GIANT BEANS

Gigante beans (aka massive Giant Greek style baked beans) seem about as Greek and homey as spinach pie or raki (pr: Rah-KEE, Greece's version of moonshine, made from the leftover skins, twigs, and mash from Grapes. They don't waste anything). Every place that had them, they were the star of the meal. For a game, Alicia and I had a rating system of our favorite beans. If you fly into Crete, you'll most likely fly into the north coast town of Chania. Ruled by the Turks and then the Venetians, the history alone paints such a gorgeous colorful landscape here. A friend wrote a list of restaurants and Tamam was on the list. The food here at Tamam, with its blend of Turkish and Cretan styles, tastes like you could be in some old school grandmother's kitchen, getting occasional whiffs of coffee, lemon, and baked fish.

In Greece, Gigante's are typically braised on low heat for a few hrs in broth, herbs, onion, and garlic. Ingredients and the method are super simple, like most of the classic dishes here. Beans like these are such a healthy and affordable option for vegetarians and should be a big part of everybody's diet. They're a super rich source of anti-oxidants, colon clearing fiber, and full of protein and iron which is also one of our biggest deficiencies (especially Moms during pregnancy). They're also super versatile. Try adding chopped bitter greens like swiss chard or mustard greens in the last half hour of cooking. Or try adding ground clove or cinnamon for a warmer wintery feel. Serve it with some grilled crusty bread, a glass of red wine, and you'll really feel like summer is over. 

Giant Beans vs. Butter Beans

I was able to get my giant beans loose at Titan Foods in Astoria, NY (or can also get them through their online store, although they are a bit more expensive than the loose option). If you can't find dried Gigante beans or you're pressed for time, no problem. Butter beans work fine too. Most grocery stores carry canned butter beans which are a smaller cousin of the Gigante.  Follow the recipe as normal except use 4-6 cups of stock instead of 8 since there is less bean to soak up the liquid. Serve it as a side dish, a stew with greens, or as an appetizer on a slice of good grilled bread. 

Crock Pot

You can also throw all ingredients in a crock pot and cook 4-6 hours on high or 8-10 hours on low. 

Some recipes call to not soak and to boil the beans but I found that by soaking them overnight and simmering them over low heat, you get a creamier tender bean without it falling apart. 

INGREDIENTS

1 lb dried Greek Gigante Beans, soaked overnight or 3 cups soaked/canned

1/4 cup olive oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

8 cups vegetarian or chicken broth, or water

1/2 of 14 oz can of  tomatoes, chopped (keep the rest for a later use)

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon dried oregano (or any mix of dried parsley, thyme, parsley)

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon honey

3 tablespoons red wine or sherry vinegar

1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped (or any mix of fresh parsley or mint)

Kosher salt

Ground pepper

METHOD

1. Add beans to a large bowl. Pour enough water to cover the beans by 3 inches. Let them soak overnight

2. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add chopped onions and saute about 6 mins until golden brown. Add garlic and cook another minute. Add beans, broth, oregano, red pepper, and vinegar and stir. When it starts to boil, turn it down to low, cover and simmer for 3 hours, occasionally stirring to let out steam. Turn off the heat. Add chopped dill, salt and pepper to your liking. I found it didn't need too much.

3. For a group, I like to set it out on a platter, top with more fresh herbs, drizzle of olive oil, and serve with grilled bread. Crispy grilled bread with these beans is on point. 

*For later use, when the beans reach room temp, cover and refrigerate. Beans will keep for up to a week.