Vegetable main dishes abound in Greek cuisine. Those cooked in olive oil on the stovetop fall under the broader category of ladera (ladi means “olive oil”). They feature seasonal vegetables – usually one main vegetable is the star of each dish, with others adding flavor and color.
In the lead-up to Easter – when there is a traditional fasting period of 40 days and lots of new vegetables come into season – ladera dishes enter the spotlight. One of my favorites is fasolakia (the diminutive of fasoli, or “bean”), which features fresh green beans cooked in tomato sauce with a few potatoes, carrots and often zucchini.
It’s a dish that’s prepared all over Greece as well as in other Mediterranean countries like Turkey, with small variations. Although mainly a dish prepared at home – for me, it’s firmly in the realm of mom’s cooking – fasolakia can be found in Athenian tavernas as a daily special, particularly when green beans are in season.
Different varieties of green beans can be used in this recipe; I use flat green beans as opposed to round string beans. Whatever the variety, fresh is best. Just make sure the fresh beans are tender. Alternatively, fasolakia can be prepared with already trimmed frozen beans.
A lot of cooks often add a pinch of sugar to cut the acidity of the tomato sauce. My general approach is to use ripe tomatoes that are naturally sweet, and then I often add a sweet potato for extra flavor and sweetness.
You can play around with which herbs to include, although parsley is a must. Many cooks also choose to add mint.
1 kg flat green beans, fresh or frozen
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, halved and thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
1 kg grated fresh tomatoes
3 carrots, sliced
2 medium potatoes, halved and quartered
1 sweet potato halved and coarsely sliced
2 tsp tomato paste
½ cup chopped parsley
200 ml olive oil
100 ml hot water
Wash and trim the green beans. I like to cut them in half lengthwise when using flat green beans but you may skip this if you prefer (I also recommend skipping it if you’re using round string beans).
Place a large saucepan on medium high heat. Pour in 70 ml from the olive oil and when hot, sauté the onions. Once the onions soften, add in the garlic and bay leaf and gently stir. Add in the potatoes and sweet potatoes and stir for about 5 minutes while turning the potatoes – this will help them keep their shape. Add in the carrots and tomato paste, and mix with a spoon for another minute. Add in the green beans and season with salt. Carefully toss the beans for a few minutes, and when they all look slightly glossy from the oil, pour in the grated tomatoes. Season again with salt, add some pepper and pour in 100 ml of hot water.
As soon as it starts to boil, bring the heat down to low and leave uncovered. Let it gently simmer for about 50 minutes until the vegetables are cooked through. Add in the rest of the olive oil and parsley, mix and place on very low heat, uncovered, for another 5-10 minutes.
Taste the beans to make sure they are cooked, check that the sauce has thickened and the liquid is substantially reduced, and adjust seasoning if necessary. If it’s too watery (which can be the case depending on the beans you use), let it simmer for another 5 minutes.
Allow the dish to rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with fresh bread and feta cheese.
To convert metric measurements to US and British kitchen units, click here.
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