have Perfect Consistency

During my student day, when I first started to cook beans, I was making many mistakes. Among them, it was the consistency – this dish would turn out thin and it wasn’t the dish I remembered.

So, how does the bean stew have this almost velvety texture? My grandma used to thicken the soups and stews with some roux, and I’m totally ok with it. But, if you want to do this differently, there’s a simple and natural way to do it!

How to Thicken Bean and Meat Stew Naturally

Simply, towards the end of the cooking, use a large spoon to take some cooked beans with some cooking liquid and mash everything into a puree. Return to the pot, stir, and voila, the stew has a lovely consistency!

Why Beans Make Us Gassy and How To Avoid That

  1. BRINING THE BEANS – because of high levels of oligosaccharides that humans can’t fully digest, beans make us gassy. Soaking beans in a mixture of water, salt, and baking soda will result in creamier beans that will cook faster. This way, the pectin in the beans will become weaker so the beans could expand nicely without cracking while its interior remains creamy and tender. Don’t worry, beans won’t absorb much salt during brining. And no, I did not make this up, Nik Sharma explained everything in his article on Serious Eats.
  2. THE RIGHT SPICES – it’s important which spices we use when cooking with beans. Ginger, fennel seeds, cumin, ajowan, and kombu algae are the ingredients most often mentioned in the context of preparing dishes with legumes. Most often I will use a combination of ginger and cumin, and sometimes fennel powder. These spices can reduce bloating and ease our digestion.

Ingredients for Croatian Bean and Meat Stew

  • Beans – use the bean variety like cranberry or pinto beans.
  • Meat – personally, I would recommend using smoked pork ribs or cured ham hock in this recipe. These pieces of meat benefit from long cooking and become so flavorful and juicy! If not available to you, use some smoked pork sausage, a good piece of bacon, or a combination of the two. In this case, the meat won’t need to be precooked separately and you’ll probably need to add more salt to the stew itself.
  • Lard – traditionally, pork lard is a way to go here.
  • Onion and garlic – use bigger onions because they will give sweetness and thicken the stew itself. Be careful with the garlic so it doesn’t burn.
  • Baking soda – for brining the beans and for sauteing the onions and vegetables.
  • Root vegetables – carrots, celeriac, and parsley root. Half of the veggies I will grate and add at the beginning of the cooking, and the other half I’ll chop into pieces and add later during cooking.
  • Spices and herbs – most often, I’ll use bay leaves, hot and sweet paprika powder, ground cumin, and ginger to help the digestion of the beans and black pepper. Although also not obligatory in Croatian bean and meat stew, I like to add some dried mushroom powder if I have it on hand for some umami.
  • Tomato paste – for balancing the sweetness of the vegetable and beans and for adding some acidity.
  • Homemade ketchup or ajvar – I use it in this recipe for a more complex flavor and thickness. However, they are optional.

How to Cook Bean and Meat Stew

Be sure to check out the recipe card at the end of this post. It has the exact amounts of ingredients and detailed recipe instructions!

1. STEP: Brine the beans

I suggest soaking the dry beans in water with baking soda and salt, which will allow the beans to cook faster and be creamier. Let them soak for at least 12 hours.

2. STEP: Briefly cook the soaked beans and dry meat in separate pots

The next day, if the ribs are very salty, cook them briefly. Do the same with the beans and then strain the water from both pots.

3. STEP: Saute the onions, garlic, and half of the root vegetables

In a big pot melt the lard and add the bay leaves, onion, and garlic. Then add grated root veggies, and baking soda, and cook everything slowly on medium-high heat occasionally adding 1-2 tablespoons of water so the mixture doesn’t burn.

Keep the rest of the vegetables aside.

4. STEP: Add the beans, meat, and water

Let the water cover all the beans and meat and bring everything to the boil.

adding water to the pot with meat and beans

5. STEP: Add spices and cook half covered

Avoid adding salt at this moment because the ribs will release a lot of saltiness during the cooking. It’s easier to add salt later than to fix oversalted beans.

6. STEP: Add the rest of the root vegetables

Do this halfway through cooking so the veggies don’t overcook.

adding root vegetables to the stew

7. STEP: Thickening bean stew without flour (roux)

If you want to thicken the bean stew without making a roux, take out some of the cooked beans together with cooking liquid (about 200 ml) and mash with a potato masher. Alternatively, you can do this with an immersion blender too, but this time I used the first method because my baby was sleeping while I was photographing this recipe. 😀 And we all know nobody wants to wake a baby, right?

Then return that mixture back to the pot, stir everything, and continue cooking.

8. STEP: Adding tomato paste and ketchup/ajvar

All done!

beans and meat stew

Can You Freeze Bean Stew

The real question is, are you really going to spend a few hours on this dish without freezing a few portions for those days when you don’t feel like cooking? This bean and meat stew freezes great, so I recommend letting the stew cool completely after cooking and putting some in the freezer.

