baked butter beans with nestled feta

baked butter beans with nestled feta

This January, I’ve been atoning for all the sweets I posted in December. Not that I’ve done anything quite as drastic as giving up dessert in real life, but I thought a few healthy savories would break up the monotony of endless cakes and baklawa. I mean, I am about to gear up for Valentine’s Day, and will for sure be sharing yet another baklawa recipe soon, but in the meantime, let’s talk about beans.

Or, more specifically, let’s talk about baked butter beans! (Also known as gigandes/gigantes plaki in Greek and fasolia/fasouliyeh in Arabic and Assyrian. Oddly, they contain no butter whatsoever). This baked bean dish spans the eastern and western Mediterranean, and I have my own particular way of making it, which involves taking one or two liberties.

baked butter beans with nestled feta
baked butter beans with nestled feta

If you’re always in a hurry, don’t fret—I use canned butter beans instead of soaking and par-cooking dried ones. They don’t continue to soften once they bake with the tomato sauce, and so I’ve always had good luck using canned. Just make sure you look for a brand that doesn’t overcook them to begin with (you know how some brands are just absolute mush, and perfect for things like hummus? Avoid those!).

If you can’t find canned butter beans, this recipe is also a wonderful way to cook cannellinis. If you’re starting from dried beans, it’s very important to soak them in lightly salted water overnight, and then cook them all the way through (stopping before they get mushy) before adding them to the tomatoes. Even though they bake for twenty-five more minutes, there is not enough moisture in the dish to cook them the rest of the way if they start out too al dente.

Feta isn’t a necessary ingredient for delicious baked butter beans, but it’s one of my favorite things to add. Instead of crumbling and sprinkling the feta, I like to cut it into big chunks and nestle them in with the beans, and then sprinkle a little on top. The process feels a bit like planting seeds or tulip bulbs. You just push the feta down, and then nudge the beans back over the tops. In the oven, the feta softens and melts a little with the tomato, turning into delightfully spreadable pockets of cheese.

This dish is wonderful served on thin slices of rye toast, but it’s also lovely served simply with basmati rice. Feel free to adjust the flavorings and seasonings to your preference. It’s easy to veganize it by leaving out the feta, but I suspect it would also be delicious with some tofu cubes nested in with the beans (although I haven’t yet tried it this way myself).

baked butter beans with nestled feta
baked butter beans with nestled feta

baked butter beans with nestled feta

serves 6 as a main, or more as a side
active time: 20 minutes
total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
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  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 onion (150-175g), chopped

  • 2 cloves garlic (8g), crushed through a press

  • 2 carrots (140g), medium diced

  • Salt

  • 1 teaspoon (1g) dried oregano

  • 2 teaspoons (2g) dried thyme

  • 1/4 teaspoon (0.5g) crushed red pepper (or more to taste)

  • 1/2 teaspoon (1g) black pepper

  • 2 14-ounce cans (2 400g cans) diced tomato

  • 1 teaspoon (3g) sugar

  • 3 14-ounce cans (3 400g cans) of butter beans, strained and rinsed

  • 1/4 cup (12g) minced fresh dill fronds *

  • 3/4 cup (40g) minced fresh parsley leaves (reserve some for garnish)

  • 200 grams feta, cut into about 10 large cubes

  1. Heat a large oven-proof 10 to 12” steep-sided skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, then add the olive oil, followed by the onion, garlic, carrots, and about 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally for 10 to 15 minutes, until the onions and carrots soften quite a bit (reduce to low if they start to caramelize).

  2. Add the oregano, thyme, crushed red pepper, black pepper, diced tomatoes, and sugar, and bring up to a simmer. Once simmering, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20-25 minutes, just until it forms a very thick sauce.

  3. Preheat the oven to 425° F (218° C) convection while the sauce is simmering.

  4. Taste the sauce once it’s done. Adjust the seasoning, stir in the butter beans, and remove from heat. Add most of the dill and parsley (reserve a couple pinches for garnish). Distribute all but 1 of the feta cubes evenly over the surface of the beans. Gently push down the feta cubes so that they nestle among the beans. Gently nudge some of the beans back over feta cubes to make sure they’re not showing (it’s like planting tulip bulbs). Crumble the remaining feta on top, and bake for about 25 minutes, just until the exposed feta browns, and the whole thing is heated through. Garnish with the reserved parsley, and serve.

* Feel free to use a much smaller amount of dried dill (but make sure to use fresh parsley).

baked butter beans with nestled feta

manakish za'atar variations

manakish

A few weeks ago, I flew to Phoenix to celebrate Christmas with my whole big family. We had so much fun playing giant Jenga, hiking, and eating a million delicious tacos. While I was in town, I also got to cook with one of my favorite Assyrian food bloggers, Lisa from Seven Spice Life. We spent the morning at her house making an epic manakish feast, with lahm bi ajeen, and a couple of delicious variations on manakish za’atar (AKA manousheh).

