Greek Baked Beans (Gigantes Plaki)
Toronto is having its first long heat wave of the summer. Tomorrow’s forecast is for a high of 38C and who knows what it will feel like with the humidity. It is a positive sauna outside and I don’t like it one bit!
Figures that all I want to make are baked beans. Turning on my oven when my house is already 28C inside. I must be nuts.
Nuts for beans, of course!
I am not bent on making your typical ooky sweet ketchup baked beans. I’ve already done the non-traditional, but uber delicious Mango BBQ Beans (not baked but the stovetop preparation makes this much more summer friendly!). I am talking around-the-world type of baked beans.
Because, every country has a different spin on the classic bean dish.
Apparently vegan New Brunswick-style is to use blackstrap molasses and ginger for a zippy punch.
Or I could go more into southern soul cooking, using baked black eyed peas.
How about Mexican-style with Anasazi Beans Baked with Ancho Chile?
Then there’s Sephardic White Beans with Leeks.
Substitute the leeks with onions, add allspice, cinnamon and cloves, and you have Syrian baked beans.
If you were Serbian, you’d bake your white tetovac beans with sweet paprika.
When in Nigeria, you might add curry powder, cumin, coriander, and peanut butter.
A quick glance onto my back porch, with its bountiful flat-leaf parsley, steered me into the direction of Greek Baked Beans (Gigantes Plaki), where giant lima beans are baked with a luscious tomato sauce spiced with smoked paprika, oregano, garlic, parsley and dill. Already a creamy bean, the giant lima bean is brought to a silky high as it is baked in a delicious sauce. Baking confers even heat distribution and somehow allows the beans to continue to become creamy without losing its shape. Lima beans, if overcooked, can quickly disintegrate into mush if you don’t watch them carefully while they are cooking. Browning the beans during the last 15 minutes, allows a slightly crusty exterior to the top beans. The mixture of textures is wonderful.
Serve slightly warm, or at room temperature, with slices of bread, or just as is, which is my preference along with a sprinkling of fresh herbs.
1/2 lb dried large lima beans (or regular lima beans or white beans in a pinch)
2 bay leaves
2 tsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp Aleppo chili flakes, to taste
14 oz canned diced tomatoes, undrained (or 2-3 juicy tomatoes, diced)
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1/4 cup dill, chopped
1. Combine the drained beans and water to cover by 3 inches in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer 30-40 minutes, until tender.
2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F. Heat olive oil in a medium size, ovenproof heavy skillet over medium heat, and add the onion and carrot. Cook, stirring often, until tender and lightly caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and chili pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add in the undrained tomatoes, paprika, and oregano and simmer until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
4. Scoop out lima beans (or drain, reserving some of their cooking liquid) with a slotted ladle, and add to tomato mixture. Add in 1/2 cup of the bean cooking liquid. Add in parsley and dill and mix well. Cover with aluminum foil (or lid) and bake at 350F for 45 minutes. Stir if needed. Remove lid and cook an additional 15 minutes, until the beans are slightly brown. The beans should be meltingly tender.
5. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, with feta cheese, more herbs, overtop slices of bread. Or plain, relishing in its beautiful simplicity.