Beyond the blue Aegean waters, the inviting black and red sand beaches, and the towering ancient ruins, a trip to Greece is a delight for the foodie’s soul! From the wild herbs that waft in the air while sauntering down a Byzatine cobblestone trail to cherry tomatoes glistening invitingly in the sun outside a rustic, oceanfront cottage, fresh ingredients are a major part of Greek life. Whether it is orange juice with Spanokopita, Kaseri cheese and olives for breakfast, or gorging through a platter of squid fried in olive oil, Greek ingredients really make my heart sing!
While it’s hard to chose a favourite, mine no doubt has to be capers. And the caper giachni that we had in a roadside restaurant in Santorini was a dish that tasted like no other. A rich stew of tomatoes and capers, it had a unique flavour and aroma. Since everyone doesn’t have access to an unlimited supply of capers, I have created a Greek-inspired stew that replicates the giachni but with lima beans and capers.
As we travelled through Greece from Santorini to Paros and over to Athens, much of the food we had was vegetarian, other than the ubiquitous Souvlaki , of course. I was amazed at how many bean dishes were available. A variety of beans cooked with the rich juicy Greek tomatoes, onions and garlic in glugs of extra virgin olive oil. Fava beans were cooked in many different froms, the most common being a bean dip with caramalized onions. In addition, zucchini and cauliflower fritters, white eggplant dip and dolmades made for vegeterian entrees of great variety.
But what I enjoyed most was the variety of tomato-based stews, my favorite being the caper giachni pictured below. Stewed with garlic, onions, tomatoes and caper leaves, and made with the freshest local ingredients, including locally grown thyme and parsley, it had flavours I have never tasted before. Fortunately, the restaurant also sold caper leaves, so I could bring some home to experiment with.
Regardless, whether you have caper leaves or not, my vegan lima bean recipe below will help you share some of these favours of Greece with your family and friends!
Greek-Inspired Lima Beans
½ cup lima beans
2 ½ cup water – divided
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine (about 1.5 tablespoons)
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 250g can of plum tomatoes, crushed with juices or 4 tomatoes, cut in small dice about 250g
1 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon paprika powder
½ teaspoon crushed chilies (or to taste)
¼ teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons capers
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon rosemary
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5-6 caper leaves (optional)
3 tablespoons or more flat parsley, finely chopped
¼ cup olive oil
Soak the beans overnight in 2 cups water. By the next day, beans should have doubled in size. Throw away water. Gently massage beans being careful not to break them. Remove any skin that come off beans.
Pour the beans into a heavy pot or saucepan. Add fresh water to the pot until the beans are covered and there is least 1 inch of water above the beans. Bring the beans to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low and allow the lima beans to simmer for 40 to 60 minutes until tender. Stir beans regularly to avoid sticking. (do not add salt at this point,as it will prevent the beans from getting tender.)
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan on medium heat.
Add the garlic and fry for about half a minute – do not allow to brown.
Add the onion and fry until translucent, about one minute.
Add boiled lima beans, tomatoes, salt, paprika, crushed chilies, sugar and capers and and bring to boil. (If capers are heavily salted, reduce salt and adjust to taste.) Lower heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes, until the tomatoes have softened and become sauce-like.
Add thyme, rosemary (crush slightly in your palm to release oils) and black pepper (the Pepper Cook can’t cook without it!), caper leaves (if using) and two tablespoons of the parsley. If tomatoes are dry, add ½ a cup of water to develop sauce. Allow beans to cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Garnish with remaining parsley and serve with rice or pasta.
Prep Time: 10 minutes, plus overnight soaking of beans
Cooking Time: 60-75 minutes
Critical Ingredients: Onions, garlic and capers are key to the flavour of the tomato sauce. I have used crushed chilies and paprika, but a fresh red chili may be more authentic. You can replace the paprika with Kashmiri chilies and reduce crushed chilies accordingly. Instead of fresh tomatoes, canned plum tomatoes give even better flavour. If you use fresh tomatoes, you may have to cook them longer and adjust sugar. The parsley can be replaced with fresh coriander. Don’t have caper leaves – don’t worry about it! The dish will still be a hit!