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Ever heard of Gigantes Plaki? No it’s not some Greek, mythological monster from Jason and the Argonauts (remember that fabulous film?), although you could be forgiven for thinking so! They’re basically a version of Greek baked beans made with larger beans such as butter beans or lima beans in a typical, Greek sauce. The sauce is quite thick and the dish is hearty for the cooler times of the year in Greece, including on the islands.
Greece and the word cool? It is something we don’t actually associate with Greece. I am sure most of us envision a place which is perpetually sunny with seafood grills and lamb on the spit, enjoyed at a seaside taverna or under some sunny courtyard with vines overhead.
But it does actually cool off in Athens and the islands and the Greeks naturally have a great selection of cooler-climate meals to enjoy over the winter period. Think hearty vegetarian stews like our featured recipe, Greek baked beans.
In addition to the recipe for Gigantes Plaki, as those large and wonderful Greek baked beans are called in Greece, we also talk about those less well-known cooler months of the year and the typical, Greek dishes eaten during that time.
And if you are visiting the Greek Islands be prepared for many hotels and restaurants to be closed for maintenance. They same comment also applies to Cyprus.
Greek Winters and Diet
Despite our imaginations picturing Greece as a year-round, perfect climate it does actually cool off in Greece in the winter. Although not cold by North American and northern European standards, temperatures are cooler in Greek winters than in southern hemisphere winters in places like Australia, southern Africa and South America (except Patagonia).
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Average maximum temperatures in Athens during December, January and February are between 53 and 59 Fahrenheit (12 and 15 Celsius). Average minimums are under 48 Fahrenheit (9 Celsius) for 4 months of the year. November to March is also the wettest time of the year with an average of 8 ½ wet days per month.
On the islands, it is slightly warmer and dryer but still quite cool. Here are the weather statistics for Naxos. The Greeks consider this so cool most accommodation, eateries and tourist-oriented businesses on the islands close during the winter months. The same applies to Cyprus.
For sure you can still visit these islands during winter, but be prepared for most of the popular restaurants and accommodation options to be shut. This is the time for annual maintenance activities to be completed and maybe a well-deserved break for business owners to recover from a hectic summer.
And so what are some of the more-popular winter meals eaten during this time? Here is a list of popular dishes:
- Drunken pork;
- Beef stifado (or rabbit);
- Lamb kleftiko;
- Pastitsio (baked pasta dish). Pasta is incredibly popular in Greece; and
- Various hearty soups (usually containing beans and winter vegetables).
All of the above dishes are hearty fare for cooler days. When I looked at this list of classic, winter dishes, I realized that I knew just as many Greek, winter dishes as Greek, summer dishes. But somehow my mind was biased towards those summer dishes that I associated with the Greek Islands.
What do you think? Do you know those winter dishes? And how do you picture Greek food?
The bottom line is that Greek winter food is just as good as the summer food we typically associate with the Greek Islands.
Without further ado, here is today’s featured recipe.
Greek Baked Beans – Gigantes Plaki
No mucking around here. When the Greeks make baked beans they go for size and quality. Make these Greek baked beans from beautiful, white, butter beans or lima beans. There are no difficult ingredients to source for this recipe. It’s a typical, oven-cooked, vegetarian option with a total cooking time of 3 hours.
Different to their English cousins, Greek baked beans are cooked in a thicker sauce with more robust flavors. They also include other vegetables, such as celery and leeks to present a thicker dish. It is not unlike a thick version of soup.
The dish can be eaten standalone or as a side to accompany such dishes as drunken pork, roast lamb or beef stifado. It’s perfect fare for the cooler months. It’s also good for breakfast with baked or poached eggs.
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- 1 lb butter beans, dried lima beans also work well
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 onions, brown diced
- 1/4 cup garlic sliced
- 2 sticks celery chopped
- 1 leek sliced
- 6 tomatoes 4 roughly chopped, 2 finely chopped
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/2 bunch parsley
- 1/4 cup dill fresh
- 1 tbsp oregano, dried
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar of Modena
- salt, ground sea
- black pepper, ground
- 3 tbsp cheese, feta crumbled
- If using canned beans start at the next step. Soak the butter beans or lima beans overnight. Drain, place the beans in a large saucepan. Cover with plenty of water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 1 hour. Retain 2 cups of the cooking liquid. Drain the beans and put aside.
- Pre-heat the oven to 350 f (180 c). In a pan over a medium heat, add the olive oil. When heated, add the onions, celery and leek and saute until softened. Add all of the tomatoes, tomato paste, reserved cooking liquid and the herbs and vinegar. Season liberally and bring sauce to the boil.
- Meanwhile place the the cooked butter beans evenly in a 9 inch X 13 inch (22 cm X 33 cm) casserole dish. Pour the simmering sauce mixture over the beans. Cook for 2 hours, uncovered, in the oven, stirring once or twice. Add some water if it appears too dry. Allow to sit for 15 minutes before serving and garnish with some crumbled feta.
