One of the classics in the repertoire of Greek dishes is the gloriously named ‘giant beans’ – or ‘yígantes’. This wonderfully simple dish of oven-baked butter beans is never served as a main course on its own; it is always served as a side dish, or as one of the staples of the mezé selection.
My very first experience of cooking yígantes was a bit of a baptism of fire. Many, many moons ago, one of the highlights of the year for my newly acquired Greek student friends, was to organise a ‘Greek Evening’. This was a hugely popular event in the academic year – a night of Greek music, dancing, wine and of course food. It was the one night in the year when these very homesick Greek students really let their hair down and showed everyone the real spirit of Greece – a Hellenic beacon in a rather dreary 1970s Britain.
The preparation for this started weeks before – there would be about 300 people to cater for – no mean feat as there were only 60 Greek students – plus a few British girlfriends. A team was set up to prepare the live music, another team for the Greek dancing display and, of course, another for the cooking.
So, wishing to get involved, I volunteered for the cooking and was drafted into the ‘yígantes’ group. We had in the region of seven kilos (dry weight) of beans to cook and it took days in my little kitchen. A stumbling block initially was (and I had had my misgivings at the time) that no one had thought to soak the dried butter beans first ! A mistake you only make once!
So here is the recipe – I have to say that I now usually use canned pre-cooked butter beans – this makes for a really easy and quick thing to cook – basically you bung it all in a pan and bake it.
You can use the dried ones if you prefer but do remember to soak them….
‘Yigantes’ – Giant Beans
3 x 400gm cans butter beans in water – this will give you about 700gms drained weight.
1 red onion, finely chopped
500ml tomato juice or ‘V8’ juice
1 tab tomato pureé
1 tab chopped fresh dill
3 – 4 tabs olive oil
Ground black pepper
Optional – a pinch of dried chilli flakes
Heat your oven to 180 degrees.
On the hob, heat the olive oil in a wide casserole pan and gently fry the chopped onion, until soft.
Add the tomato juice and stir in the tomato pureé. Season with salt and pepper and leave to simmer for about 15 minutes.
Empty the butter beans into a colander and give them a quick rinse under the cold tap.
Add the beans and the chopped dill to the casserole and stir into the tomato sauce. Bring back to simmering, check the seasoning – you may need a little more salt and a little more olive oil.
Place the casserole in the heated oven and leave to bake for about 20 minutes. About half way through the cooking time, if it looks a bit dry, add a little water.