Slow cooked Greek green beans

September 10, 2012 § 10 Comments

Did you have to take timed tests in elementary school?  (To this day I’m still not entirely sure whether they were called timed tests or times tests, after all, they were used for learning the times tables.)  A couple minutes to complete as many problems as you can multiplying by 7.  A couple minutes to complete as many problems as you can dividing by nine.  Awful.  Awful awful awful.  There’s a pit in my stomach now, just remembering.

I’ve never done well with time pressure.  I freeze up when I’m in a hurry, making stupid mistakes, leaving a trail of minor disasters.  But, I also hate being late.  So, I won’t just take the extra time I sometimes need.  Basically, time, deadlines, and I all keep slightly different schedules.  And I occasionally lose my sanity  trying to force them into alignment.

It’s not that I procrastinate.  It’s that, if I know something is due in a week, or that I have an appointment in a few hours, I let that send me into my time pressured rushing tizzy to make sure I’m prepared.  And everything takes even longer.

Funny how that happens.  It’s kind of like watching a pot to make it boil, isn’t it?  You stand there tapping your foot, checking your watch, urging the pot to boil, and it gets you exactly nowhere.  Spending the last, oh, dozen years or so overfilling my schedule and living in places where everyone else is also moving at a careening pace hasn’t exactly helped.  (Go figure.)

I’m just thinking about this right now because in a new place with a slower pace, I’m trying to slow…….down…….as well.  I’m pretty sure everyone can only stand to benefit.  There’s a great proverb I learned once in a class I was taking on popular education that goes something like, “we must go slowly, there is very little time.”  You can feel the truth to that when you hear it, can’t you?  I may have to tattoo it to my forehead in mirrorwise letters, or something.

The same thing can be applied to cooking sometimes, I think.  It doesn’t pay to rush things that shouldn’t be rushed.  If something needs to be flash fried or only briefly blanched, then go ahead and cook it that way.  But, if you’re slow cooking something, then let it go.  The problems arise with carelessness and fussiness that leads to overcooking things that should be barely cooked, and undercooking things that need to sit a bit longer.

Case in point, green beans.  Mostly, I expect my beans to be just barely steamed, stunning green and still somewhat crisp.  A mushy bean is not the receptacle I’m looking for for a pat of butter and a sprinkling of salt.  However, beans shine just as beautifully if you full on go for it and allow them to take their time, bathing in flavorful juices.  They become meltingly tender and sweet.  Silky and stew-like, they remind you of their familial link to other legumes like storage beans and lentils.

I was forced to recall this because I had a bag of farmer’s market green beans and a couple pints of cherry tomatoes that had been intended for a green bean salad, but which had crept past their prime during the wonderful barrage of company and welcome to town dinners we’ve been in the midst of.  I remembered a Greek green bean dish we had eaten years ago at a family dinner, soft beans in a flavorful tomato sauce, and I decided to take my beans and tomatoes in that direction.

I cooked the beans with plenty of garlic and onions plus a pinch of cinnamon and oregano for fragrance.  Instead of hovering near the steaming pot to drain the beans the instant they dialed up the brilliance of their green, I walked away and got some other work done.  One hour, a handful of feta, and a sprinkling of chopped olives later, dinner was ready.  No hurry.

Slow Cooked Greek Green Beans (serves about 3-4 as a main dish, about 6 as a side)

  • 2 lbs. fresh green beans, washed and trimmed
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste
  • about 2 pints of cherry tomatoes, halved (or 3-4 cups chopped tomato)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • salt and pepper
  • crumbled feta and chopped kalamata olives, for serving.
  1. In a large heavy-bottomed pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the garlic, cinnamon, oregano and nutmeg and cook another minute.  A
  2. Add the green beans to the pot, stir well to coat.  Then, stir in the tomato paste and the cherry tomatoes.  Cook for a couple of minutes, then stir in the water and a large pinch each of salt and pepper.
  3. Allow the water to come to a boil, then turn the heat down to low, cover the pot and cook  for an hour, stirring every now and again to keep the bottom from sticking.
  4. After an hour, remove the cover.  If necessary, allow the pot to simmer uncovered for a few more minutes to thicken the sauce.  Taste and adjust the salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve topped with feta and chopped olives, if desired.
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