CRAVE: Briny feta makes a full meal of Greek baked beans
On the Greek table, vegetable dishes called ladera are not intended as mere sides. Instead, these filling meals put vegetables center stage, often involving lavish amounts of legumes braised in olive oil and tomato — plus plenty of crusty bread to sop up the juices.
For that, you can thank the Orthodox Christian faith, which calls for meat- and dairy-free diets 40 days before both Easter and Christmas, as well as two weeks in August, plus every Wednesday and Friday the rest of the year. But the tradition has permeated the broader culture, with dishes such as gigantes plaki enjoyed in taverns and homes alike.
This much-loved Greek dish, which is essentially a slightly more elaborate version of baked beans, braises enormous gigante white beans in a savory tomato sauce with copious extra-virgin olive oil for richness. The sauce typically is assembled on the stovetop, and once the dried gigantes are soaked and added to the sauce, the dish bubbles to completion in the oven.
In this version from our book “Tuesday Nights Mediterranean,” which features weeknight-friendly meals from the region, we use canned butter beans for ease and speed. And since we’re using canned beans, we can keep all the cooking on the stovetop using just one pan.
Besides using canned crushed tomatoes, we also brown tomato paste with softened onions for added depth. A quarter cup of fresh dill adds welcome freshness, and briny feta cheese brightens the dish and rounds it out. If you like, offer the feta on the side; added to individual portions, the cheese has a firmer texture and a sharper bite.
To complete the meal, serve with a simple leafy salad and, of course, crusty bread for mopping up the sauce.
Butter Beans in Tomato Sauce with Dill and Feta
Start to finish: 40 minutes Servings: 4
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve
1 medium sweet onion or red onion, chopped
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
14½-ounce can crushed tomatoes
Two 15-ounce cans butter beans, rinsed and drained
5 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 2½ tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram, divided
3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (¾ cup)
In a 12-inch skillet over medium, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and ¼ teaspoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes.
Add the garlic, tomato paste and pepper flakes, then cook, stirring, until the tomato paste darkens slightly and begins to stick to the pan, about 2 minutes.
Stir in the crushed tomatoes, ½ cup water, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a simmer, then reduce to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 7 to 10 minutes.
Add the beans and bring to a simmer over medium, stirring occasionally.
Off heat, stir in 4 tablespoons of dill (or 2 tablespoons of marjoram), then taste and season with salt and black pepper.
Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with the feta and remaining dill (or marjoram), then drizzle with additional oil.