Friday, February 10, 2012

Beans, Beans

Ah the smell of garlic and herbs. Lots of garlic. Any recipe that calls for an entire head of garlic has to be wonderful, doesn't it?

Today was my cooking and writing day. It has been so relaxing and fun.  There is nothing like singing, chopping and smiling all at the same time.  My gift to you is to share the recipes!

Following a chilly morning dog walk, I set everything else aside, donned my 1960's-era June Cleaver apron, started a blazing fire in the fireplace, washed my hands and got to work.

The only sound was the occasional grunt from the sleeping dog in the other room until I turned on the tunes and Moody Blues, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan and other wonders from my growing-up days filled the house. Perfect energy music for cooking.

My goal was to get Nikos beans in the oven, and make a new dish using kidney beans. I had soaked both bowls of beans overnight in preparation. 

What are Nikos beans? Using Gigante beans from Greece, this recipe was told to me by Nikos, then-owner of Nikos' Taverna in Athens, Greece, where my friends and I joined my cousin, Mary, and her husband, Dimitris, for a wonderful dinner a few years ago. It's a neighborhood favorite of theirs. Then, Nikos was the owner and his wife, Eleni, did much of the cooking. Now, he has retired and goes there sometimes; Eleni is still in the kitchen, and Mary and Demetris remain loyal customers. 

After our delicious dinner, Nikos told me the recipe, in Greek, while Mary translated. He is such a nice man and was very willing to share.  We also met Eleni who was very nice but busy preparing food.  

I have made the beans many times since. Gigantes are similar to limas, but richer, fatter and worth the price and extra trouble to acquire. Give the local Greek store some business if you have one; if not, you can get them on Amazon for about $7 per pound.
Both dishes require a lot of chopping but have some crossover ingredients (onions, carrots and garlic).  I sauté my carrots, onions and garlic separately, because I think it preserves the individual flavors.  There is something wonderful and invigorating about the smell of lots of chopped fresh parsley, an important ingredient in the dish.  It's also worth the effort to grate the tomatoes, as the recipe calls for, if you can find good ones.  This time of year they are anemic and I prefer to use canned chopped organic tomatoes.

I bake the beans for 7 hours, at a low temperature. During that time, the house fills with the aroma; right now I am thinking about how delicious my dinner will be.  I have included the recipe below. Remember what Nikos told me "Cook them until they are just right!"
Georgian Kidney Bean Stew
Once I got Nikos' dish in the oven, I began chopping the ingredients for the second bean dish, Georgian Kidney Bean Stew With Herbs and Walnuts (Lobio Nigvzit). The main seasonings are coriander and fenugreek, with a variety of fresh herbs, walnuts, and some garlic (not as much as the Nikos beans). This recipe only takes about an hour to make, including cooking and chopping time, so I was rewarded with a yummy bowl full for a late lunch.
As I write this, I am sitting by a lovely fire, little brown dog asleep at my feet, and the smell of Nikos' beans is making my mouth water. 

These recipes are perfect for vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters alike. It's hard not to fall in love with both dishes. Enjoy!

Nikos' Taverna's Athenian Baked Beans
from Nikos and Eleni
• 1 package dried large white beans (16 ounces or more)
• Large white or yellow onion
• 5 firm, ripe tomatoes
• 1 bunch of parsley
• 5 carrots
• Olive oil (2/3 cup or less total)
• Head of garlic
• Salt
• Pepper
Soak beans in water for 8 hours, changing water once or twice
Preheat oven 225-degrees

1. Pour off water; place beans in large sauce pan; add water to the top of the beans
2. Simmer until soft for about one hour
3. Sautee chopped onion, parsley, carrot and garlic in 1/4 C olive oil until onions are transparent. Note: I sauté separately to preserve the individual flavors.
4. Mix sautéed vegetables with the beans.
5. Grate 2-5 tomatoes (skins and all) and add to the bean mixture.
6. Add a small amount of water and salt and pepper to taste
7. Place the mixture in a large baking dish (or multiple baking dishes) that has been wiped inside with olive oil.
8. Mix thoroughly. Drizzle half of the remaining olive oil over the beans.
9. Cook 6-7 hours, until the water cooks off and the liquid is thick. It may be necessary to add water, in small quantities, throughout the cooking and small amounts of the remaining olive oil.
Note from Nikos, "cook until just right!"