March 6, 2009
It happens every year. March arrives. It’s still a little cold, but a warm front comes through early on and I gleefully think, “Spring’s on the way!” Then the sucker punch. Temps drop and the biggest snow storm of the season moves through. This is what happened earlier this week. Annoyed, cold, and house bound (by choice), I needed some comfort. And when I need comfort, I think of my yiayia‘s food.
Yiayia was always cooking something. She did not shy from complicated or involved recipes (she’d whip up a pastitso, which involves many steps including making a bechamel, like it was scrambling eggs), but most appreciated the super simple garden-to-pot dishes that she grew up with and raised her children on in the old country.
This homestyle veggie stew is sort of a Greek ratatouille but, unlike the famed French dish, there is no big debate as to how to make this the “proper” way. At least none that I know of. It is beyond simple, using just a few pantry ingredients and whatever vegetables you have around. Yiayia always used string beans as the main vegetable, but my dad (from a more northern part of Greece) made a version with okra. Zucchini works well, too.
As for the support cast of veggies, Yiayia usually used potatoes. They make the dish hearty (i.e., a meal completed by nothing more than some bread and feta cheese) and the starch helps thicken the sauce. I like to use eggplant instead. Diced small and cooked long enough, the eggplant breaks down in a way that also thickens the sauce. Don’t see why you couldn’t use both. I happened to have a bell pepper lying around this week, so I used that too. And, of course, no greek dish would be complete without some fresh dill! When I don’t have any, I use thyme.
I’ve not yet come across a recipe as reliable as this one that is also as easy to adapt to whatever I have lying around the house. And this, not to mention, the cozy factor. Perfect for the long, drawn out end of winter.
Greek Homestyle String Beans
(can be served to children 10+ mos)
3 tbsp organic olive oil
1 small organic onion, chopped
2 cloves organic garlic, minced (optional)
1 medium to large organic eggplant, cut into a 1/2″ dice
1 lb fresh organic string beans, cleaned and trimmed
1 organic bell pepper, chopped (optional)
4 tbsp fresh organic dill, chopped (can substitute fresh or dried organic thyme)
3 oz organic tomato paste
2 cups organic chicken broth (can substitute veggie broth or water)
crumbled organic feta, optional
salt and pepper
1. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic. Saute until translucent.
2. Add eggplant, which will soak up most of the oil. At first, stir frequently to avoid sticking. After a few minutes the eggplant should start sweating enough to keep from sticking on its own. Saute until the eggplant softens. (I’m not into super salty food, but this dish is really enhanced by salt. I first add some in this step along with the eggplant since salt helps draw out the eggplant’s moisture.)
3. Push eggplant to the side and add one more tablespoon olive oil. Add string beans, pepper, and dill. Stir veggies and leave until the beans turn bright green and start to soften.
4. Add tomato paste and broth. Stir until well mixed. Tomato sauce should be almost covering your veggies. If not, add a little more liquid (if you end up adding a lot of liquid you may also want to add more paste.) Cover and cook until beans are cooked through and sauce thickens.
5. Season older kid and adult portions with salt and pepper to taste. If you like, top with crumbled feta and an extra drizzle of good olive oil. Serve!
Note: This dish is even yummy cold, making leftovers an easy choice for lunch. So don’t be afraid to double the recipe!