Wednesday, August 25, 2010

These Beans Are Greek to Me

How Greek is this dish? Heck if I know. I had it on vacation two weeks ago in a restaurant called Ethos. The hostess had a large swooping mane of platinum-colored hair and a flowy tiger-striped blouse. She kept the waiting list in her head and seemingly knew what every single person in the restaurant, whether staff or customer, was doing and what they needed next. She was born to be a maîtresse d’hôtel.

That staff of hers is great, too. Our server knew not only every dish, but every one of a dozen fish on the menu by their Greek and English names. Some of them were catch of the day. She knew all those fish well enough to have a favorite.

She brought a green bean dish with a sharpish-tasting tomato sauce. There was a subtly sweet, woodsy undertone to it, though, that I could not place. Finally I found and identified the culprit: whole allspice. Who would expect to find that at a Greek restaurant?

Well, when your mouth is full of something good, you don’t need to know what’s Greek. You just need to enjoy.

Ethos Green Beans
The allspice berries at Ethos were nearly tasteless, their deliciousness having escaped into the sauce via stewing. My guess is that the chef starts a batch of the sauce in the afternoon and then keeps it on the back burner all night. When the kitchen receives an order for this dish, maybe Chef scoops up a dollop of sauce, tosses in the beans and dill, and then simmers them tender while he or she makes the rest of the meal.

2 T olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups chopped tomatoes (I used a pint of cherry tomatoes plus one small beefsteak tomato)
½ cup white wine
3 allspice berries
A sprig of oregano
1 lb green beans
2-3 T chopped fresh dill
Salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a wide-bottomed, deep pan. Sauté the garlic and onion until translucent. Toss in the chopped tomatoes and fry them a bit until the pan starts to dry out. Add the wine, allspice, and oregano. Turn down the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for fifteen or twenty minutes. Check the pan often and throw in some water if things are getting too dry. It would be best if the dish could simmer on low heat for a long time, but if there isn’t time for that, cook it harder. The idea is for the tomatoes to break down into a thin sauce.

Throw in the green beans and the dill, stir, and cover the pan again. Let the pot stew, stirring occasionally, until the beans are quite tender, perhaps ten minutes or more. They will not be the bright green of steamed beans; they will start to turn olive-colored.
For the last minute or two, take the cover off the pan and check the thickness of the sauce. It should be thin but with some body, like gravy. You may need to let some extra water steam off.

Season to taste. Yum!


  1. Such a great way to use up the zillion tomatoes that decided to ripen at the same time ;)

  2. Definitely. All those cherry tomatoes! What else you gonna do with 'em?


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