In her zeal to assimilate herself into a foreign society, my Grandma took the unfortunate stance of distancing herself from her Cypriot roots when she arrived in England. As a wife to an officer in the Royal Air Force, I can only guess that she felt her Cypriot heritage could adversely affect her daughters’ future so she didn’t encourage them to embrace it.
Aside from our annual Easter game of Christos Anesti (tapping coloured hard boiled eggs against each other, the winner being the person with the last intact egg shell) very little of her language and culture was passed on.
Although her delicious dolmades are now unfortunately consigned to history, one recipe made it through to become a favourite among the next generation of her family and now my friends too.
Credit has been attributed to my mum who has no doubt given the recipe a twist such is her propensity to cook without weights and measures, and “Anita’s Greek Beans” have become a staple mid-week meal that can be stretched to feed many in this age of austerity.
I’m sure every Mediterranean culture has a version of this kind of ‘peasant food’ as my mum delicately puts it, but this is where three generations of Greeks have got to. Measurements are literally to be taken with a pinch of salt, add and remove as you see fit.
A list of ingredients:
A packet of Butter beans
Some Carrots, peeled and finely chopped
A few sticks of Celery, finely chopped
A large onion, peeled and finely chopped
Tinned chopped tomatoes
A splurge of tomato puree concentrate
A bay leaf
Salt and pepper
Finely chopped parsley
If you’re using dried beans, soak them overnight in plenty of cold water. Drain and wash the pre-soaked beans and set aside. You can also use pre-soaked tinned or pre-cooked beans in a jar.
Sweat off the chopped onions, carrot and celery in the olive oil until soft. Season with plenty of salt and pepper. Add the drained beans and dried herbs, chopped tomatoes and the puree and allow to simmer for up to an hour or more, stirring frequently. Like all stews, it often tastes better on the second cook. The longer you can cook it for, the better.
If you are using pre-cooked beans, you will obviously not need to cook the stew for as long as one hour, but slow cooking will help to create a deeper flavour.
Fry off thick slices of good quality Halloumi, or the ‘squeaky cheese’ as my boys like to call it, and grill your bacon. Something that seems to have been passed down in our family is that we always cut the rind along the length of bacon to stop it from curling up. I always thought this was just how it’s done, but always comes as a revelation to friends.
For a heartier meal, you could of course use a quality sausage, but we tend to have this meal when we’re trying not to eat so much meat.
Finally, add in a large handful of chopped parsley to your beans and a good squeeze of lemon juice. When your Halloumi has a nice golden colour to it and your bacon is crispy, serve up with your beans and a wedge of lemon. A good glug of a robust red wine doesn’t hurt either!