This Mediterranean giant beans with spinach, tomatoes and olives recipe makes for a super satisfying vegetarian meal! It’s packed with veggies, and flavor! Budget-friendly using frozen spinach, canned tomatoes and dried beans. Make extras and freeze for later!
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. Diets just ain’t my thang.
As the saying goes, rules are meant to be broken. And if you’re following a rigid diet, rules will be broken. It’s not that you don’t have willpower, it’s just that you can’t win when you’re fighting biology. Cutting out foods will neurologically make them more appealing. Restriction will ramp up hunger hormones (and tamp down metabolism). And you’ll be finding whatever “loopholes” you can, whether it’s bacon on Atkins, sugar on low fat, or grain free brownies on whole 30.
There’s not a lot of research to support rigid diets. So when I work with clients on nutrition, I think about dietary patterns. And one of the patterns of eating that has a lot of science to back it is the Mediterranean diet. It received quite a bit of press recently when a large study reinforced its heart healthy benefits over other mainstream diets. Earlier studies on the traditional Mediterranean diet have shown benefits for heart disease, cancer, diabetes prevention and longevity.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
Please know the real Mediterranean diet is not the Olive Garden version you might think of. The Mediterranean diet encompasses the traditional diets of countries located on the Mediterranean coast. Not just Italy and Greece but Spain, France, North Africa, Turkey, and Israel among others. Their native dishes vary, but the one thing they have in common is a diet rich in fresh foods with an emphasis on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, fish, olive oil, nuts & seeds. Herbs and spices are frequently used for flavoring. Dairy is typically consumed from cheese and yogurt, and in smaller amounts.
Also, the Mediterranean diet isn’t just about food – there is also an emphasis on the pleasure of eating and savoring meals with family and friends. Can you see why I’m such a fan?
Most importantly, the food is delicious! Like these Mediterranean giant beans with spinach, tomatoes and olives! Cooking the giant beans from scratch makes them super creamy, and baking them in an olive-oily tomato sauce with olives lets them soak up tons of flavor with a slow bake in the oven.
Cooking Dry Beans
Giant beans, or gigantes, basically taste like big, creamy lima beans. If you can’t find them at the grocery store, order them off Amazon (affiliate). If you can’t find them, I also make this with cannellini beans. Be sure to soak them in water overnight first, which helps them cook faster and with a better texture. Also, be sure not to boil them, which breaks the skins and makes them fall apart. This recipe includes simmering the beans with aromatics to give them plenty of flavor.
Giant Beans with Spinach, Tomatoes and Olives Recipe
Adapted from The New York Times.
1/2 lb (a rounded cup) dried giant lima beans or gigantes beans
1 onion, peeled and halved
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
1 16-ounce bag frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed of excess water
3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 leek, white and light green part only, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1 28-ounce can tomato puree
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives
Soak beans in enough water to cover overnight. If you do not soak the beans, add 30-60 minutes cooking time to the beans.
Combine the beans, onion, garlic, and bay leaf in a pot and cover with salted water by about two inches. Bring beans to a simmer and cook until al dente, about 2 hours for gigante beans or giant limas, 1 1/2 hours for cannellini beans. Using tongs, remove the onion, garlic and bay leaf. Drain the beans, collecting the bean broth in a bowl.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet. Add the leek, scallions, and a pinch of salt, and cook until tender, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in spinach, parsley, dill, half the tomato puree, 1 cup bean broth, 1 tablespoon olive oil and half of the olives. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pour the tomato-spinach mixture in the bottom of a large casserole dish. Spread the remaining tomato puree over the top, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle on the remaining olives. Cover with a lid or aluminum oil and place in the oven. Bake for an hour, uncover, then bake for about an hour more until beans are creamy, but intact, casserole is bubbly but not soupy. If it looks dried out, you can add more bean broth.
Let casserole sit for 15 minutes to cool before serving.