Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Recipe: Braised Green Beans (Fasolakia) with Lemon (Φασολάκια Λαδερά με Λεμόνι)

“If there are three Greeks in a room, you’re bound to hear five different opinions about the correct way to cook just about anything.”

Or so goes the self-deprecating joke at Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Anchorage, Alaska. Although it may not be literally true, the joke helps lighten the mood at festival time.

For the annual Greek festival held in August, parishioners join together to make classics of the Greek table. The correct ways to make Moussaka, Fasolakia (braised green beans), and Dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) trigger the most vigorous debates. Everyone knows the “correct” recipe, but none of them are the same.

At Mama’s Taverna, Lulu captured the essence of these debates as she described how Zoe came up with
her wonderful Fasolakia recipe.

The truth is, Greek braised green beans taste great no matter the recipe. As I commented to Lulu, “I’ve sautéed, I’ve not sautéed, I’ve layered, I’ve stirred, I’ve added potatoes, I’ve added zucchini, I’ve cooked the beans plain, I’ve cooked them with meat, I’ve cooked them without and, shockingly, I’ve even made them sans tomatoes. In all their incarnations, I’ve NEVER had a pot of Fasolakia that tastes anything other than absolutely wonderful.”

I no sooner sent the comment than I started obsessing about Fasolakia made without tomatoes (the most common recipe includes them). I used to make tomato-less Fasolakia all the time. In recent years I’ve been stuck on versions with tomato, one of which I wrote about in February:
Greek Beef and Green Bean Stew and two of which are included in Tastes Like Home: Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska (Fasolakia and Fasolakia with Zucchini and Potatoes).

Last night I made the tomato-less version. It was everything I’d been wanting. The braised beans and onions were soft and sweet, rich with oil and herbs, and tangy from the fresh lemon juice finish. This is a dish where bread is a necessary accompaniment; it’s a shame to let the remarkably good juices go to waste.

Fasolakia belongs to a class of Greek dishes called Ladera, which means “oily” (ladi/λάδι is the Greek word for oil). The oil and vegetable juices cook together to make a wonderfully unctuous sauce. However, for many today, traditional Ladera has too much oil. Adjust the amount of oil in the recipe to suit your taste; for the traditional version, use the larger amount.

When considering the amount of oil to use, keep in mind that olive oil is a heart-healthy fat. According to the
Mayo Clinic, “Olive oil contains monounsaturated fat, which can lower your risk of heart disease by reducing the total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad") cholesterol levels in your blood.”

The FDA says there is "limited but not conclusive evidence" that 2 tablespoons of olive oil daily can reduce the risk of heart disease. (Olive oil should be substituted for fats already in the diet, and not just added to what you’re already eating.)

This recipe’s dedicated to Lulu and Zoe.

Braised Green Beans (Fasolakia) with Lemon (Φασολάκια Λαδερά με Λεμόνι)
Serves 4 - 6 as a main course
In this easy recipe, the herbs and vegetables are layered in a Dutch oven and cooked without stirring until the beans are soft and tender. The beans shouldn’t be crunchy, and must be cooked through. Adjust the amount of olive oil as desired. Serve with slices of feta cheese, Kalamata olives, bread, and lemon wedges.

1 1/2 pounds green beans (6 cups cleaned)
4 cups thinly sliced onions
1 1/2 cups minced parsley
1/2 cup minced dill
1/2 cup minced mint
3 Tbsp. minced garlic
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 – 1 cup olive oil
1/4 - 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
Lemon wedges

Wash the beans, break off both ends, and break them in half. Mix the herbs and garlic together.

In a Dutch oven, layer 1 cup of onions on the bottom of the pan, top with 1/3 of the beans, then 1/3 of the herb mix, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and drizzle with 1/3 of the olive oil. Repeat. Repeat again but finish with the remaining cup of onions before drizzling with the last 1/3 of olive oil.

