Ever heard of Gigantes Plaki? No it’s not some Greek, mythological monster from Jason and the Argonauts (remember that fabulous film?), although you could be forgiven for thinking so! They’re basically a version of Greek baked beans made with larger beans such as butter beans or lima beans in a typical, Greek sauce. The sauce is quite thick and the dish is hearty for the cooler times of the year in Greece, including on the islands.
Greece and the word cool? It is something we don’t actually associate with Greece. I am sure most of us envision a place which is perpetually sunny with seafood grills and lamb on the spit, enjoyed at a seaside taverna or under some sunny courtyard with vines overhead.
But it does actually cool off in Athens and the islands and the Greeks naturally have a great selection of cooler-climate meals to enjoy over the winter period. Think hearty vegetarian stews like our featured recipe, Greek baked beans.
In addition to the recipe for Gigantes Plaki, as those large and wonderful Greek baked beans are called in Greece, we also talk about those less well-known cooler months of the year and the typical, Greek dishes eaten during that time.
And if you are visiting the Greek Islands be prepared for many hotels and restaurants to be closed for maintenance. They same comment also applies to Cyprus.
Greek Winters and Diet
Despite our imaginations picturing Greece as a year-round, perfect climate it does actually cool off in Greece in the winter. Although not cold by North American and northern European standards, temperatures are cooler in Greek winters than in southern hemisphere winters in places like Australia, southern Africa and South America (except Patagonia).
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Average maximum temperatures in Athens during December, January and February are between 53 and 59 Fahrenheit (12 and 15 Celsius). Average minimums are under 48 Fahrenheit (9 Celsius) for 4 months of the year. November to March is also the wettest time of the year with an average of 8 ½ wet days per month.
On the islands, it is slightly warmer and dryer but still quite cool. Here are the weather statistics for Naxos. The Greeks consider this so cool most accommodation, eateries and tourist-oriented businesses on the islands close during the winter months. The same applies to Cyprus.
For sure you can still visit these islands during winter, but be prepared for most of the popular restaurants and accommodation options to be shut. This is the time for annual maintenance activities to be completed and maybe a well-deserved break for business owners to recover from a hectic summer.
And so what are some of the more-popular winter meals eaten during this time? Here is a list of popular dishes:
- Drunken pork;
- Beef stifado (or rabbit);
- Lamb kleftiko;
- Pastitsio (baked pasta dish). Pasta is incredibly popular in Greece; and
- Various hearty soups (usually containing beans and winter vegetables).
All of the above dishes are hearty fare for cooler days. When I looked at this list of classic, winter dishes, I realized that I knew just as many Greek, winter dishes as Greek, summer dishes. But somehow my mind was biased towards those summer dishes that I associated with the Greek Islands.
What do you think? Do you know those winter dishes? And how do you picture Greek food?
The bottom line is that Greek winter food is just as good as the summer food we typically associate with the Greek Islands.
Without further ado, here is today’s featured recipe.
Greek Baked Beans – Gigantes Plaki
No mucking around here. When the Greeks make baked beans they go for size and quality. Make these Greek baked beans from beautiful, white, butter beans or lima beans. There are no difficult ingredients to source for this recipe. It’s a typical, oven-cooked, vegetarian option with a total cooking time of 3 hours.
Different to their English cousins, Greek baked beans are cooked in a thicker sauce with more robust flavors. They also include other vegetables, such as celery and leeks to present a thicker dish. It is not unlike a thick version of soup.
The dish can be eaten standalone or as a side to accompany such dishes as drunken pork, roast lamb or beef stifado. It’s perfect fare for the cooler months. It’s also good for breakfast with baked or poached eggs.