Credit: Earl Carter

White beans with lamb ribs and green goddess sauce

David Moyle is a chef. He is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

Credit: Earl Carter

I’ve always loved cooking with dried beans. Somewhat maligned as boring and bland, they are a staple in my pantry. And while some people consider them just a filler or a vehicle for sauce and other flavours, I like to occasionally give them a turn as a hero ingredient.

My white bean of preference is the purgatory bean. I was introduced to this particular variety by winemaker friends who told the story of its origin. Otherwise known as Gradoli beans, because they are cultivated in Gradoli, Lazio, in central Italy, these beans are traditionally eaten at gatherings on Ash Wednesday. They are cooked using only water, less than enough seasoning and some olive oil, and are finished with a hard herb such as sage. When treated in this manner, the beans become creamy and are ideally served at room temperature.

For this recipe I entirely disregard restraint and throw big flavour at the beans. I treat them almost as you would when making a cassoulet, and the addition of the seaweed works so well with lamb. The green goddess sauce in this recipe is as much of a staple for me as the beans themselves. I almost always have a jar of it in the fridge as it can be added to broths or to lift and freshen pulses of any kind.

The beauty of white beans is their adaptability, so, in a recipe such as this, cannellini or navy beans will be just as effective. But if you can get your hands on the fagiolo del purgatorio di Gradoli, then please also do try cooking them with restraint in the traditional way. The simplicity is like a reset button for your palate and the subtle elements become more greatly appreciated.


Serves 4

  • 200g dried white beans (cannellini, navy or purgatory)
  • 500g lamb ribs
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 50g wakame, toasted
  • 50ml fish sauce
  • 1 green chilli, sliced

Green goddess sauce

  • 1 avocado
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 bunch mint
  • 1 bunch coriander
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 2 green Lombok chillis
  • 80ml fish sauce
  • 40ml lime juice
  • 20g palm sugar
  • 160ml grapeseed oil
  1. Soak the beans in cold water overnight.
  2. Drain, then place in a pot and cover with water. Cook very gently over a low heat for about 30 minutes and then strain off the excess water leaving just enough liquid to cover the beans. Set aside to cool.
  3. Steam the lamb ribs for 20 minutes.
  4. Dice the onion finely then sweat it off in the oil in a separate pot. Add the wakame, some of the water from the beans and the fish sauce. Add the chilli and the steamed lamb ribs, then cook with a lid on for a further 10 minutes. Add the beans (with the cooking liquor) and simmer for 15 minutes to finish.
  5. For the green goddess, peel and chop the avocado and the shallot. Place into a jug blender with the rest of the ingredients and blend until emulsified.
  6. To serve, spoon one tablespoon of the green sauce into the middle  of a shallow bowl. Divide the beans between the bowls, then top with lamb ribs.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 7, 2020 as " Ways and beans".

This month marks 10 years since the first edition of The Saturday Paper. The paper is as audacious now as it was then: a rejection of conventional wisdom about what makes the news and who will read it.

To celebrate those 10 years - and the issue-defining journalism produced in them - we are offering all new subscribers a two-year digital subscription for the price of one. That's $298 worth of journalism for $109.

Get more of the best journalism in the country - and celebrate the success of a newspaper built on optimism.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

Use your Google account to create your subscription