Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Gigandes (Γίγαντες - baked butter beans)

This post is mentioned in the Wikipedia entry for Gigandes

The main white beans used in Greek cooking are haricot beans (navy beans - for bean soup) and huge white beans that are often referred to as butter beans or lima beans (for baked beans). Butter beans are giant white beans, hence their name gigandes" (giants); the beans produced in Greece now have protected name status: they are called "Macedonian Elephants" (Ελέφαντες Μακεδονίας). They are not easy to work with: they require soaking overnight as well as copious amounts of cooking to become tender enough to eat - but the end result is really worth it. Gigandes are often served as an appetiser in Greek restaurants, and they render the British version of baked beans a cheap and nasty alternative. This dish freezes well, and if you aren't fasting, you can make a real feast of it by adding sausages. It is absolutely divine. It takes a long time to prepare and cook, so it's not one of our regular weekly bean meals. It's best eaten in the winter, like a hearty casserole hotpot - when you eat this meal, you'll need to have a little rest afterwards, as these beans sit rather heavily on your stomach! When thawing it from the deep-freeze, you may need to add some more liquid when heating it up.

Soak a 500g packet of butter beans overnight in a big pot of water. The next day, drain the water away and refill the pot with fresh water. Boil them for at least an hour in plain water. Don't add salt to the water - this will only serve to toughen them. Don't worry about the white froth that builds up on the surface of the water while the beans are cooking. You will be draining the water off, and nothing will remain. When the beans are done (and they will still be tough), turn on the oven to start warming up, drain off the water from the beans, and rinse them in fresh water. Pour them in an oven dish, and now start preparing the sauce (which you could have also prepared while the beans were being boiled). Don't put the beans into the oven just yet!

For the sauce, you need:
1 onion, minced finely
1 onion cut into thin slices
3-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 wineglass of olive oil
500g pulped tomatoes (or 1 can or pureed tomatos)
1 teaspoon of tomato paste
2 small carrots cut into thin rounds (if you prefer the vegan version - sometimes I add sausage, again cut into rounds)
a bunch of parsley, chopped small
salt, pepper and oregano
2-4 sausages of your choice (optional)

In a saucepan, pour in the oil, and add the onions and garlic. Let them stew a little over low heat till they become transparent, then add the tomatos. Mix them in well, then add the carrot and parsley. Let the sauce simmer for 5-10 minutes before pouring it over the beans. Add enough water to completely cover the beans in the oven dish. You will need to add more water during cooking time as the beans are baking in the oven. Finally (and here is the bit that you can omit if you are a cholesterol watcher, you're fasting, or you're a vegetarian) add the sausages, as they are or sliced in rounds, into the oven dish. Sprinkle the seasonings over the baking dish.

Now the dish is ready to be put into the oven; let it cook for at least three hours in a hot oven, always ensuring that there is enough liquid in the dish to stop it from burning. As the beans (and sausages) cook, turn them over with a ladle every half hour to ensure that they will all take on a crunchy, cooked look. The beans will be ready (ie soft but not mushy) when you see them popping out of their skin, and splitting into two. The oven will have been working for so long, that you will not need to turn on the heating for a while (a trick to save on energy fuel). Be prepared for the whole house to take on a saucy aroma - and defend yourself against gas production! To serve the beans, bring on the feta cheese and crusty bread, and don't forget the wine!

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.MORE BEAN RECIPES:
Chili con carne
Lentil stew
Bean soup
String bean stew
Split yellow peas
Black-eyed beans