One of my favorite cookbooks is MEZE: Small Plates to Savor and Share from the Mediterranean Table by Diane Kochilas. Meze are, as the title suggests, small plates of food, eaten with friends. Meze is a broad category and can include almost anything; meats, seafood, vegetables, small savory pies, olives, cheeses, nuts – food in small amounts meant to be taken with drink and shared with sociable friends. I am not Greek nor have I been to Greece so my appreciation for this style of food stems, not from experience, but from a love of good straight forward food shared with friends. It strikes me that meze, in form, is similar to tapas or somewhere between what Americans would recognize as appetizers and snacks. In spirit, however, it seems more like a social communion.
This particular recipe caught my attention because I sometimes grow a large (giant?) lima bean called Christmas Lima and I was looking for some different ways to prepare them.
The Giant Beans of the original recipe are a white butter bean and are hard to find in Wisconsin and their growing season is too long for my garden to make growing my own impractical. But Christmas Limas grow fairly well here and actually show up in some of the food specialty shops in our area from time-to-time. Of course, I could always order the Giant Beans (or the Christmas Limas) from Rancho Gordo, supplier of hard to find beans and other specialty foods.
This recipe calls for pastourma (sometimes also spelled bastourma), a spiced dry-cured beef from Greece and Armenia. That definitely doesn’t show up in the markets around here, so the first time I made these beans I tried to come up with something that was readily available as a substitute for the pastourma – how about peppered beef jerky. Every gas station in Wisconsin has it and I image (but am probably wrong) that the texture is similar to pastourma. At any rate here’s my version of Giant Beans with Gas Station “Pastourma” – they may not look pretty but they sure taste good.
Christmas Lima Beans with Peppered Beef Jerky
8 oz. dried Christmas Lima beans
4 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, finely chopped
1 very large or 2 medium/large cloves garlic, minced
4 large roasted red bell peppers finely chopped, or
8 oz. jarred roasted bell peppers (I used Marzzetta brand which is widely available).
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 bay leaves
1-1/2 oz. peppered beef jerky, cut across the grain into 1/4″ strips
2 – 3 T. balsamic vinegar to taste
Soak the beans overnight in several inches of water to cover OR
bring beans and water to a boil for 2 minutes, turn off heat and cover. Let stand for 1 hour.
Drain the soaked beans and cover by two inches with fresh water. Add 1/2 T. salt. Bring to a boil and cook for about 1 hour or until al dente (cooking time will vary with the age of the beans – old beans take longer to cook). Drain and reserve the cooking liquid.
Meanwhile, saute the onion and garlic in 3 T. olive oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add bell peppers and continue to cook of low heat for several minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the beans and onion/pepper mix into an ovenproof baking dish. Add about a cup of reserved bean cooking liquid. Season with salt and pepper and bay leaves. Drizzle 1 T. olive oil over the top of the beans. Cover the baking dish and bake for 1 – 2 hours until the beans are very tender and creamy.
About 15 minutes before the beans are cooked through, add the beef jerky.
5 minutes before the beans are finished, add the balsamic vinegar. Adjust the seasonings if needed.
Serve hot or let the beans cool to room temperature.