Tag Archives: beans

Greek Comfort Food – Gigandes Plaki (Baked Giant White Beans)

Years ago when I was just 13 and visiting family in Canada I was introduced to Greek cuisine and became obsessed. In my late teens my mom gave me a basic Greek cookbook and over the years since I have made every recipe in it and collected several more wonderful cookbooks that are getting well used. One of my favorite recipes I make again and again is gigandes plaki, or baked giant white beans.


Gigandes are not restricted to the categorization of a winter dish but when it’s cold out there is nothing I find more comforting than a hot bowl of these giant, creamy and tender beans baked in a savory tomato and aromatic sauce with chunks of feta cheese. For those who can, a fried egg on top of the beans transforms the bowl of beans into a perfect breakfast or a homey dinner. I like to eat them one bean at a time, popping it against the roof of my mouth and letting the creaminess mix with the savory tomato and onion and garlic. Each bean is a complete sensory experience, luxurious and yet rustic and healthy.

In the summer I have made gigandes plaki and served them at room temperature with fried chicken or one large overstuffed sandwich that serves 8. This is truly a fantastic dish for any season, but since it is winter, please do find a bag of dried giant white beans (or giant lima beans, as I have seen them labeled lately) and make a batch now. With no embarrassment I confess I have made them four times so far this winter (but one batch doesn’t count because I fell asleep and burnt them in the oven, my bad cooking mojo continues to haunt me.)

There is no guilt with these baked beans, the beans themselves have a great deal of fiber and this is a low fat preparation. If you are vegan you can omit the cheese easily, many versions of gigandes do not contain feta but I really like the browned outside of the baked feta with the creamy interior that emulates the creaminess of the beans themselves with the addition of the salty tang of sheep’s milk.

A note about the beans, if you read “lima beans” and think, ew, please consider that this method of cooking the beans renders them creamy and soft inside with the texture of white beans or cannelini beans.  Somehow they don’t have that grainy texture that many lima beans seem to have.  I don’t know why, I think it is Greek magic.

Gigandes Plaki – Baked Giant White Beans

1# dried giant white beans, sometimes labelled as giant lima beans, soaked overnight in lots of water with 3 T of salt
3 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, very thinly sliced
2 large tomatoes, diced
2T parsley, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried Greek oregano
1 c tomato sauce, or 1 T tomato paste dissolved in 1 c H2O
extra water if desired
6 oz feta cheese, cut into large chunks (I have also made this with goat cheese)
salt and pepper

The night before you make these, or the morning before, soak the beans in a huge quantity of water with the salt added, for overnight, or a minimum of 8 hours.

Drain the soaked beans and throw away any loose skins from the beans.  Do not be alarmed if they look wrinkled, split or otherwise strange.  Place the beans in a large saucepan, cover with cold water by several inches and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a slow simmer.  Cook the beans at a simmer for 40 minutes, skimming the foam or scum that rises to the top of the water.  When most of water is absorbed and the beans are tender with no resistance, remove from the heat, drain a little and let cool.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350. Heat the olive oil in a skillet, sauté onions and garlic with a good pinch of salt for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, over medium heat.  Then add the carrots and tomatoes and sauté for another 10 minutes.

Add the cooked beans, put in large shallow dish, add everything else, except the cheese, and taste for enough salt and pepper. The sauce should be slightly soupy but the beans should not be swimming. Gently fold in the cheese, and bake 1  to 1 1/2 hours or until beans are soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Beans should be slightly burnt on top.

Serves 4.

It is highly recommended to make them ahead of time because the flavor of the sauce permeates the beans over time. I prefer them on Day 3 after cooking. Sometimes I add a 1/3 cup of water to the dish before putting into the fridge as the beans will continue to absorb liquid.

I have just finished my last batch and think I will wait a week or so before cooking more.  Maybe I will wait, that is…


Menu Planning

I came home from Thanksgiving with my darling parents and found that my refrigerator door was left ajar about 2″. Horrors! The great dumping and clean-out commenced on Monday night after work and then my fridge was sadly empty except pickles, hard cheese and wine. Time to shop and for menu planning!

D___ and I went shopping together this weekend and I discovered a few shops that I must frequent in the future . A terrific butcher shop on Taraval reminded me of our beloved long-gone Quilici’s, and the lovely guys there helped me with grass fed beef stew pieces, nicely marbled and hefty for $7.99 a pound. They also had terrific dried pastas in shapes like lasagnetti and mezze penne.

