Creamy Gigantes Plaki, Greek baked beans, is a lusciously healthy and oil-free dish based on the Greek tradition with dreamy butter beans in a spicy tomato sauce.
My introduction to these creamy baked butter beans was authentic. It happened in Athens. And that was it, I absolutely had to recreate it. But me, being me, I wanted to do it in a way that was a tad bit healthier than the versions I had indulged on in restaurants.
Turns out, making healthy Greek baked beans is as easy as cutting the oil.
Replace the oil?
With what you ask?
That answer is simple. It’s aquafaba and this time not from chickpeas. Our source is the 3 cans of butter beans we're baking up.
Aquafaba is a fancy term for the cooking liquid from beans. If you’ve been experimenting with plant-based recipes, chances are you’ve used it or at least heard about it. If not, here’s your opportunity.
I was pretty amazed when I started learning about the seemingly magical properties of aquafaba. It might not be the solution to every cooking dilemma; however, the liquid we usually pour down the drain does have multiple uses. Personally, I’ve used it as an egg replacer, a thickener for sauces, and hummus. And try it the next time you make refried beans – it will knock your sombrero off with the velvety texture.
Be sure to reserve 3 -4 cups of the aquafaba when you drain the butter beans. I usually use a small colander and drain the beans into a bowl then rinse them. It takes a couple of times because it’s three cans, but it’s adding say, another 30 seconds at most.
You’ll use around 2-3 cups of aquafaba for cooking the beans. Save a cup or whatever is leftover and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. Add this to leftover beans when you reheat them. This keeps the sauce thick and flavorful.
My best advice is to keep reserved aquafaba until the beans are done. That way, it can be added throughout the baking process. This keeps the sauce thickening and getting richer the longer it bakes.
Like any good casserole, we need to do a bit of prep-cooking before we get to the aromatic bliss that of baking beans. Here’s how:
The first layer of this recipe is a mirepoix of onions, carrots, and celery. What the heck is mirepoix, you ask? It’s a flavor base in which onions, carrots, and celery are cooked over low heat. The idea is that the vegetables are cooked through with a minimum of browning. This takes a bit more time than sautéing. The tradeoff is that you don’t need to actively stir the vegetables. Just set it and move off to work on the other elements of the recipe. If you do end up with a bit of color, don’t fret. It won’t harm the sauce for this recipe.
Once we have our mirepoix conquered, we’ll keep layering by adding the garlic and chili flakes. Layer three is the tomato paste, tomatoes, oregano, paprika, and bay leaves. Our final sauce destination will be adding the fresh dill and parsley. Because we’re aiming for a creamy sauce, be sure to puree your canned tomatoes first.
If you happen to find dried Gigantes beans, this is the perfect recipe to try them out. Use 1 lb. (454 gm.) dried. Follow the same instructions as you would for cooking black beans. Be sure to soak them in three times the amount of water overnight or for at least 12 hours. Drain and rinse your beans, cover them with water, and cook them for an hour until they are tender. Be sure not to discard the cooking water – it’s now officially aquafaba.
Reduction is the 'secret' cooking process that intensifies flavors of whatever you are cooking. I know we think of it as more of a stovetop process for reducing balsamic vinegar, for example. It works the same in the oven. The more you allow a dish like Briam (Greek roasted vegetables) or our creamy baked beans to bake, the tastier and more intense the food gets.
In the case of slow roasting, you get to enjoy smelling it happening. And just when you can’t take it anymore, it’s done and ready to take out of the oven.
It’s also a good idea to allow the beans to rest a few minutes after you remove it from the oven. Keep it covered, it won’t get cold. This just allows that last bit of the cooking process to occur and helps things settle a bit.
Variations for this recipe
There are a lot of versions of this traditional Greek dish — some recipes do not add carrots, while some recipes call for adding a bit of cinnamon. This is a great recipe to get creative and experiment with different amounts or types of spices, flavorings, or mirepoix. If you worry about ruining the whole dish, opt for adding a new spice by adding it to a bit of the finished dish. Give it a taste and if you like it, make a note, and use it next time. And there will be a next time. And a next time.
As for cooking variations, once you get the beans oven-ready, you can put them in a slow cooker. Leave them on low for the day. Check periodically and add more liquid if they start to dry out.
It was easy to reconnect with my love of those beans I decided I needed at every dinner for that week I spent in Greece. And it was easy to recreate the recipe and just as tasty when I developed an oil-free version. I didn’t get too sentimental about my past travels other than several longing glances at the oven as the aroma filled the house. Let the food drive the memory. Peace.Print
oil-free Gigantes Plaki: Greek baked beans
Creamy Gigantes Plaki, Greek baked beans, is a lusciously healthy, oil-free dish based on the Greek tradition with dreamy butter beans in a spicy tomato sauce.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 2 hours
- Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
- Yield: 6 servings 1x
- Category: Main Courses
- Cuisine: Greek
- Diet: Vegan
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 2 carrots, diced small
- 2 large celery ribs, diced small
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. chili flakes (less if you don’t want the heat)
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1- 15 oz. (400 gm.) can diced tomatoes or 1 ½ cups whole peeled tomatoes, pureed, with juice
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 3 bay leaves
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
- 3 - 15 oz. (400 gm.) cans of butter beans or other large white beans. Drain the beans and reserve the liquid.
- 2-3 cups of liquid reserved from the beans
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, and celery. Let the mirepoix cook for 10 minutes until the onion is soft and translucent (a bit of color is ok). If the veggies start to stick, add water a tablespoon at a time.
- Add the garlic and 1 tsp. of chili flakes and cook for about 30 seconds. Then add 2 Tbsp. of tomato paste, cooking for about a minute before adding the can of tomatoes, 1 tsp. of oregano, 1 tsp. of paprika, and 3 bay leaves.
- Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer for about 10 minutes until the sauce starts to thicken.
- While the sauce cooks, drain the beans and reserve the liquid.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
- Once the sauce is ready, add ⅓ cup fresh parsley and 2 Tbsp. of dill and taste for seasoning.
- Add the beans to an ovenproof casserole or baking dish. Cover the beans with the sauce and mix well.
- Add 1-2 cups of the cooking liquid — enough to just cover the beans. Keep any reserved liquid handy.
- Bake for the beans for 1 to 1 ½ hours. Check the beans occasionally, adding more liquid if the mixture seems too dry. Once done, the liquid should be mostly evaporated, and the beans should be tender, but not too dry.
- The oven temperature can be turned up to 400°F (200°C) for the last 10 minutes or so to allow any excess sauce to reduce. It will also crisp up the top nicely.
- Garnish the final dish with finely chopped parsley or dill if desired.
- If you want to cook dried Gigantes beans, use 1 lb. (454 gm.). Follow my guide for cooking black beans. Be sure to keep the liquid for cooking.
- Save leftover aquafaba in an airtight container in the fridge and add it to the beans to reheat them.
- After you make the sauce, you can put all the ingredients in a slow cooker. Put it on low and cook it all day if you like. Just be sure to check if you need to add more liquid.
- In the end, the final consistency comes down to personal preference. Once you have made this dish a few times, you can decide how saucy you like it.
- Greek baked beans are delicious their own or serve with pita bread and hummus and a big salad, or as part of a multi-dish Greek feast.
Keywords: oil-free Gigantes Plaki: Greek baked beans