Giant Beans with Spinach, Tomatoes and Olives

By now, you hopefully know the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. But what does the real Mediterranean diet look like? Learn all about it in today's post, as well as a recipe for giant beans stewed with tomatoes, spinach and olives. 

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.If you decide to follow a diet with strict guidelines, more than likely, you’ll do a better job finding the loopholes than following the actual diet. On  your fat free diet, you pass on French fries, only to binge on fat free cookies and jelly beans. You decide to take the Atkins approach, until your portions of meat start to look like Fred Flintstones. Okay, so it wasn’t the carbs, but rather the gluten. Pretty soon, you're spending your life savings to fuel your addiction to gluten-free pretzels and gluten-free cookies, all made with refined gluten-free flour of course. 

Instead, I like to think about patterns of eating vs diets. 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 diseasecancerdiabete prevention and longevity.

Most importantly, the food is delicious!

Please know the real Mediterranean diet is not the same thing as our Americanized, or the Olive Garden version, as I like to call it. 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 minimally processed diet 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. Sweets, red meats, and processed foods are rarely eaten, at the most a couple times a week.

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?

Giant Beans with Spinach, Tomatoes and Olives

Serves 4 as a main, 6 as a side dish

I found giant lima beans at Whole Foods in the bulk section. In the past, I've had a difficult time finding them. You could substitute regular lima beans or even cannelini beans, but the cooking times will change. Adapted from The New York Times. 

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  1. Optional: Soak beans in enough water to cover overnight. If you do not soak the beans, add 30-60 minutes cooking time to the beans.

  2. 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.

  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Let casserole sit for 15 minutes to cool before serving.