Next was the wonderfully inexpensive Asian market with perfect, organic produce and Eastern European dry goods and dairy. You have to love a shop that sells Ak Mak, Bulgarian feta, Russian sour cream and my favorite salsa and chips, plus gigantes beans. I splurged on two huge produce crates filled with groceries for $77.00. The clerk insisted I take my haul away in boxes because they were free, never mind that I can’t really carry one box, let alone two, but they were free, and bags cost $.10! One should never argue with the clerks, they’re savvy, budget wise.

Somehow D___ and I staggered into my apartment with everything in one trip. We filled my dining table with food, and I started my menu planning in earnest over a cappuccino.


Meals For The Week:

  • Beef Bourguignon ~ inspired by Mastering The Art of French Cooking
    1. beef, fresh shiitakes, carrots, onion, celery, tomato sauce, red wine, garlic, leek top bouquet garni, chopped parsley. Served with farrow.
  • Chicken Stew ~ inspired by George Bradshaw
    1. chicken thighs, carrot, onion, fennel, bay leaf, chicken broth, dill, roux, white wine,sour cream. Served with jasmine rice
  • Gigantes Plaki ~ from Modern Greek
    1. Great white beans, onion, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, bay leaf, oregano, feta, squirt of lemon at the end. Add shrimp, perhaps?
  • Sautéed Greens
    1. Chard, dino kale, watercress, garlic, lemon olive oil. Serve with quinoa. Breakfast option.
  • Coconut Rice Pudding ~ inspired by Wing Wings
    1. Bomba rice, coconut milk, sugar, sea salt
  • Green Salad
    1. romaine, orange bell pepper, green onion, fennel, avocado, feta, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, Lodi olive oil.
  • Red Beans and Rice ~ inspired by Country Cajun Cooking
    1. Pink beans, andouille sausage, tomato, onion, green onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, Aleppo chile, Sriracha, beef stock, jasmine rice.
  • roasted Corn Salad
    1. Corn, artichoke hearts, edamame, olive oil, lemon juice, tarragon
  • Salsa and Chips ~ post shopping nibbles
  • 20121202-164958.jpg

    Lately I have been preferring to eat my main meal at lunchtime and have something lighter when I get home with a glass of wine or tea. Some of these entrees are also destined for the freezer for when I lack the energy to make something simple.

    I also have a few items in the pantry and freezer that need to be slotted in somewhere:

  • pork truffle butter and crackers
  • adjvar and crackers
  • pork rillettes
  • butternut squash
  • As the dishwasher purrs along, I started poaching the chicken and chopping the vegetables for that stew, and realized I’m tired and want a bubble bath. I’m taking a glass with me to the tub while the carrots, onion and fennel simmer slowly. I’ll finish the stew for supper tonight and cook the greens for breakfast.


    It feels nice to be home with the fridge stocked, good smells perfuming the air and a good meal plan for the next little bit.


    I’ll make sure the fridge door stays closed!

    P.S. Thanks to Laura of Hey Mom What’s For Dinner for the inspiration to plan a batch of meals

    Cool Beans – Hummus Reimagined

    Hummus is a traditional middle Eastern spread or dip made from chickpeas (garbanzo beans), tahini (sesame seed paste), olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and salt.

    You can make hummus out of any other kind of bean though, such as white beans, soy beans or edamame and even lentils.  You don’t have to be stuck with garbanzos if you don’t like them!

    Last Spring I wrote about making hummus from white beans and it is truly delicious.  Instead of using expensive, heavy to carry canned beans I prefer to soak and cook my own beans for any bean-type purpose like hummus or soups.  But what do you do if you don’t have a lot of time?  You can buy white bean hummus at Trader Joes, but now we have other options.

    This week the kind folks at Eat Well Enjoy Life send me some hummus to try.  (Please note that I received free product from this company and was not otherwise compensated.)


    They sent me three varieties:

    • Edamame Hummus with a roasted red pepper and sesame topping
    • Tuscan White Bean Hummus with roasted red peppers, pine nut and garlic topping
    • Spicy Yellow Lentil Hummus with apricots and sunflower seed topping
    Since the samples were delivered to my day job I decided to utilize my coworkers in a taste test.  If you ever want to have a thoughtful evaluation of a product I highly recommend using expert retail and consumer consultants.  A true test would not be complete without a survey, so I crafted a brief but thorough written form for my volunteers. What an enthusiastic response!


    Hummus scoring

    The hummus was a big hit.   I set out some crackers and pita chips and the three types of hummus.

