Well clearly, it's January. I got to the gym yesterday morning and my god was it crowded! You can practically taste the hope in the air. So much ambition, so many plans. Resolutions abound.
It's the second week of January, so I trust we've moved past the "I only eat raw vegetables" phase and are drifting back to real life. By real life, I mean "it's 6:30 and I just got home and I'm hungry enough that if I don't eat actual dinner right now I'm gonna go medieval on the chocolate bar in the drawer." That kind of real life.
For days like those, consider this fasolakia. Faso-what? It's a Greek dish of green beans braised in tomato sauce. It's healthy. It's easy. Not only can you make it in advance, you should; it gets better with time. And - here's something you can't say about that many dishes made of green beans - it's addictive. It's also gluten-free and can be vegan very easily. What other boxes can I check?
I've no clue what's traditional - stovetop or oven. What I can tell you is that both work very well: the trick is to go low and slow. Gentle heat coaxes these green beans into velvety, sweet submission. The dish starts with onions and some herbs and spices, but tomatoes do a lot of the work here, transforming into a mellow, luscious sauce for the beans with just a few soft pieces left whole. I'm guessing the Greek way is to serve this atop rice, which soaks up the sauce. I just serve it as a vegetable alongside fish or a savory tart.
If I'm being honest, I should call these not-strictly-Greek green beans. My brother spent last year in Ankara, Turkey, and he brought me back a huge bag of the best urfa biber I've ever had. It's sweet and smokey, redolent of chocolate and berries. I've been putting it on everything, and these green beans were no exception. I love how it made an ordinary can of chopped tomatoes taste really special. If you don't have or can't find urfa biber, you can use any sweet-smelling chile or paprika. You may want to cut the quantity, though, if your chile is spicy; my urfa is pretty mild.
On serving them vegan: the first time I made these green beans, I forgot that I'd set aside some feta to sprinkle overtop. No one noticed, and the beans didn't suffer one little bit. They're so flavorful as is, they don't even need the cheese.
And while I'm dispensing tips, make a double batch, or even a triple. You can keep the beans in the fridge for at least a week with no problem, and they freeze beautifully as well. Hello, new favorite weekday lunch.
Fasolakia: Greek Braised Green Beans
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 large red onion, diced 3 cloves garlic, smashed and then chopped 2 tablespoons urfa biber or other very fragrant mild chile flakes (less if using something spicy) 1 1/2 lbs. green beans, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces 1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes or, if you'd like a more irregular texture (which I do), canned whole tomatoes that you cut or tear yourself 1 teaspoon dried oregano 1/2 cup chopped parsley 1/2 cup chopped dill 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese, optional
If using the oven, preheat to 285 degrees. If planning to cook on the stove, no need to preheat the oven.
In a large pot or deep pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add onion and a big pinch of salt, and cook until soft, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and chile flakes, stir to combine, and cook another minute or so.
Add green beans, tomatoes, oregano, another big pinch of salt, and a few grinds of the pepper mill, and stir a few times until everything is well mixed. Bring to a very gentle simmer over medium heat.
At this point, cover the pot, and either turn the heat down as low as it'll go, or stick the pot into your preheated oven, and cook the green beans until soft an velvety, about 1 hour. When the green beans are cooked, taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, or chile, to taste. To serve, reheat green beans to a very gentle simmer, then stir in parsley and dill, reserving a bit of each to sprinkle overtop. Finish with the rest of the fresh herbs and a sprinkle of feta, if using, and serve hot.
If not serving immediately, store green beans either at room temperature (for up to a few hours) or in the refrigerator (for several days). These green beans also freeze very well.