Back in February, in time for Lent, the New York Times had an excellent article on Greek vegetarian food by Martha Rose Shulman. Given my interest in Greek food and my interest in vegetarian food, especially legume-based vegetarian food, this article was a treasure trove of recipes. If anyone has a book on vegetarian Greek food they would like to recommend (traditional Greek vegetarian recipes, not traditional Greek recipes adapted for vegetarians), I would love to hear about it.
But anyway, about these recipes. So far I have started with Greek Baked Beans with Honey & Dill, an utterly delicious stew of beans and tomatoes. Traditionally made with gigandes, a very large dried lima bean, I made it with white beans as recommended (for a substitute) in the recipe (you’d think with all of the Rancho Gordo beans sitting my pantry I’d have some runners, but alas no). As far as I can tell, the beans are traditionally partially cooked on their own and then finished in the acidic tomatoes stew. Color me a skeptic, but I chose to cook the beans separately (I have had trouble with dried beans cooking in acid), and that is how I have written the instructions below. It may be that dried lima beans are different enough that cooking in the acid would not be a problem.
The next time I would add more veggies to this dish and eat it like a Greek chili. I think zucchini, eggplant and carrot would all work well. As it was, I did slice up 2 extra onions, quickly saute them, and add them to the pot, so you will see the extra onions. One other possibly significant change that I made was to use white wine in cooking the beans–I am not sure if the alcohol makes this dish ineligible for Lent. Just use water in that case.
1 pound dried large lima beans or white beans, soaked overnight if necessary (do not soak gigandes if using)
2 cups white wine
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 large onions, preferably red, thinly sliced
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 green zucchini, diced (optional–I would use next time)
1 yellow summer squash, diced (optional–I would use next time)
diced eggplant or carrot, optional
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
1 bay leaf
3 T honey
2 T tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup, loosely packed, chopped fresh dill (I did not have fresh so I added pinches of dried dill throughout the recipe, probably 1 1/2 T total)
Place the dried beans in a large heavy pot. Add the white wine, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, 2 teaspoons of the minced garlic, and enough water to cover the beans by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and let boil for 5 minutes. Then reduce the heat to a bare simmer and cover to the pot. When the beans are tender, add salt to taste and simmer an additional 10 minutes. Set aside.
When you are 90 minutes away from dinner time, preheat the oven to 375 F. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium-large Dutch oven (I used a 5 qt oval) over medium heat, and add the onion with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until tender and lightly caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and optional vegetables (and a pinch of dried dill if using dried) and cook an additional 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes with the bay leaf, vinegar and honey and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a rapid simmer and cook the tomato mixture for 10 minutes. Add another pinch of dried dill if using dried.
Drain the beans, reserving the pot liquor. Add the beans and tomato paste to the tomatoes, along with as much of the pot liquor as you desire (i.e., to desired soupiness). Add the remaining olive oil with freshly ground black pepper to taste and another pinch of dried dill if using. Taste for additional salt. Cover and place in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, until the beans are tender and the mixture is thick. If using dried dill, add one last pinch before serving. If using fresh, add it at the end and let it sit for another 15 minutes. Taste again for salt–or additional vinegar or honey, but mine was perfect and needed neither.