    Hummus tastingCheeeeps

    The kitchen immediately was filled with the scent of garlic, herbs and olive oil.

    Hummus collage(L-R: Spicy yellow lentil; white bean; edamame)

    Each tub is attractively packaged and the ingredients are simple, no artificial anything and non-GMO sourced.  Given the constant news about the evil Monsanto is spreading with their genetically modified everything and how we are ingesting their products and acting as their human guinea pigs with unknown health repercussions it is wonderfully refreshing to have a packaged food company specify on their labels if their ingredients are GMO or non-GMO.  It was interesting to note that all of their products are cholesterol free.  I like it that they use extra virgin olive oil as well.

    I asked my volunteers to rate the hummus on taste, texture and whether they would purchase this themselves, and overall favorite flavor on a scale of 1 to 10, one being “hate”, 5 being “meh” and 10 being “love”

    Out of ten respondents (a relatively small sample), the overwhelming favorite was the spicy yellow lentil hummus with a weighted average of 8.0, followed by white bean at 7.2 and edamame at 6.7.

    Most of the respondents liked the toppings on each hummus, with the sweet apricot and sunflower spread on the yellow lentil as a clear winner.  Their least favorite ranking of the edamame surprised me because I preferred the edamame because of its fresh, light flavor.  The texture of the white bean hummus was off-putting to some, they cited a thick and sticky mouth feel.  Given that I have made a lot of white bean hummus I scored it high in texture and thought the roasted peppers and pine nuts were a delicious touch.

    Overall the respondents would buy the white bean and yellow lentil hummus on their own, and half of the group would purchase the edamame hummus.

    I am looking forward to seeing this product in a store soon, for it offers ease and convenience, and the flavor and textures were spot on.  The hummus is also gluten-free and Kosher.  Hummus is a healthy way to add good fats and fiber to your diet, and if you don’t have the time to make it yourself then the Eat Well Enjoy Life brand is one you should seek out.

    Allergy note:  Happily for me I did not have any allergic reactions to the hummus, although I did not try the topping for the spicy lentil and white beans because I am avoiding stone fruit and nuts.  Hopefully this means I can have legumes, lentils and sesame seeds going forward, or perhaps I did not react because I am taking horseloads of antihistamines.   Again, uncertainty and fear of eating anything is rearing its head, but I am being as calm and cautious as I can.   Yesterday I discovered that I had a very strong reaction to eggs and today I discovered that almonds are no bueno.   This makes me very sad, however it is better to know and to feel good than to mourn foods that are toxic to my system.  

    Rainy Day Hummus

    If April showers bring May flowers, what does a May storm bring?

    It’s a very soggy day, shocking because it is almost June, and despite the chill rain outside it is warm and cozy inside the Roost. My cupboards are a little bare however, and I was not inclined to venture out in the storm to go to Trader Joe’s for groceries, despite a strong craving for TJ’s white bean hummus.

    This craving actually set upon me last night, but I did find a bag of small white beans in the pantry and set aside a small amount to soak.

    This morning’s gloom strengthened my resolve to emulate sloth-like behavior, so I started making preparations for my own white bean hummus.

    First the beans. Hummus is traditionally made with chickpeas or garbanzo beans, and it is delicious, however I have come to prefer the smooth, silky, pale white bean hummus that is sold at TJ’s, topped with olive oil, spices and herbs. But it’s not cheap, and added to the inconvenience of slogging through the rain to shop, I knew I had everything I needed at home to make my own. Instead of using more expensive canned beans, which one can certainly do, I prefer to cook my own beans. These home cooked beans have so much more flavor than any canned bean could ever impart.

    I soaked the beans overnight in my largest pot filled with cool water and a palmful of Kosher salt.

    This morning, I drained and rinsed the beans, and in a 3 quart pan sauteed a few slivers of red onion, Mexican oregano and a bay leaf in olive oil. The beans went in and were covered with cold water plus another inch above the level of the beans. I simmered them on medium low heat until they were tender but still intact. This time, the simmering time was 65 minutes. It really depends upon how big your beans are, and upon how old they are. The bag in my pantry was of unknown provenence, so they needed a bit extra time. Rancho Gordo beans from Rainbow or flajolets from Tierra Vegetables at the farmers market take anywhere from 35-45 minutes to cook fully into tender, succulent, beany morsels.

    I let the beans cool off heat in the pan while I puttered about the Roost (applying for a zillion jobs online, actually).

