Our family has always organised itself around eating. Even the memories I have of my great-grandmother are through the lens of food.
Our family has always organised itself around eating. Even the memories I have of my great-grandmother are through the lens of food. As kids, we thought she was a witch because she ate stinging nettles that would leave us covered in a rash. When she was approaching 100 and her memory started to lapse, she would repeatedly ask Yiayia when the Queen was coming and what she was planning on cooking her for dinner. Yiayia would always say fakes – lentil soup – which my great-grandmother agreed would be fine.
I loved the weekly dinners we all had at my grandparents’ so much that I started to recreate them endlessly. My career in food started when I began taking notes next to Yiayia as she cooked – she never measured anything out, doing everything by sight and feel. My favourite Greek dishes from childhood all have the same texture: vegies cooked for hours, laden with olive oil, scooped up with bread, eaten with feta. I know it’s passé to cook vegetables until they’ve got no resistance left, but I think that’s where that comforting feeling comes from.
I use my career in food as another endless homage to my family. It’s a way of connecting to people through my culture, sharing my favourite bits on a plate. This recipe is for the first dish my Yiayia taught me. She cooks these beans in a big metal tepsi, a rounded oven pan. You don’t have to cook them till total mush like I mentioned above. But do make sure you cook the beans all the way through when you’re boiling them. They tend not to cook further once baked in the sauce.
ELLA MITTAS’ NEW COOKBOOK ELA! ELA! TO TURKEY AND GREECE, THEN HOME IS OUT NOW.
Gigantes With Tomato and Dill
Serves 6 as a side
500g dried lima beans or butter beans, soaked overnight
8 tablespoons olive oil
6 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
2 red onions, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
3 capsicums, sliced lengthways
4 tablespoons tomato paste
2 x 400g cans diced tomatoes
3 lemons, juiced
flaked salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup dill, chopped
Soak your beans in plenty of water overnight or for at least 12 hours; this will help them to cook evenly.
The next day, cover the beans with water in a pot. Salt the water generously and add 2 tablespoons of the oil and a few sprigs of thyme – I find the oil helps with the texture.
Bring up to a boil, then turn down to a simmer; the beans should take around 25 minutes to cook through. Make sure you cook them until they’re creamy but not falling apart, as they’ll get cooked a second time.
Once cooked, take them off the heat and allow them to cool in the cooking liquid. I find this prevents them from drying out.
While the beans are cooking, start your base for the sauce. Preheat your oven to 180°C. Sauté your onions for around 15 minutes until they are translucent, then add your garlic.
Sauté your garlic for around 30 seconds, then add in your capsicums.
Cook out the capsicums on a medium-low heat until they’ve lost a fair bit of their liquid and have started to caramelise. This will take about 15-20 minutes.
Add in your tomato paste, fry off for around a minute, then add your cans of tomatoes. Also add in a full can of water. Simmer until the sauce has come together, around 20 minutes.
Drain your beans, leaving a little of their cooking liquid to one side in case you need it during the baking process.
Then mix the sauce through the beans, add in a few sprigs of thyme and bake at 180°C until you get nice crunchy caramel bits on the tops, which will take around 20-30 minutes.
Once the beans are finished, let them cool slightly before seasoning with salt, pepper, lemon and olive oil. Stir through the dill now, too.
TIP The most crucial element in this recipe is to be patient when cooking out your onions and capsicums before you add in the tomato. The longer you cook them out, the sweeter your result will be.
Published in Ed#674