Beans, the land’s manna

Beans are definitely the most prominent legumes of the Greek diet, since the broad variety of their sizes -small, big, giants, flat, kidney- and their abundant culinary versions, make them the “manna of the land” for every home cook who has to come up with 7 full tasty, healthy and affordable meals a week.

fasolia_gastra3Gigantes (giant beans) baked in a clay pot with tomato and cinnamon sauce

Beans are a very rich source of protein and combined with carbohydrates (rice, wheat, pasta) they offer a budget, nutritious and well-balanced dietary solution. They’re also a very good source of iron and antioxidants, particularly flavonoids, which are found in the outer part of the bean. They contain calcium, fiber, phosphorus and folic acid and they’re low in fats.

Beans originate from Southern Mexico and the central part America. In Greece they arrived in the late 16th century. Today, beans of high quality are cultivated and produced in many areas across the country. They’re highly nutritious, tasty, they have a velvety flesh and they’re easy to cook, and that’s why they’ve been accredited as products of Protected Geographical Indication according to EU regulations. The particular characteristics of the soil they’re cultivated, as well as local farming methods and the microclimate of each territory, give Greek beans their unique characteristics and distinctive flavor.

Greek Beans of Protected Geographical Indication

  • Gigantes Elefantes (Giant elephants) from Kato Nevrokopi
  • Common beans “mesosperma” from Kato Nevrokopi
  • Gigantes Elefantes (Giant elephants) from Florina
  • Flat beans “megalosperma” from Florina
  • Gigantes Elefantes (Giant elephants) from Kastoria
  • Vanilies (small white beans) from Feneos

gigantes“Plaki” beans cooked in a tomato-based sauce with spinach, onions and feta cheese at “O Pappous ki ego”, Skyros

Greek cuisine has a lot of bean recipes to present, with first and foremost “fasolada” the Greek bean soup, which we like to call our national dish. Gigantes plaki (giant beans cooked in tomato sauce), mavromatika salata (a salad with black-eyed peas), in the pan, in the oven, in a clay pot, the Greek cooking options of beans are inexhaustible!

MLGFB Tip: How to make Gigantes (giant white beans) in the oven (6 servings)

Ingredients: 1 pound gigantes (or big lima beans), soaked for 12 hours, drained, 1/4 cup Greek olive oil, 1 large Spanish onion, finely chopped, 3 cloves garlic, minced, 1 (15-ounce) can chopped plum tomatoes plus their liquid, 2 cups water, 2 tablespoons honey, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, Salt and freshly ground black pepper, 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

gigantes_plaki

Directions:

  • Soak the beans for 12 hours and then drain them
  • Add the beans to a pot with enough cold water to cover well.
  • Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer until just soft throughout but not quite cooked, approximately 50 to 80 minutes, depending on the beans.
  • Drain and set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Heat olive oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven. Add onion and cook until soft.
  • Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and their liquid, 2 cups water, honey, cloves, salt, and pepper and boil gently for 20 to 30 minutes or until it begins to thicken. Stir in the parsley and remove from heat.
  • Place the beans in an oven-proof dish, pour tomato mixture on top, stir and spread mixture out evenly.
  • Bake 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until beans are soft. (Check the dish during cooking and if needed, add a small amount of boiling water.) The dish will look crispy on top.
  • Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Recipe courtesy of Bobby Flay for the foodnetwork.com. Watch how to make this recipe.

Other Greek bean recipes:

  • How to make traditional fasolada: Recipe
  • How to make a summer, cold salad with octopus and black-eyed peas: Recipe

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