    Nearer to lunchtime, I uncrossed my eyes and set out to finish the hummus. I pulled out my Cuisinart and arranged my mis en place for the recipe. I cannot emphasize enough how essential it is for me to set out all the ingredients I need for a recipe before I start cooking and to reread the recipe. This saves me so much time during cooking, prevents mistakes and those “oops” moments where you realize the recipe requires you to do something the night before, or has to rest an hour after cooking when you are on a deadline.

    Since I make hummus fairly regularly I no longer refer to a recipe but measured everything today for this article. Hummus is composed of beans, tahini, a clove of garlic, fresh lemon juice, olive oil, water or bean cooking liquid, cumin, salt, pepper, Aleppo pepper or cayenne and olive oil. If you don’t have a Cuisinart you can use a blender.

    I minced the garlic, and added the tahini and the beans, lifted out of their cooking water with a slotted spoon.

    The Cuisinart went on and beautifully pureed everything to a smooth paste. I then added olive oil, cumin, salt, black pepper, a shake of Aleppo pepper and the lemon juice and turned the machine back on to blend. Then, I tasted it for salt and lemon and this time added another lemon because I like my hummus fairly tangy and the Meyer lemons I was using are sweet and mild. With the machine running I added a bit of the bean liquid to loosen the mixture to a nice soft consistency. That’s it!

    Besides cooking the beans, the total preparation time for hummus takes under 5 minutes and will cost you a quarter of the prepared hummus retail price.

    Half of the hummus went into a tub and chilled in the refrigerator. The other half became my lunch. I spread the hummus in a pretty bowl and swirled some olive oil on top. I sprinkled on some cumin, Aleppo pepper, paprika and crunchy Maldon sea salt and sat down with some rustic bread and a handful of spring baby carrots from the farmers market.

    The wild parrots kept me company, peeking through the window where they perched soggily on the fire escape, squawking occasionally. The cat lolled lazily on the dhurri next to the window, one eye on the parrots and one eye on me, in case I dropped a morsel. I watched the rain come down in sheets and marveled at the colors of the damp parrot a mere two feet away while I munched and dunked into my beautiful bowl of savory hummus.  It was truly a perfect lunch for a strange weather day.

    The recipe…..

    Requiring Much Patience: Baked Beans

    (Update: see recipe for revisions and commentary…)

    There are a few things in life that test our patience.  Traffic jams.  3:00 pm on Friday at work.  Doing taxes.  Waiting for the ‘puter to load.  Filing.

    People have said to me in an admiring fashion that I must have a lot of patience to knit.  Well, I don’t.  I am actually quite an impatient person.  This is why I always, without fail, burn my tongue with hot soup.  I feel that actually it is the other way around; knitting has taught me patience.  The act of knowing that in order to finish knitting a sock it takes a certain amount of inevitable time has taught me patience and to enjoy the process of what I am doing.  It is the zen of being in the now.

    This, however, all went out the window today because mOm and I decided to bake beans.  Not just any beans, but the original Boston beans in a darling authentic Boston bean pot.

    The Beans are A'Bakin'

    (See, it’s even helpfully labelled in case you forget)

    We put the bag of Boston pea beans to soak last night in a vast quantity of water and a good palmful of salt.

    This morning, we drained them and put them in fresh water to cook with a nicely bundled bouquet garni (celery, parsley, thyme, bay leaf).  Brining them overnight really helps the beans to cook quickly.  Once they were done, 45 minutes later, tender but perfectly intact, we layered them in the bean pot for its maiden voyage.  They were snuggled together with thinly sliced salt pork and nice cubes of Easter ham, and topped with a soup of bean broth, black strap molasses, brown sugar, chopped onions, ketchup, dry mustard, salt and ground pepper.  Topped with its little cute lid, they went into bake.  For 5-8 hours.

    So, we got started a little late this morning.  The fog hadn’t lifted in the corpuscles or brain pan and needed frequent applications of hot coffee.  A little breakfast was in order, as was the prerequisite period remaining absolutely frozen still in order to watch quail bob along the terrace.  Eventually, around 11:00 am, we felt compos mentis enough to handle a knife and in we went to the kitchen to assemble the beans.  Then we retired to the living room with another cuppa and various amusing volumes, the collected short stories of Lord Peter Wimsey for me and Dorothy L. Sayers Society monthly bulletins for March and January for mOm.  We wait for the beans. The house began to fill with an incredible savory scent after an hour, and after three hours we gave a peek within the pot.  Alas, no miracle had occurred, the beans were a long way away from being done.  At five hours we checked again, and again, the beans were just achieving a medium beige color and the onions were threatening to dissolve into a succulent mush.

