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

brussels sprouts with pickled apples and roasted raisins

brussels sprouts with pickled apples and roasted raisins

It’s barely a walk from our apartment to one of our favorite restaurants in Hong Kong, the izakaya Okra Kitchen. Naming a restaurant after a polarizing vegetable is the kind of thing I could totally see myself insisting on, and I happen to be strongly on team okra, so I was sold right away. We most often find ourselves ordering their brussels sprouts, which are deep fried, sprinkled with boozy Xinjiang raisins, covered in their special sauce, and piled high with julienned radishes.

So lately I’ve been making a more home-cooked Middle Eastern version of this for quick weeknight meals and holiday celebrations, with yogurt tahini sauce, pickled apples, a little crushed red pepper, and my favorite magical thing I learned from my grandmother: roasted raisins.

brussels sprouts with pickled apples and roasted raisins
brussels sprouts with pickled apples and roasted raisins

why roast or sauté your raisins?

The difference between roasted raisins and straight-out-of-the-box is like the difference between homemade sea salt caramels and milk duds. Roasting takes them from stale, lifeless blobs to soft, chewy flavor bombs.

Even before I knew what roasted or sautéed raisins were, I loved them in riza sh’ariyeh (jeweled rice with vermicelli noodles). I’d always strategically scoop rice onto my plate to end up with extra topping. If we had guests over, I would do this as tactfully as possible, but if it was just our immediate family, all civility went out the window and I was shameless.

It wasn’t until I learned how to cook riza sh’ariyeh a couple years ago that I learned what made the raisins in it so delicious. It turns out, my grandmother sautés them briefly in butter, before sprinkling them on top of the rice. It takes so little time that it may seem like an insignificant detail, but it’s everything.

When I’m cooking on the stove, I sauté them in a little butter, but when I’m roasting, I like throwing them on the sheet pan for the last couple minutes, just until they puff up a little and caramelize slightly. In this brussels sprouts recipe, you sprinkle them on after the sprouts have started to caramelize, so they can broil for a minute or so. Top everything with yogurt tahini sauce, pickled apples, and crushed red pepper, and be sure to watch out for strategic raisin scooping at the dinner table.

brussels sprouts with pickled apples and roasted raisins
brussels sprouts with pickled apples and roasted raisins
brussels sprouts with pickled apples and roasted raisins
brussels sprouts with pickled apples and roasted raisins

brussels sprouts with pickled apples and roasted raisins

yield: about 5 servings
active time: 15 minutes
total time: 30 minutes
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yogurt tahini sauce

  • 1 tablespoon tahini

  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt *

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

  • 1 pinch salt

  • Water, as needed

  1. Combine the tahini, Greek yogurt, lemon juice, and salt, and stir together until it forms a thick sauce. Stir in water, about 1 teaspoon at a time, stopping once the sauce still has some body, but is a pourable consistency (I used 1 1/2 teaspoons when developing this recipe—it will vary depending on your Greek yogurt).

quick pickled apples

  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice

  • 1 big pinch salt

  • 1 small pinch sugar

  • 1/2 of 1 granny smith apple

  1. Combine the apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and sugar in a small bowl, and stir until dissolved.

  2. Peel and julienne (or allumette) the half apple, using a mandolin or very sharp knife.

  3. Add the julienned apple to the brine (quickly so it doesn’t brown), and gently press it down with the back of a spoon until it’s submerged. Let it stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour, and then strain once it’s as tangy as you’d like.

roast veggies

  • 21 to 22 ounces (600g) brussels sprouts (about 50 small sprouts, 25 medium ones, or 17 giant ones)

  • olive oil

  • salt

  • 1/4 cup golden raisins

  • 1/2 tablespoon softened or melted butter

  • crushed red pepper

  1. Preheat the oven’s broiler.

  2. Halve the brussels sprouts, coat them in oil, place cut-side-up on a sheet pan, and season to taste.

  3. Broil the brussels sprouts for about 10 minutes (it might take as little as 5). Keep an eye on them to make sure they’re not caramelizing too quickly (if they are, move them away from the heat source, turn the temperature down, and/or remove them from the oven early).

  4. Coat the raisins in a little softened or melted butter. In the last minute of broiling, sprinkle the raisins over the brussels sprouts, and broil them for about 1 minute, just until they’re starting to swell a little and caramelize in spots. Do not let them burn, and keep a close eye on them (it might take just 30 seconds, and varies from oven to oven).

  5. Move the brussels sprouts and some of the raisins to a serving bowl, top with a few spoonfuls of yogurt tahini sauce, sprinkle the rest of the raisins over the top, and top with a heap of the apple pickles. Garnish with crushed red pepper, and serve with extra yogurt sauce on the side.

* To make this vegan, instead make a lemon tahini sauce. Also be sure to use oil instead of butter when you roast the raisins.

brussels sprouts with pickled apples and roasted raisins