The classic manakish with olives, tomato, labneh, cucumber, and mint was inspired by a trip Lisa took to Jordan, and the California-style one was inspired by all our favorite ingredients (goat cheese, blistered tomatoes, arugula, avocado, and garlicky pickled radishes). We used some incredible za’atar from Lisa’s brother-in-law’s family in Lebanon, and everything was just so perfect.

I’ve got some photos and the recipe for the two manakish za’atar variations below, and Lisa was generous enough to direct and edit a video with all three manakish, including the lahm bi ajeen.

Here’s the base of the California-style one—Lisa had the idea to add the tomatoes and goat cheese to the pizza before baking, which was a stroke of brilliance!

Here’s the base of the California-style one—Lisa had the idea to add the tomatoes and goat cheese to the pizza before baking, which was a stroke of brilliance!

Here’s the labneh going onto the classic tomato, cucumber, and olive manakish za’atar. I love the way the za’atar swirls with the labneh a little, and all the flavors meld together.

Here’s the labneh going onto the classic tomato, cucumber, and olive manakish za’atar. I love the way the za’atar swirls with the labneh a little, and all the flavors meld together.

And now for the toppings!

And now for the toppings!

After the labneh and veggies, on goes the mint chiffonade.

After the labneh and veggies, on goes the mint chiffonade.

How have I never had lahm bi ajeen with lemon before?

How have I never had lahm bi ajeen with lemon before?

It’s a revelation.

It’s a revelation.

Here’s Lisa! We had so much fun talking for hours about family, food, travel, and our mutual love of castelvetrano olives.

Here’s Lisa! We had so much fun talking for hours about family, food, travel, and our mutual love of castelvetrano olives.

Collaboration is such a wonderful thing!

Collaboration is such a wonderful thing!

Thanks Lisa for taking these photos of me!

Thanks Lisa for taking these photos of me!

You can see one of Lisa’s pups running by in the background <3

You can see one of Lisa’s pups running by in the background <3

Lisa made these wonderful pickled radishes, with lots of garlic and zesty flavors. Any kind of pickled veggie would work wonderfully here, but the radishes were just the thing.

Lisa made these wonderful pickled radishes, with lots of garlic and zesty flavors. Any kind of pickled veggie would work wonderfully here, but the radishes were just the thing.

above: classic manakish with olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, labneh, and mint chiffonade below: california-style manakish with goat cheese, blistered tomato, arugula, avocado, pickled radishes or onions, and a little more extra virgin olive oil.

above: classic manakish with olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, labneh, and mint chiffonade
below: california-style manakish with goat cheese, blistered tomato, arugula, avocado, pickled radishes or onions, and a little more extra virgin olive oil.

manakish za’atar variations

manakish za’atar base

yield: 4 small manakish
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  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons za'atar *

  • Salt, to taste (about 1/4 teaspoon)

  • 1 pound pizza dough

  • Semolina or cornmeal, for sprinkling

  1. Place a pizza stone (or sheet pan) on the oven floor, move the oven racks up and out of the way, so you can easily access the pizza stone, and pre-heat the oven to 500° F.

  2. Combine the olive oil and za'atar. Salt it to taste if you're using unseasoned za'atar.

  3. Lightly flour a clean, food-safe work surface, use a knife or bench scraper to divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, and shape each chunk into a round ball.

  4. Roll each dough ball into a circle, about 1/8 inch thick. To keep the round shape, rotate the disc about 90 degrees after each time you roll it out, and be sure to re-flour the surface every so often.

  5. Sprinkle semolina or cornmeal on a pizza peel or thin cutting board. Place one dough disc on the cutting board. Top with about 1/4 of the za'atar mixture (about a heaping tablespoon) and spread it out using your fingers or the back of a spoon. Top with 1/4 cup of feta cheese, if using. Let it rest for about 5 to 10 minutes before it goes in the oven.

  6. Once the oven has preheated, use a quick motion to move the pie from the pizza peel onto the pizza stone. Cook for about 5-8 minutes, until the edges start to brown and the bread is cooked through. The dough should be crispy and chewy, like really good brick oven pizza.

  7. Repeat with the remaining 3 pies.

california-style manakish za’atar

cherry tomatoes + goat cheese + lightly dressed arugula + avocado + pickled radishes/onions + olive oil

Add a few halved cherry tomatoes and a handful of goat cheese crumbles to the manakish za’atar base after the za’atar oil goes on. Bake as usual, until the pizza is cooked through, the goat cheese is melted, and the tomatoes are slightly charred or blistered. Once it comes out of the oven, top with arugula (dressed lightly with oil and vinegar), avocado, pickled radishes or onions, and a little more extra virgin olive oil.

classic manakish za’atar

labneh + olives + cherry tomatoes + Persian cucumbers + mint + olive oil

Bake the manakish za’atar base as the original recipe suggests. Top with labneh, halved olives, quartered cherry tomatoes, large-diced Persian cucumbers, a few sprigs of mint chiffonade, and some more extra virgin olive oil.

manakish