A classic Greek recipe for baked gigantes plaki.
What was that? You want something satisfying, luxurious, super easy and vegan? Oh, good. We’ve got just the thing for you. Gigantes (or gigantes plaki) is a dish that we think you will come back to again and again. In this recipe, beans are prepared into a stew-like casserole, giving you a meal which is at once elegant, yet simple.
Maybe because gigantes are not the most common of beans, people often refer to them as giant lima beans. Despite the fact that they look similar, gigantes are creamier, meatier and hold their shape better than lima beans when cooked; they are not the same thing. When they aren’t mislabeled as lima beans, gigantes are sometimes colloquially referred to as elephant beans. In actual fact, they are white runner beans (which we think sounds much more appetizing than elephant beans…no offence to elephants). Even more officially, and officially Latin, they are classified as Phaseolus coccineus . We think these distinctions are important, particularly because gigantes are so special in Greek cooking. They are so special, in fact, that certain regions of Greece have varieties of gigantes which have been accredited as Protected Geographical Indication products. Take that, lima bean.
The hardest part of making this meal may actually be finding the gigantes. If you happen to live near a Greek grocer, or a large supermarket with a lovely ethnic food section, you might be in luck. If not, you can certainly find these beauties on-line. If, despite all of your best efforts, you still can’t get your hands on these beans, you can substitute them for dried lima beans. If you must make this substitution then call your dish lima bean plaki. Let’s not contribute to the madness and confusion.
As with all other pulses, it is best to buy these beans where there is high legume turnover. The older the bean, the longer it will take for them to cook. Avoid buying beans which look dry and shrivelled.
Dried gigantes must be soaked in cool, unsalted water for approximately 6 to 8 hours. Don’t skip this step; if you do, your beans will take forever (or what seems like forever, especially when you’re hungry) to cook.
This is one of those wonderful dishes which could be prepared in stages, making it a very non-onerous task. If time is limited, you can plan this recipe as follows: Day 1, soak your beans. Day 2, boil your beans. Day 3, bake your beans and eat your beans. Day 4, reheat any leftover beans and eat them. Be grateful that you don’t have to cook. Day 5, repeat (trust us, you will want to).
When you are boiling your beans you will have to be somewhat attentive to the pot. The gigantes may create a bit of foam which should be skimmed off and discarded. Also, do not add salt to the water. Adding salt can apparently toughen up the outer skin of the bean, which is not what you want.
Our parents make the gigantes using a glass baking pan which is 11 by 15 inches large (or 23 X 33 cm). You may not have this exact size pan. No need to run out and buy one (save your money for the gigantes). You can use a slightly smaller pan, and things should work out just fine. The key is to make sure that you have enough space to spread the gigantes out evenly, without them being overly crowded in the pan.
Gigantes are delicious warm or at room temperature, making them a super dish to bring along to a potluck or to incorporate as part of a buffet. Whatever your preferred temperature, make sure you have a hunk of lovely bread handy to sop up all of the sauce.
Speaking of sauce, the recipe below will give you beans coated in a thick and rich sauce. If you would prefer to have more sauce, or a thinner sauce, you can adjust the amount of tomato sauce and water. We recommend, however, that you first make the recipe the way our parents do, and make adjustments afterwards, if necessary.
Mia Kouppa: Gigantes Plaki
- 500 grams gigantes (white runner beans)
- 1 cup chopped carrot
- 1 leek, chopped (only the white portion)
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 onion, sliced into rings, which are then halved
- 2/3 (160 mL) cup Greek olive oil
- 1 2/3 (410 mL) cup homemade tomato sauce or store bought tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 1/3 (330 ml) cup water (we usually use boiled water)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- The night before you want to prepare your meal, rinse and then soak the gigantes.
- The next day, bring a pot of water to a boil and boil your gigantes for approximately 50-60 minutes, until you are able to bite into them. They will still have a crumbly inside texture at this point. This is fine, as they will finish cooking in the oven.
- Take a baking pan which is 11 x 15 inches large.
- Drain the gigantes and then place them in the baking pan. Mix in the chopped vegetables, the tomato sauce, the tomato paste, the olive oil, the water and the salt and pepper. Stir well to combine and spread the ingredients evenly throughout the pan.
- Cover tightly with aluminum foil and place in a pre-heated oven (350 degrees Farenheit). Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, lift the aluminum foil carefully, so you don’t get burned, and stir the gigantes around, and if the pan looks dry, add a bit more liquid (equal parts tomato and water). Re-cover with the aluminum foil after you have stirred everything, and bake for another 20 minutes.
- Remove from oven, remove the aluminum foil, stir carefully (add more liquid if it’s too dry) and place back in oven, uncovered for another 20-25 minutes, to thicken up a bit.
- Remove and let sit at room temperature for about 10-15 minutes before eating. The interior should be smooth and somewhat creamy. Enjoy!