Close your eyes, put the heating on and pretend it is summer already. The weekend has landed and of course the weather is a sorry state, but if I try hard enough maybe I can pretend the cars on the sodden road are waves crashing on a beach. When I want to get myself in a sunnier state of mind than the delightful London weather would prefer, I instinctively look to Greek food as a comfort, if you follow my Instagram, @BekiTakesPictures, you will probably have picked up on this! Most of my childhood holidays were spent on tiny Greek islands, with a few trips on the mainland too, but some islands so small that even with a smallish child (me!) in tow, it was easy to walk around them in an afternoon.
There are a lot of dishes I cook that take me back to this time, but gigantes or gigandes is one of my favourites. Aside from the T or D argument, which seems to happen often when languages are translated from a different alphabet into our own – see tofu vs doufu, or the fact that Finnish which is a very phonetic language largely ignores the letter D in favour of T, barring for adopted words, this is a dish with seemingly hundreds of variations. I make no claims as to it’s authenticity but this is one of my favourite versions…
This will serve 2 as the main component of a meal but will make a mezze dish for 4 or more, depending on the number of dishes that you are serving! It is good eaten either hot or room temperature.
- 1 medium sized onion, finely diced
- 1 medium carrot, finely diced
- 1 celery stick, finely diced
- 400g tin of butter beans (drained weight – 235g if you are replacing with home cooked ones)
- 100g tinned tomatoes, or equivalent of VERY RIPE fresh tomatoes
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 1 tsp gluten free vegan bouillon powder
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp fresh or home dried thyme leaves
- 1 tsp dried oregano leaves (or fresh if you have it!)
- 200ml water
- 3-5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (see notes below)
- the leaves from 4-5 stalks of parsley
- the leaves from 4-5 stalks of dill
- black pepper to taste
- Finely dice the onion, carrot, and celery and cook in a fairly large saucepan over a medium-low heat, in a good amount of olive oil – around 3 tbsp, if you are on a low fat diet, you can skimp a bit but it might take away from the overall feel of the dish, along with 3 bay leaves and 1 tsp of gluten free vegan bouillon powder.
- Once the vegetables soften and the onion becomes translucent, add 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped, 2 tbsp tomato puree, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp thyme leaves and a good grind of black pepper. Continue to cook for a further 5 minutes.
- Add the beans and stir until they are well coated in the sauce, turn the heat down to low for 10 minutes, and stir occasionally. Add the tomato and water, and then leave to cook over the low heat for as long as possible. The longer the beans cook, the more of the flavour from the sauce they take on, and the softer they become. Cook them until the sauce reduces down, for a minimum of 45 minutes but ideally for an hour at least.
- Before serving stir through the dill and parsley leaves, roughly chopped and add a little extra olive oil if needed.
When I make it it can depend a little on what I have in the fridge, here I have included the carrot and celery, but I have made it as least as many times without. I have added them today because this is a slow-cooked, lazy weekend version, as opposed to a quick after work one, and I guess because I am using these Veganuary recipes to try to eat more healthily, so adding more veg – more and different nutrients into the mix makes good sense, as well as good flavour.
I have used cinnamon but other recipes I have seen call for cumin, sometimes I go off piste and add Aleppo pepper flakes, not very traditional but I have a bad habit of throwing them into everything. I used canned beans for ease but if you have the time or forethought then making with dried beans, soaked then cooked slowly with bay leaves until tender, then you will have a more authentic dish. Use a decent quality extra virgin olive oil if possible, it adds to the flavour, and though you shouldn’t be shy with it, often I add a little extra to finish the sauce before serving, you should aim for a rich, glossy feel to the dish, but not dripping in grease, a bad stereotype that seemed to haunt Greek food for a while. Cooking pulses in an olive oil-rich sauce gives them a creaminess, as in my previous recipe for Garlic Chickpeas and the oil helps with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins from the veggies, but if you prefer less oil then use less.
Herbs are important to this dish, one of my biggest memories of those early holidays was the scent of the wild fennel, which has a magic power to transport me straight back there. If you are making this in summer and have access to either wild or bronze fennel then please use it instead of the dill I have substituted here, I used to love having it on hand growing in the garden when I spent a summer on the farm in Yorkshire. In summer then use fresh, beautifully ripe tomatoes of course in place of tinned, this is January, lets not kid ourselves, for all the closing eyes and wishing the warm weather would hurry along, it sure ain’t tomato season yet!
This is a dish as suited to summer as to winter, and it is made to be shared amongst friends. Even the memories of being eaten alive by mosquitos does not dull how much I love sitting out on a warm evening enjoying this kind of food. Ideally with some good, crusty bread. Being gluten free, bread, and more specifically the good crusty type can take on the challenge of finding mermaid’s tears, although things are getting much better! This dish sits well as part of a selection of mezze with some different dips, and other sharing dishes.
In all of it’s myriad variations this is one of The Pet Finn’s favourite things I make, though he isn’t the sort to start marking my food out of ten, this is something which has been perpetually stuck at the top of the “again” list, kept fresh with little tweaks depending on season and mood!