Gigantes – sweet/sour Greek baked beans

You will see big, flat tins of this in almost every Turkish or Mediterranean food shop. Those are perfectly good, but making it yourself allows the use of the good oil, more garlic, a little spice if you wish. You can make the dish wholly yours.

I am aware that gigantes – dried white giant beans – are hard to get hold of, so you can use dried butter beans instead or, to be honest, any white bean you like. It’s your dinner after all.

The day before: Soak the dried beans overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (170°C).

250g dried Greek gigantes beans (or lima beans or butter beans), soaked overnight and rinsed
1 large red onion, finely chopped
1 large leek, trimmed, washed well, and chopped
6 – 8 cloves garlic, peeled
10 plum tomatoes, quartered lengthwise in wedges
1 fresh rosemary sprig
1 tbs chopped fresh oregano leaves, or 1 heaping tablespoon dried Greek oregano
1 bay leaf (optional)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cumin
⅔ cup (160 ml) extra-virgin Greek olive oil, plus more for drizzling on as garnish
2 tablespoons Greek honey or petimezi (grape molasses – video on making your own here)
4 tablespoons (60 ml) Greek balsamic vinegar or sweet wine vinegar
2 tbs red wine or brandy if you have it
Greek sea salt

Once the beans have been soaked overnight, drain them.
Bring them to the boil in fresh water, and cook them on a simmer until they are almost tender. You can pop a spring of oregano in here too, but don’t salt. It might toughen the beans.
Drain them when tender, and reserve about a cup of their cooking liquid.

(If using canned, start here, and keep the canning liquid)

Finely chop the onions.
Peel the garlic cloves and quarter the tomatoes.
Place the beans in a large ovenproof baking dish. Add the chopped onions, leeks, garlic, tomatoes, herbs, spices, the olive oil, alcohol, honey or petimezi and balsamic.
Add about half a cup of the bean cooking liquid, or more, so that the beans are well-lubricated but not soupy.
Mix everything together in the baking pan gently, combining and distributing everything evenly.

Place the bean pot in the hot oven and bake uncovered for about 45 minutes to an hour.
Season to taste with salt and continue baking for about another 15 to 30 minutes, until very tender but still holding their shape.
Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

These belong to a group of dishes known as ladera/λαδερά – olive oil based – and they are always better the next day. Eat with a lot of bread, feta cheese and some juicy black olives.

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