How long can bean stew stay in the freezer? Well, we eat ours within 2 months, even sooner.

croatian bean and meat stew (grah varivo), served in an old school plate

If you try this or another recipe from the blog, be sure to leave a comment and/or rating on this post or tag @foodandmoodblog in your posts on social media. For video recipes, subscribe to my YouTube channel!

Cook with love,

croatian beans and meat stew served with bread

Croatian Bean and Meat Stew (Grah varivo)

Mateja Zvirotic Andrijanic
Classically delicious, but with a few changes in the steps and ingredients, this first-class Croatian bean and meat stew is one of those hearty winter dishes that, due to the practicality and length of preparation, I always cook in a big pot.
Although thickened without the roux, it combines traditional flavors of beans and cured dry meat with a few secrets on spices which make it even better! I've also prepared a few tips on how to cook beans to make them less gassy.
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Brining the beans 12 hours
Total Time 15 hours 30 minutes
Course Main Course, Stew
Cuisine Croatian
Servings 10 portions
Calories 419 kcal



  • 500 g dried beans cranberry or pinto beans
  • 1,5 tbsp sea salt
  • 1,5 tsp baking soda


  • 800 g cured dry pork ribs or smoked pork sausage or cured ham hock
  • 3 tbsp lard
  • 3 onions bigger
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 2-3 parsley root
  • ¼ celeriac
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 3,4-4 l water
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • ½ tsp ginger powder
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp hot paprika powder
  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika powder
  • 1 tbsp dried mushroom powder optional
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp ketchup or ajvar
  • salt quantity of salt depends on how salty is the meat
  • parsley leaves for serving



  • The day before cooking, soak the beans in water together with baking soda and salt. Let the beans brine for 12 hours.


  • The next day, strain the beans and put them in a large pot with cold water. Bring the pot to a boil and cook for no more than 30 minutes. Repeat the same step with the pork ribs in a separate pot (skip this step if using only sausages or the meat you have is not very salty). During this time, grate half of the root vegetables and chop the other half. Slice the onions, mince the garlic, and strain the beans and the meat.
  • In a big pot melt the lard and add the bay leaves and onion. Saute until golden, then add garlic and saute briefly. Now add grated root veggies, sprinkle some baking soda, and cook everything slowly on medium-high heat, for about 15 min. Add 1-2 tablespoons of water alongside this process.
  • Add the beans, meat, and water to cover almost to the top of the pot and let it boil. Keep the rest of the root veggies on the side.
  • Now add the spices: cumin, ginger, hot and sweet paprika, black pepper, and mushroom powder (if using). I recommend adding the salt at the end of the cooking if the meat hasn't released too much salt.
  • Cook the bean stew half-covered for 2-2,5 hours. The cooking time will depend a lot on the type of beans and meat you use. Halfway through cooking, add the rest of the root vegetables, and towards the end, try if you need to add more spices.
  • To make this stew thicker, take out 5-6 big spoons of cooked beans with some liquid and mash them vigorously with a potato masher (alternately, you could use an immersion blender), then return to the pot.
  • At the end, add tomato paste and ketchup or ajvar and stir everything well. Serve and dobar tek!
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!


Serving: 1gCalories: 419kcalCarbohydrates: 44gProtein: 22gFat: 18gSaturated Fat: 6gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0.1gCholesterol: 48mgSodium: 1386mgPotassium: 1136mgFiber: 16gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 2440IUVitamin C: 11mgCalcium: 120mgIron: 4mg

Nutritional information provided is an estimate based on ingredients data and should be used for informational purposes only. Actual nutritional content may vary based on factors such as portion size, preparation methods and ingredients used.

Beans, comfort food, cured meat, soup, stew

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5 responses to “Croatian Bean and Meat Stew (Grah Varivo)”

  1. Lana Berak Avatar
    Lana Berak

    5 stars
    Rated 5 of 5 by the whole family and recipe was very easy to follow. Highly recommended. 👌 Dobar tek!

    1. Mateja Zvirotic Andrijanic Avatar
      Mateja Zvirotic Andrijanic

      Thank you so much Lana!

  2. Babette Avatar

    5 stars
    Izvrstan recept! Sol i soda zaista čine razliku! Preporuka od srca!

    1. Mateja Zvirotic Andrijanic Avatar
      Mateja Zvirotic Andrijanic

      Hvala najljepša, i kod mene se taj trik udomaćio u kuhanju graha tako da ga ne preskačem. 🙂

  3. Babette Avatar

    5 stars
    Izvrstan recept! Soda i sol zaista čine razliku! 💫

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