Greek Giant Beans is an excellent alternative to potatoes, rice or pasta and complements many different dishes. Often advertised as a winter dish but, in fact, a very delicious, inexpensive meal all the year. We usually accompany Giant Beans with grilled sardines or chicken in the oven. But, of course, they are tasty as a meal on their own with a green salad and slice of Feta. In Greece, they are known simply as ‘Gigantes’, the butter bean/lima bean. You could also use the slightly smaller white kidney bean/cannellini bean.
Adapting the Gigantes Recipe
I often add chicken stock (or a stock cube) in the winter. If you prefer to keep the recipe vegetarian, add the bean cooking water or vegetable stock to the pot. For the version in the photos, I added strips of red pepper and fennel bulb together with the traditional carrots, celery and onion. Many Greek Bean recipes call for sugar, but a small chunk of orange does the trick equally well. I tend to cook the Gigantes in a clay casserole. It gives the dish a great flavour. Unlike the Morrocan tagine, the greek clay cooking pot has a broad base and narrow top that sits over low heat or cooks slowly in the oven. You can use any casserole dish or a large tray/dish covered in foil.
There are as many recipes for these Greek Giant Beans as there are Greek Islands. This version is quite saucy, with lots of large-cut vegetables added. However, you can adapt it for thicker tomato sauce while reducing the liquid. Also, opt for the traditional carrots and onions with maybe smaller-cut peppers.😉 It’s summer, so I used fresh tomatoes, but I would use tinned out-of-season.
Tinned or Dried Beans?
Buying tinned beans here is almost impossible, so I always use dried beans. However, they should be kept in a sealed container and not left to sit around for too long. Old beans take forever to cook. Soak the dried beans overnight with a pinch of bicarbonate of soda, rinse and then boil for about an hour until soft before using. If you are in a hurry, then use tinned beans, but you can’t cook them long enough to infuse the flavours. In short, dried beans take longer to prepare but are cheaper and taste so much better.
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Greek Giant Beans
- 1 casserole with lid
- 500 g butter beans/lima beans white kidney bean/cannellini bean
- 2 onions chopped
- 2 carrots thickly sliced
- 2 Florina peppers roughly chopped use only one if you want fewer vegetables
- 1 long green pepper roughly chopped optional
- 1 fennel bulb thinely sliced optional
- 2-3 cloves grated garlic
- 5 ripe tomatoes (400g), roughly chopped or a tin of good quality plum tomatoes
- 1 sprig fresh oregano or tsp dried
- 2 sticks celery including leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 small bunch dill (finely chopped)
- 2 tbsp chopped parsley, one for the pot and one to serve
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 small orange quarter
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 2-3 black peppercorns
- 1-2 tbsp tomato concentrate
- approx 300 ml the stock of your choice or stock cube or bean cooking liquid see notes
- freshly ground pepper and salt
- olive oil
Preparing the Beans
- Soak the beans with a pinch of bicarbonate of soda for 12-24 hours.
- Rinse and boil in plenty of water for about an hour or until al dente. Drain the beans reserving the cooking liquid.
Preparing the vegetables
- While boiling the beans, saute the garlic and vegetables (except the tomatoes) in a little olive oil until 'just' soft. If you have some to hand add a splash of white wine and let it evaporate. As soon as the beans are ready, toss them into the vegetables together with the chopped tomatoes, celery, herbs, cinnamon and black pepper.
- Pour in the bean mixture, and tuck the orange quarter into the beans. Drizzle with a little oil, stir in one tablespoon of tomato paste and add 1½ cups of the cooking liquid.
- Bake in the oven for 1-1½ hours or until the beans are soft and creamy. Regularly check to ensure the beans have not dried out and add more stock or bean water if necessary.
- Towards the end of cooking, check the beans for seasoning. Add a little more tomato paste, salt and pepper if necessary. Remove the orange quarter and cinnamon stick (if you can!).
- Decorate with chopped parsely and serve with a slice of Feta and crusty bread.