Cover and cook over medium high heat until the pan lid is hot. As soon as the lid is hot, turn the heat down to low and simmer for 1 hour, or until the beans are very soft and tender. Stir in 1/4 cup lemon juice. Taste and add lemon juice, salt, or freshly ground black pepper, as needed. Serve hot or at room temperature.
This is my entry for
Heart of the Matter’s May heart-healthy herb challenge hosted this month by Michelle at The Accidental Scientist.


Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said...

It's true...the debates about recipes etc can be quite heated. I too have enjoyed fasolakia many ways. My favourite is with meat (kokkinisto) and my mum often adds cinnamon...The aromas drive me wild! I've had this version too, but never seen it cooked in the dutch oven...thanks for another great read Laurie and recipe too!

Anonymous said...

And the fasolakia saga continues! This is fun!

peter g, if you're still around, what kind of pot does your mum use?

Joanne said...

Hi Laurie - I love ladera (the oilies - LOL) and I'm looking forward to getting my fill of ladera dishes when I'm in Greece next week. I've decided to take an impromptu trip to Greece for 2 weeks to take care of some family matters and keep my mother (who is there now) company at the same time. I will be staying in Athens only. I don't have the time right now to make it to the island.

I also agree that olive oil is very good for you and I'm always encouraging my husband to not be afraid to use more of it in the salads he makes.

Cheryl said...

I'll definitely have to try recipe as I've never had fasolakia without tomatoes. It looks wonderful.
Olive oil is used in almost everything in our house and we get well over our 2 tbsp. per day. The kids already dip their bread in plain oil from time to time. Gotta love that liquid gold!

Núria said...

Hola Laurie! Thanks for all the info on Fasolakia. Greek meetings sound fun... but I guess is the same everywhere! I don't think ORIGINAL recipes exist anymore... but experimenting different ways is so much fun!!!!

Peter M said...

We have the same arguments here too and it's mainly due to the Greek population here being from all over Greece...regional dishes, nuances in ingredients and methods.

I would enjoy your fasolakia and put you on my cooking squad for the festival!

Maria Verivaki said...

when i use less oil in my fasolakia reciupe, i always find that the next day, the meal is too 'soupy' for my liking, which is why i prefer to add more oil if i know i'm going to be serving this the next day

Anonymous said...

Laurie, I just noticed the recipe dedication. That's so sweet of you, and Zoe is really touched.

Anonymous said...

This is a new one for me, too, I've never tried this without the tomatoes. More inspirations!

Aileen said...

Laurie, I must confess. This looks like a slice of my own personal utopia! Green beans, onions, herbs, olive oil - all in a dutch oven....I swoon.

Ivy said...

This is a great recipe and maybe it's not the traditional one but it is cooked this way in Greece, the same way as peas with artichokes or fresh fava.

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

For every cook there will be a different method as you already mentioned Laurie. You can't go wrong any way you decide to go..these will always be delicious:D

Laurie Constantino said...

Peter, I love fasolakia with meat and cinnamon and you are right about the aromas. Glad you like this version!

Lulu, is it possible to have too much fasolakia? I don't think so!

Bijoux - you lucky girl - I hope you're having the time of your life in Athens. Thinking of you...

Cheryl, I see you've trained your kids well! I can't remember if you planted green beans this year, but if you haven't yet - you better get on it. :-)!

Hola Nuria! I think it's the same everywhere that people feel passionate about food.

Peter, that is a very good point about people being from so many regions of Greece - and very true. I'd love to be on your squad - you're a worker and you know how to cook and you're funny - what more could one ask for?

Maria - good point - the oil definitely keeps the beans fresher tasting for longer. But since my husband likes ladera properly oily, that's how I generally make it...

Lulu - I'm glad Zoe liked it.

Manju - it is a traditional version, just not the one most frequently seen.

Aileen, it's the herbs that really bring this one home. So good.

Ivy, yes, I've also had other spring vegetables this way and enjoy them very much. Wish I had some fresh koukia (fava beans) right now - but today is the day we are planting the koukia seeds so by the end of the summer, we should have some nice ones!

Val, that's what I love about cooking - all the variations upon variations upon variations. Never a dull moment!