In praise of gigandes

A giant among beans

08/21/2012 7:39 PM

By Bill Motchan

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George Tsoukalas at Athena Greek Restaurant.

Nia Tsamis of Elea Mediterranean Food Market with a bag of dried gigandes.

A giant vegetable that would make the Jolly Green Giant green with envy.

In honor of this coming weekend’s Taste of Greektown, let’s take a moment to marvel at the gigante – or giant lima bean. Like gyros and saganaki, the beans can be found at many Greektown restaurants.

The kitchen at Athena at 212 S. Halsted has clearly mastered the dish. Athena will be one of the restaurants offering their delectable dishes during Taste of Greektown. The festival started in 1990 as a way of generating awareness for the neighborhood, said George Tsoukalas, one of the owners of Athena.

“Taste of Greektown helped introduce people to the area,” Tsoukalas said. “It brings people in from the suburbs, and tourists, too. It’s also benefitted because Greek restaurants have really exploded in popularity.”

Greek and Mediterranean cooking have many Chicago area fans, and they'll be in luck, as Athena will have its popular dishes available this weekend, including saganaki, gyros, pork and chicken shish kebabs, vegetarian moussaka and spanikopita.

Which brings us back to gigandes. They’re delicious, but challenging to work with. If you want to try your hand at cooking gigantes, you’ll need to plan a couple of days ahead.

The dry beans start out big but become positively huge after an overnight water bath. Well, giant, actually. Then, the cooking commences, also a day-long process. It’s worth the effort, though. Gigandes are delicious, and suitable for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

Oh, and if you decide to try cooking gigandes, you won’t have any luck finding them at a standard grocery store. Luckily, we have in the West Loop a great source for ingredients to cook any Greek dish, including gigandes. It’s Elea Mediterranean Food Market at 309 S. Halsted. You can find the classic gigande recipe here - javascript:nicTemp();

The easier choice is probably to order gigandes at Athena. The weather is perfect right now to sit outside in the restaurant’s open-air dining area. The renovation that included the new retractable roof earlier this year was the third since the restaurant opened in 1996, said Tsoukala.

“I say, the Bears may not have a retractable roof, but we do,” he said with a wink.

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