The Austerity Kitchen Challenge: Giant White Bean Stew

Greek white beans, otherwise known as gigantes, are large, slightly sweet beans that are perfect in soups and stews. Authentic Greek recipes use them in slow-cooked stews flavored with fresh herbs. It is important that one procure only the freshest beans as that will cut down on the time spent cooking them.

For this month’s Austerity Kitchen Challenge, the Kitchen has developed a version of a tasty traditional Greek bean stew. Substitute large lima beans for the giant Greek beans if you are unable to locate them. Feel free to experiment with different herbs and spices.

Giant White Bean Stew

1 1/2 pounds dried giant white beans
1/2 cup olive oil
2 small onions
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 bunch celery, chopped
5 large tomatoes, chopped
3/4 cup tomato sauce, or meatless pasta sauce
2 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried mint
1 teaspoon rosemary
2 teaspoons thyme
3/4 cup finely chopped parsley

Soak the beans overnight and then cook them until almost tender in unsalted water. Put all ingredients, except for the parsley, in a crock pot (or you can bake the beans at 400 degrees F for forty minutes) and cook until beans are tender and sauce is thick. Once dish is ready, stir in parsley and serve hot (or, for a more traditional dish, serve the bean stew at room temperature with thick slices of Greek or Italian bread).

A Novel Delight: Bean Porridge

“It is the fashion nowadays to descry this staple food of our grandmothers,” the author of an 1889 Good Housekeeping article confesses of the bean. “Beans are said to be coarse, indigestible,” she continues, “[and] only suitable for the laboring classes.” Yet she also admits that the humble bean possesses many virtues: “they are most nutritious, appetizing, healthful and economical, not only for stout men and boys, but for delicate women and children as well.” A pound of beans “contains nearly six ounces of heat-producing properties and half an ounce of flesh-forming food.”

The author ends her “dissertation on beans” by urging the reader to try a most unusual dish capable of producing a “novel sensation of delight”: bean porridge. Cheap and nourishing, bean porridge will have husbands and growing boys calling for it “again and again.” And how does one prepare this wonderful and economical dish? The recipe is copied below.

Bean Porridge

In the beginning, wash five pounds of corned beef, put it in a kettle of cold water, let it heat slowly and simmer gently all day. At night remove the pot from the stove, so that the fat may harden at the top and be removed. Whether you remove the beef at night or wait till morning is optional, since the beef’s mission to the porridge is ended with the day’s boiling. If, however, you leave it in over night and then press it carefully, it has rather a better flavor and makes a delicious cold relish for breakfast or lunch, all which you have in addition to your porridge,–another item to score in favor of its economy.

Also pick over and put to soak one and one-half cupful of beans. Next morning remove the cake of fat from the liquor in the pot, add to it the beans, well rinsed, and two cupfuls of yellow hominy from which the hulls have been washed. Set all on the back of the stove and let it barely simmer for hours and hours, watching it carefully and stirring often, so that it will not burn. If it boils hard it will not be fit to eat. It is best to keep it just below the boiling point, without the slightest ebullition possible. A little bicarbonate of potash [baking soda] added to the porridge will make it more digestible, but is not absolutely necessary. After it has cooked five or six hours you may, if you cannot possibly wait for your new sensation, try a little for lunch the very same day. [The stew should, before serving,] be rubbed through a colander. It will form a very rich, thick puree.

Pease Pudding Hot

“Pease pudding hot, Pease pudding cold,
Pease pudding in the pot–nine days old.
Some like it hot, some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot, nine days old.”

While the origins of “Pease Pudding Hot” are unknown, the dish described in the rhyme is a thick, smooth paste made from dried peas or lentils. Traditionally served with boiled bacon or a type of sausage called a saveloy, it appeared frequently on the tables of the lower classes, where, more often than was desired, it sat in a pot for nine days (or more), heated and then reheated until finished off.

Was nine-day-old pease pudding palatable, you ask? The July 24, 1884 edition of Knowledge, An Illustrated Magazine of Science reports that aged pease pudding was, in fact, a great treat. It mentions a reader who “has seven dishes of [pease pudding] in his larder, corresponding to the days of the week [and] each being seven days old.” The brave reader claims old pease pudding is easier to digest than new. The editor of Knowledge, however, warns the nursery rhyme offers sage advice: Nine days is the limit pease pudding can be kept in a larder before it’s likely to make the unwary diner ill.

The following recipe for pease pudding comes from Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell’s The New Family Receipt-Book (1810). Serve pease pudding with boiled pork or, if you are vegetarian, by itself. Do not, however, keep your pease pudding for more than a day or two without refrigeration.

Pease Pudding Hot

Take a pint of yellow split pease, and after tying them loosely in a cloth, boil them in water until they become tender. Then rub them through a cullender [colander] or hair sieve [sieve], and add to the pulp a bit of butter, a spoonful of cream, two eggs, and white pepper and salt. After being uniformly mixed, put the pease into a cloth; tie tightly, and boil for the space of half an hour, to make the ingredients set.