When I saw Adina’s post (on Where is My Spoon blog) about Brittany Bean Stew, one of my favourite Polish dishes, my beans were in the middle of soaking session and I was planning to make exactly the same dish! Rare are foreigners who cook or even know this dish, so I thought it was an extraordinary coincidence. Somehow, the following day, probably after having eaten with my eyes all the Adina’s delicious photos, I decided to prepare this Greek-style stew instead. These are the only two ways I cook giant/runner beans, but I love them so much I never get bored with either. I must have cooked this Greek-style stew dozens of times, but never wrote about it, so I thought it was a good occasion to share the recipe with you.
Gigantes Plaki, the dish which inspired me is a bit different (hence the “style” word which, I hope, will avoid the anger of my dear Greek visitors). From what I read, it’s baked in a shallow dish and, most of all, it’s much thicker than a stew. Apart from my modifications, I hope my seasoning, the presence of these beautiful giant/gigantes beans and of feta, allows me to mention Greek inspiration. My tweaked recipe is based on Gigantes Plaki from Smashing Plates by Maria Elia, a wonderful collection of Greek and Cypriot recipes I have already put into practice several times with successful results.
You might be surprised to see the Chinese celery here, but, believe me, it’s not an attempt to make a fusion dish! I once learnt (probably from Katarina, the author of Culinary Flavours), that Greeks use a celery variety which has very thin stalks (and it’s not the upper part of celeriac!), often called “wild celery”. As a passionate balcony gardener, I wanted to grow it but couldn’t find seeds and, finally, after a long search I found out that Chinese celery (or kintsai) is a very close variety. Seeds are easily available online, so I sowed them last spring on my balcony and have been enjoying this celery much more than I had thought!
Chinese celery grows very quickly, yields thin fragrant stalks, equally delicious leaves and it’s perfect in stews or other cooked dishes from all around the world (not necessarily Greek or Chinese). It’s not a fussy plant and grows all year long (though slower in winter). I’ve been harvesting it regularly since last summer and the dish you see above was made with fresh harvest from my balcony! It’s very handy when I need just a stalk or two of celery and not the whole plant I’d have to buy. For raw salads or quick stir-fries I still prefer the more popular thicker crunchy celery stalks, but I’m thrilled to discover this new vegetable and encourage every big or small space gardener to grow it.
If you like white beans, you might also be interested in:
TIPS: If you cannot find giant/runner beans, you can use smaller white dried beans. Of course, dried and soaked are much better than canned beans.
The more popular “normal” celery stalks are of course perfect here, but use half the amount because they have a stronger aroma. Also, remove the strings before cooking it.
I love feta to be slightly melted here, so if I heat up just one portion, I throw feta into the pan for the last minutes to warm it up. If I serve it for more people, I put feta on top of bowls and then microwave each bowl until the cheese starts melting a bit.
Preparation: about 2 hours + overnight soaking
Ingredients (serves 2-3 people):
250 g (about 8.8 oz) dried giant beans (or smaller white beans) or 450-500 g canned beans (weight of drained beans)
approx. 5 heaped tablespoons chopped Greek celery or Chinese celery (kintsai) with leaves (or 2-3 heaped tablespoons chopped/sliced standard celery stalks (threads removed))
2 big shallots, sliced
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
250 ml (about 1 cup) tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes or, when in season, the equivalent of chopped fresh tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato purée
1 big bay leaf
salt, ground pepper, oregano
150-200 g (about 5.3 – 7 oz) feta
If using dried beans, soak them in water overnight. Rinse them and cook in water for one hour or until they become slightly tender. Drain them.
If you use canned beans, drain them and wash off the canning liquid.
In the meantime stir-fry the onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil until it becomes transparent.
Add the celery and the garlic and stir-fry for 3 more minutes.
Pour the tomato sauce or chopped tomatoes, add the tomato purée, the bay leaf, 1 teaspoon oregano, cooked beans.
Add about 250 ml water and simmer at low heat until the beans are soft (but not falling into pieces).
Check from time to time if you don’t need to add more water (you can adjust the thickness of the stew to the way you like it, adding more or less water). Just before serving season with salt and pepper.
Divide into individual bowls or soup plates. Put on top broken pieces of feta and, if you like it warm and slightly melted, warm it in the microwave (see the TIP above).
Add a splash of good quality oil and sprinkle with more oregano.
Serve with white bread.