This one is for Di, who very kindly brought me back some of Yiannis’s herbs from Kardamyli where she was holidaying recently. What a treat! And so very nice of her to think of me. Writing about Yiannis’s wonderful herbs and Kardamyli was one of the very first posts on the blog, just over four years ago – see here.
When the packet arrived in the post and I opened it, the most wonderful smell of the dried throumpi burst out of the careful packaging. It’s just amazing. You really can’t buy dried herbs anything like this here. As you’ll see from the labelling, like most herbs, throumpi is said to have healing properties as well as culinary ones, just as thyme has been used for centuries to help stomach upsets and lethargy; rosemary for muscle pain; basil as an antibacterial. We’ve all grown used to herbal teas, especially peppermint for digestion, chamomile to help sleep, and many others, so the use of herbs in this way is popular. However, I was looking to cook something special with this throumpi so I had a culinary use on my mind.
Throumpi is the Greek word for what we in UK know as Winter Savory. My research uncovered a common use of it with beans. The Greeks’ way of cooking large beans in a tomato sauce is a classic one. They tend to use gigantes, which are large butter beans, but as they’re not easily available here I settled for ordinary butter beans. Of course, I could have bought some dried ones, soaked them overnight and then cooked them for a couple of hours. But choosing to take the easy route, I bought two tins of organic butter beans – all ready to go! – from the supermarket.
Now i’m not a lazy cook by any means, as regular readers will recognise, but there are some things that I really can’t be bothered with – like cooking dried beans from scratch when there are perfectly good tinned ones! However, adapting Rick Stein’s recipe for these beans from his Rick Stein: From Venice to Istanbul book, I did at least use fresh tomatoes rather than tinned as he did. Nothing wrong with tinned tomatoes either – I use them a lot – but they felt wrong to me here. Remembering Kardamyli and thinking of the wonderful fresh produce in Greece, I wanted the freshness of fresh tomatoes. What I did love about Rick’s recipe was the idea – which he came across on his travels through Greece – of putting some greens into the mixture. In Greece they use horta – wild greens – but again not easily come by here. Rick suggests chard or spinach as an alternative. I went with spinach on the grounds that they had organic in Waitrose but the chard wasn’t. I was after health as well as taste to compliment those healthy but wonderfully fragrant herbs.
First of all I chopped ½ large onion and 2 cloves garlic and put in a large pot with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. While I allowed them to gently soften, I skinned 6 tomatoes (425g), cut out the woody core and chopped roughly. When the onions were soft I added ½ teaspoon sweet paprika, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste then tipped in the chopped tomatoes, 100g water and seasoned it all with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
I gave it all a good stir and then added a large pinch of the dried throumpi. (Good alternatives would be thyme or oregano.) Dried herbs need to be added early in the cooking; fresh towards the end (see here). Bring to the boil and then turn down and gently simmer for 30 minutes. Then add a large pack (240g) of spinach, stir through, and then tip in 2 x 400g tins of butter beans which you’ve first drained. Add another 2 tablespoons olive oil and then mix all together – gently so you don’t break up the beans.
At this point Rick puts his beans in a low oven, but I was already using the oven at a higher temperature to cook some chicken to go with the beans, so I continued to cook mine on top – but the oven option is there if you prefer. Whichever way you do it, cook gently for about 45 minutes so the sauce thickens and the beans take up the lovely flavours.
I roasted some chicken breast which I’d coated in olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and then sprinkled over more of the throumpi. I was aiming for the full throumpi experience! And it goes well with chicken.
It was a lovely supper and the fabulous flavour of the throumpi came through. The beans made a nice alternative side dish rather than the roast potatoes I might normally do with a roast chicken. And of course the greens were integral – though I did also have a green salad on the side.
I thought the beans would make a great supper on their own with just some good crusty bread to go with them. Or you could bake them with eggs cracked on top. They certainly take ‘beans in tomato sauce’ to a whole new level and you won’t want to open the tinned variety again after tasting these.