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
  • 1 1/2 quarts water (10 cups for those of you who can never remember conversions, aka me)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 onion, peeled and halved4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 10-ounce bags frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed of excess water
  • 3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 leek, white and light green part only, halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup chopped dill
  • 1 28-ounce can tomato puree
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives

Instructions

  1. Combine the beans, water, bay leaf, onion, and garlic in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 30 minutes. Add salt, and simmer about 15 more minutes until al dente - tender, but firm in the middle. Remove from heat. Using tongs, remove the bay leaf and onion. Leave the garlic in. Place a strainer over a large bowl and drain the beans, collecting the bean broth in the bowl.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large Dutch oven or ovenproof pot. Add the leek and scallions, cooking until tender, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in the spinach, parsley, dill, half the tomato puree, 2 cups of bean broth and half of the olives. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in another tablespoon of olive oil. Spread the remaining tomato puree over the top and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and the remaining olives. Cover and place in the oven.
  3. Bake 1-2 hours (I baked mine about an hour and fifteen minutes) until creamy, but not falling apart. Add a little more bean broth if it dries out too much - you want it casseroley not soupy or stewy.
  4. Remove from oven and serve with a crusty, whole grain bread for wiping the bowl clean.