    Meanwhile, the aroma drove me outdoors.  I really just couldn’t stand the tease of the scent of onion and molasses and pork products emanating from the kitchen.  Fortunately the rain has stopped today and the porch was a pleasant place to sit and knit, accompanied by multitudes of birdsong.  It was deemed warm enough to open the front door to air out the house, meaning my tranquil perch was invaded by the ever alluring scent of baked beans.  I gave up trying to concentrate on knitting my sock, and wandered the terrace.  The weeds were mocking me so I began yanking them out by their roots like errant gray hairs, such a pleasant feeling of revenge.  And still I was tormented by the scent of baking beans.  The neighbor kids from the bottom of the cul-de-sac meandered by, walking their bikes up the formidable hill, and they paused near my parents’ mailbox.  I watched them out of the corner of my eye as I assiduously weeded, and noted they were sniffing the air, like a hungry pack of dogs that only preteen little boys can emulate.

    Finally, at 5:00 pm, I checked the beans again.  Alas, still not done.  We changed the linens, folded laundry, uploaded pictures from the Flip, watched the news, checked email, pacing the house like lions before mealtime.  It’s after 6:00 pm and the beans are still not done.  I think I may never survive this process.

    If you would like to similarly torture yourself, here is the recipe.  If I survive this torment and long wait, I will post a picture tomorrow of the finished beans.  In the meantime, be very glad that we have not yet developed the capability of smell-o-blogs.

    Baked Beans

    1 # dry pea beans or navy beans
    1 Bay leaf
    1 celery rib, halved
    3 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley
    1 sprig thyme
    1/2 # salt pork
    1 large slice baked ham
    1 cup c molasses, black strap preferred
    1 T dry mustard
    1 c ketchup
    1 c dark brown sugar
    1 T salt
    1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
    1 onion, chopped
    1 c dry sherry

    Soak the beans overnight in a very large pot with copious amounts of water and 3 T of Kosher salt.  Drain the next morning.  Replace into the pot, and cover generously with cold water (at least 2″ above the surface of the beans).  Make a bundle of the celery, parsley, thyme and Bay leaf and secure with string, leaving a 6″ tail.  Place in pot and tie the tail to the handle of a wooden spoon, which rests at an angle at the top of the pot.  Simmer the beans gently for 30-60 minutes until tender but intact, and the skins blow off when blown upon lightly.

    Drain beans, reserving the broth.

    Meanwhile, chop the onion, and divide the salt pork into 2 pieces.  Thinly slice one piece and deeply score the skin side of the second piece.

    Preheat the oven to 300 F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet heavily with foil.

    In the bean pot or a large covered casserole, layer half of the beans and half of the diced ham and all of the sliced salt pork.  Gently pour the remaining half of the beans and add the remaining half of the diced ham and the scored chunk of salt pork.

    Mix together 8 c of the bean broth (we had 5 c and this was plenty) with the molasses, brown sugar, dry mustard, ketchup, salt and pepper and chopped onions.  Mix well and pour this gently over the beans.

    Cover the beans and bake 7-8 hours.  An hour before they are done, meaning the beans have achieved a dark brown hue like good polished walnut, add the sherry.  Cover the pot again and bake one more hour.


    I cannot emphasize strongly enough that one should make these beans the day or two before the target service date.  And one should be outdoors during this baking process, else sanity may be lost.


    Update:  After baking for 6 1/2 hours, the beans finally achieved that dark brown hue we associate with properly baked beans.  The flavoring was a bit bland to our taste though, so we updated the recipe above with additional quantities of ingredients, which helped achieve the desired taste we wanted.  They could have baked another 2 hours though, to deepen the flavors, so we changed the baking time to 7-8 hours minimum.

    For dinner last night we each had a nice bowl of baked beans, a slice of ham and some fresh pineapple.  It was heavenly.  I even considered having hot beans on toast this morning, in the English fashion.

    The Boston Bean pot was incredible.  Mom bought it because it was so cute and our family loves baked beans.  After the 6 1/2 hours in the oven, the pot was crusted with thick, dark, burned-on bean juice and I thought it would have to soak all night in order to wash up.  Mom took a gentle scrub brush to it and all the baked on crusts and stains just wiped away! It must be the heavy glaze on the pot or something.  It was well worth the minor investment and the cupboard space!  Check them out!