The Greek diet is well-known for its health benefits since it is mostly a plant-based diet with beans and legumes for protein portion as well as some fish and lean meats. Many of the dishes most associated with Greek cuisine today, like the ubiquitous moussaka, for example, were only eaten on special occasions in the past. Meanwhile bean-based dishes, like fasolada (bean soup), faki (lentil soup), favas (split-pea soup), and gigantes (giant beans stewed in tomato sauce) were likely what yiayia and pappou were eating on a regular basis. Meats were also reserved for special occasions, though they are now available all year long. It is a good idea to take a break from red meat, at least for a little while, and enjoy the following heart-healthy recipe for gigantes.
1 pound package gigantes (giant beans)
2-4 tablespoons Greek extra virgin olive oil, plus 1-2 tablespoons for drizzling
1 large onion, chopped
1 can (28 oz.) San Marzano tomatoes, chopped
1-2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
2-3 celery stalks, chopped
2 carrots, chopped (optional)
3-4 large garlic cloves, sliced
4-5 tablespoons fresh chopped dill or parsley
1/2 teaspoon Greek sea salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Rinse and sort the beans. Place them in a large deep pot and fill with enough water to cover them by at least two inches. Soak overnight, 6-8 hours. Drain the water, add fresh cold water and bring the beans to a boil. Once they boil, add a half teaspoon of salt and lower the heat to simmer the beans for about an hour.
Add the olive oil to a large sauce pan and sauté the chopped onion. If smaller pieces of onion are preferred, the onion can be grated, or pulsed in the food processor to save time, though a rustic chop with various size pieces of onion adds interest to the dish. Once the onion is translucent, add the chopped celery and carrots, if using, and continue sautéing about 5 minutes until the vegetables sweat down a bit. Add the chopped tomatoes, 2 cups water, salt and pepper to taste, and simmer over medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes until reduced slightly. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning, as needed.
Check the doneness of the beans, they should be at least half cooked when transferred to a large baking pan. Add the sauce to the beans and mix until the sauce and vegetables are evenly distributed. Stir in the sliced garlic and the chopped fresh dill, as much or as little as preferred, and drizzle the gigantes with additional olive oil. A sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley may also be added or used as a substitute for the dill, if desired.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Cover the baking pan with aluminum foil and bake until the beans are tender about 45 minutes to an hour. Depending on the strength of your oven and how gigantic the beans are, they may require additional cooking time. Remove the foil from the baking pan and stir the gigantes about 30 minutes into baking. If the pan is drying out too quickly and the gigantes are not quite done, add some water to the pan and continue baking. Serve the gigantes warm with crusty bread for dipping in the sauce. Gigantes are sometimes served as an appetizer or a side dish, but they are hearty enough to enjoy on their own as a tasty vegan meal, especially during times of fasting.