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Lima Beans with Spinach in the Oven

Cuisine: Greek
Region: Epirus

This is a traditional recipe from Greece’s North West, a region called Epirus. It is highly nutritional, very healthy and a complete meal on its own. Omitting feta cheese turns it to vegan.

Serves 8
Cooking time: 60 – 80 min
You will need: an oven pan and a pot

Ingredients​

  • 1 Kg (2 Lbs) of spinach
  • 1/2 Kg (1 Lb) Lima beans
  • 1/2 Kg (1 Lb) of feta cheese (optional)
  • 1 medium or small leek
  • 1 bunch of dill
  • 3-4 branches of green onion (or however many the bunch has)
  • 1 kg (2 Lbs) of diced tomatoes (fresh when in season, or canned from a brand you trust).
  • 1 + 1/2 glasses (cups) of olive oil
  • 1 cup of bread crumbs
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Soak the Lima beans in cold water for at least 12 hrs (overnight) or more.
  2. Then, discard the water the beans were soaking in, add fresh cold water in a pot, add the beans and cook them in salted water for about 90 min. Strain them when done.
  3. Preheat the oven at 200C / 400F so that it’s hot when the pan is going to go in.
  4. While the beans are cooking and the oven is heating, wash the spinach, strain it and chop it thin.
  5. Do the same with the green onions, the leak, the dill and the tomatoes. 
  6. Optional: take half of the feta cheese (250gr, 1/2 Lb), crumble it with your hands and mix the cheese and all the greens (not the tomatoes) in a bowl. Mix them well.
  7. Select an appropriate pan, smear its bottom with olive oil.
  8. Put in the pan half of the “greens” mixture. This is the bottom “greens” layer.
  9. Arrange the cooked Lima beans in a layer, on top of the bottom “greens” layer.
  10. On top of the beans add the rest of the greens – this is the top layer.
  11. On top of that, add the diced tomatoes, the rest of the feta cheese as a sparse layer, the olive oil and, last, the bread crumbs (in that order). 
  12. Put the pan in the oven and do something else for the next 60 to 80 min (or more, or less, depending on your oven – electric, gas, convection, etc.) 
  13. You know it’s done when the majority of the watery liquid is reduced.

Notes on Lima Beans with Spinach in the Oven

  • For bread crumbs: toast some old bread in the toaster and then just… smash it to pieces. (It works! 🙂
  • If you use canned tomatoes, the ingredients listed on the side of the can should contain nothing more than tomatoes/tomato juice and/or citric or ascorbic acid.
  • You can scale this recipe by half or more.
  • Omitting feta cheese turns the dish to Vegan and Lenten
  • This is a “better the next day” dish. 🙂

Nutritional and Chemical Analysis: Lima Beans with Spinach in the Oven

by Anastasios Varvoglis, Professor Emeritus, Organic Chemistry, University of Thessaloniki, Greece.

Notes on the Recipe

For best results try using big king size beans, such as large white runner beans. However, lima and other beans are also suitable.

Soaking overnight in cold water is necessary for all dishes with pulse because water activates dormant enzymes which soften the bean. In this way cooking time is significantly shortened saving energy and potential destruction of some heat-sensitive components.

Soaking removes also an unwanted sugar, raffinose, which causes digestive problems in some people. Therefore it is necessary to discard soaking water and boil in fresh water which should be drained thoroughly.

Nutritive value of the five main ingredients

Beans, feta cheese and olive oil give protein, carbohydrates and fat, all of very good quality. Spinach and tomatoes contain many micronutrients and contribute significantly to a healthy diet as well as to the overall flavor, along with onions, dill and leak.

A. Cooked beans

Macronutrients: good quality protein (rich in essential amino acids); good quality carbohydrates, i.e. of low glycemic index (mainly starch and fibers); fiber, soluble and non-soluble.

Micronutrients: phytosterols, flavonoids, lecithine, vitamins (thiamine, folic acid), trace elements (copper, magnesium, iron). It is useful to know that, despite the high iron content, the element is hardly absorbed by our body when is present in pulses and vegetables in general.

B. Cooked spinach

Spinach is of course the wonder-vegetable with very high quantities of many valuable micronutrients. Among them are: lipoic acid, lutein, beta-carotene, coenzyme Q10, lecithin (or its equivalent choline), and several vitamins (especially folic acid) and metals.

Tip. Boil spinach in plenty of water to remove unwanted oxalic acid. Baby spinach is preferable than ordinary.

C. Cooked tomatoes

Tomatoes are rich in micronutrients, especially lycopene and flavonoids. Lycopene is the red pigment with antioxidant character, although alone (as dietary supplement) is not beneficial. Flavonoids are also antioxidants and thought to work more efficiently. A recent research revealed that nitrates which are abundant (also in spinach) and were thought to be unhealthy, are actually beneficial to health.

Tip. Tomato flavor is richer when tomatoes are in season. When out of season, try to use a trusted brand of canned tomatoes.

D. Cooked olive oil

Olive oil is probably the best vegetable oil concerning both health and taste profile. Its value is centred in the quality of unsaturated acids and the variety of phenolic compounds.

Tip. Extra virgin olive oil should be the first choice. Taste and flavor of olive oil vary greatly depending on several factors. Do not use olive oil for deep frying.

E. Feta cheese

Feta or feta style cheese is the only ingredient of animal origin, high in good quality protein, calcium, phosphorus and vitamins (especially B12). A special feature of sheep cheeses in general is their enhanced content in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which is most beneficial to health. On the bad side, feta cheese is high in cholesterol and salt. In Greece you can find this cheese in two variations: low salt and low fat “white cheese” which otherwise is feta, i.e. made from sheep milk.

Changes in the oven

Generally, an oven temperature of 180C/350F is high enough to bring about partial destruction of some vitamins, especially thiamine, folic acid and vitamin C.

Summary

This dish is both nutritious and healthy, with delicious taste; it ranks high in an all-vegetarian or vegan diet (when feta cheese is omitted).

More information about individual ingredients can be found in:

● Beans at http://beaninstitute.com/nutritional-value-of-dry-beans/
● Spinach at http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=43
● Olive oil at http://www.oliveoiltimes.com/olive-oil-health-benefits
● Tomatoes at http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/90/1/1.full
● Feta cheese at http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/dairy-and-egg-products/18/2 and at http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=121

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