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


  1. I've never put sausages in my gigantes, another great idea. You have a lot of good ideas! :-) And I do love the videos -- I ran it a couple times so I could see the beans bubbling in the oven for a little longer. Gigantes are SO GOOD.

  2. Hang on, butter beans or runner beans? Now I'm confused...

    "Hi Maria!
    Loved your gigandes post - as you know I love them. I do have a correction and that is that gigantes are not lima beans (phaseolus lunatus). they are runner beans - phaseolus coccineus (mulitiflorus)- related to scarlet runner beans. Although I'm probably the only person in the world who cares about this arcane piece of trivia...
    It's snowing again today, lucky us!

  3. Laurie's just sent me a note regarding benas, which I must check out. Thanks, Laurie, it sounds very interesting. Thanks very much for the information!

    LAURIE SAID: Runner beans. I think butter beans may be the same as limas, although I'm not sure.
    My source on this is the Kastoria application to the EU for PGI status for gigantes, and the resulting EU regulation protecting that status. It is here:

    Since the applicants would clearly know what beans they are growing, because those are the beans they want to be protected by the EU, I'm going with what the growers themselves say, which is this: "4.2. Description: Beans are annual climbing plants with long slender stems and compound leaves reaching a final height of more than two metres. They belong to the Papilionaceae family (legumes). The Phaseolus genus contains 250 species. The varieties grown in the Prefecture of Kastoria belong to the species Phaseolus coccineus (multiflorus)."
    Phaseolus coccineus are runner beans. See:
    What do you think???

  4. Just bought a bag of dried butter beans - what a lovely way to cook them. This recipe is definitely going on my list of things to make. Incidentally, I once came across a bag of what was named "gigantes" in my local Middle Eastern shop in Dublin - they were very like butter beans but absolutly huge, you could have a couple of bites out of each bean! Never found them since, though...

  5. Guess what Laurie – I was searching for a packet of runner beans at the supermarket today, and all I could find was this:

    The 3A-brand gigantes beans I always buy have now got a new name on the packaging – the packaging hasn’t changed at all, apart from the name: Ελέφαντες Μακεδονίας (the word Γίγαντες is not even mentioned!). Eλληνικό προϊόν of course!

    Vindication for you after your research into greek γίγαντες beans!

  6. Well, I have always wondered what "butter" beans are when I see them mentioned in British food blogs. So...they are NOT lima beans? Are they the same thing the Italians call fava beans? Yes, I am willing to discuss beans because they are very important food and I love them, too.
    Tomorrow "we" (as in I had the idea but hubby is making the dish) are making a recipe I found the British Country Living magazine.
    I used to subscribe but don't anymore because it's pretty expensive to get here in the US.
    We have made the (almost) real version of Cassoulet from Julia Child before but this new recipe is called "Faux" Cassoulet. We have made it several times and it is so easy and delicious. The thing that makes it so good is a bread crumb crust mixed with lemon zest and parsley that is baked on top. The lemon zest lifts the dish and makes it yummy. We do love to make big casseroles of beans in the Winter. How does a cheesecake with fresh pineapple compote sound for dessert, Maria?

    1. butter/lima beans are what those big beans are called - they arent what is generally known in english as fava beans (that particular variety is the 'broad bean' as it's known in the UK)
      the greek species of large beans is called elephant beans in common speech, but they resemble butter/lima beans
      the lima bean is Phaseolus lunatus and the greek bean is Phaseolus coccineus - these beans come in various colours, the most common being white - but we can also get deep red/crimson beans of this sort too (i will buy red ones another time)

      beans are very very important in our home too - throughout the school year, i cook a large pot every week 9it lasts for two meals) - in the summer i dont prefer them as we have so many fresh vegetables in the garden

      (as for cheesecake, it was not well known among the locals but it is now available in small pots in confectioners' stores - that reminds me to make one myself)