Greek and Cypriot? My understanding is that Cypriot culture is Greek culture with only the quirkiness of region. Like Greek and Cretan? Or Greek and Mykonian? I do love Greek food and this recipe seems divine. Could you possibly include more from your northern regions of Thrace and Macedonia?
Yes the regional differences in food are fascinating. And, of course, there is a huge Turkish influence in the cuisine of northern Cyprus. We will be adding more Greek recipes in the next few months so stay tuned, as we do like to write about the history of popular foods.
Love dishes like these hearty, flavorful, packed with protein and fiber, an all round wholesome dish. My wife and I visited Greece a few years ago mykonos loved it. The people, the food, the beaches all wonderful. Got a chance to meet some of the locals and played some music with them, will never forget.
I agree with you about Mykonos. We loved the attitude of the people on the islands. And the food is rightly famous and popular all around the world. I could return there each year if I could! Thanks for your comment.
Greek baked beans is genius! I am a big fan of any kind of baked beans and love this Greek spin
Thank you Jayne. I love them for breakfast with a poached egg. Thanks for your comment.
We saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 last night so this dish is calling to me big time! x
Excellent! Funny film. Thanks for your comment.
Vicki @ Boiled Eggs & Soldiers
These sound so good. I love home made baked beans and all the flavours in this one make the sound even better. Thanks for sharing on YWF too
Vicki, home-made beans are the best aren’t they? This version is rather robust and typically Greek. Thanks for your comment.
Sammie @ The Annoyed Thyroid
I love Greek food and I love baked beans so this is my idea of recipe heaven! We make our beans with a similar recipe, I must try adding the balsamic and the feta next time. Once you make your own baked beans, you’ll never buy the common garden canned variety again. Well, I won’t anyway!
I agree with you about store-bought baked beans. Chalk and cheese compared to home-made beans. I like them with poached eggs on top for breakfast. Thanks for your comment.
Dannii @ Hungry Healthy Happy
We are going Island hopping in Greece in a few weeks and I am so excited to order this, and Greek salad of course. Sadly we aren’t going to Naxos, but it looks great.
Danii, lucky you. I’m sure that you will enjoy the Greek Islands. They’re all good! Here is a link to all our Greek posts.
Sam | Ahead of Thyme
Yum, my hubby would love this! Can’t wait to make it for him!!
I hope he does enjoy it. Let us know how it goes. Thanks for your comment.
Laura | Wandercooks
Well what do you know, I DO know some Greek winter dishes and didn’t even realise! Moussaka and Pastitsio are my favourites from those you mentioned, but Gigantes Plaki sound way too good to pass up. Never been so thankful in my life that winter is just around the corner for us here in Australia haha. 🙂
Yes we hail from there too! I do love how the Greek cooking culture is so well accepted in Australia. Such a healthy cuisine. Thanks for your comment.
I’m not normally a fan of beans, but this recipe looks to be a wonderful exception!!! Looks easy to make too with plenty of flavor. Thanks for sharing!
It is easy to make. I like the alternative to meat for a change. It can also be the star of the show or just served as a side. Also good for breakfast, especially the leftovers, with a poached egg on top.
I always learn about things when I read your posts. Ive always wanted to go to Greece but haven’t made it there yet. I look forward to your spanakopita recipe…. It is one of my favorite greek dishes. This particular recipe sounds so interesting and a must make with the combination of my favorite all time cheese… Feta! Pinned to make very soon!
Michelle, thank you for your very kind comment. I know our posts are a little different to most and it is nice to receive feedback like that. The spanakopita is being issued on 11 April. I hope you get to Greece one day – the people are very friendly. We also write travel posts. You can see all our Greek food and travel posts here.
Bella B (xoxoBella)
This looks very tasty! My mom has a similar recipe that she always takes to potluck meals. It is a hit.
Yes I often think that beans are underestimated. We really enjoyed these and make a healthy and tasty alternative to meat. Thanks for your comment.
I didn’t know Greece had a cool season, but it makes sense. I live in South Florida and we have a cooler time from late December through February — lows can dip into the 40s — but generally only stay there briefly — 2-3 days before the mercury fights back. I love baked beans and want to try this Greek version!
Lisa, you will love it. We were surprised but the volume of beans consumed in Greece (not just these ones). Menus were full of bean options. Thanks for your comment.
Debi at Life Currents
These look great! All those flavors, veggies, spices, vinegar! Yum! A perfect side dish.
Debi, They were lovely. I even enjoyed the leftovers for breakfast with an egg baked on top.
Gloria @ Homemade & Yummy
Looks like a great dish….except for the lima beans, I would have to choose something different since no one here likes them. Other than that…it sounds wonderful and would be a great addition to a brunch menu.
I’m sure you could substitute with any white bean. The sauce is the thing. Thanks for your comment.
Sally - My Custard Pie
I DO fancy this for breakfast actually and it’s the perfect vegetarian main course for my teen. Living in a hot country I know how you still crave comfort food when the temperatures drop a bit.
Sally you are spot on about the breakfast! Gigantes Plaki topped with poached eggs would be superb. Thanks for your comment.