Prespa Beans in Wine

I know this sounds odd, but have you ever had too much leftover wine? Open bottles, half (or less) full, are often corked and put on the shelf after a party or get together with friends. That wine goes into the category of “to be used for cooking”. Even then, you have to be sharp about using it. Over time, with exposure to oxygen, the wine first takes on sherry-like characteristics (an underlying hint of raisins) and then becomes flat and sour. When I used to make my own red wine vinegar, some (if not all) went into the pot to magically change with the help of the bacterial starter known as the mere de vinaigre. That homemade vinegar was really very special, but it requires time and effort to keep the pot going – things I don’t have in abundance here.

Now, after events, we often have a few of those half filled bottles floating around and I have been accumulating recipes that make use of the wine. Normally, that means beef in wine (a variant of the classic French boeuf bourguignon) or chicken in wine (a variant from another classic French recipe, coq au vin). But, we are in Orthodox Lent at the moment and there are guests at our dinner table who have given up meat. Hence, my beans in wine – more specifically large black beans from Prespa in the far north of Greece.

Prespa Beans in Wine
A variant on my beef in wine. If you cannot get the gigantic black Prespa beans, the best substitute for taste and texture are red kidney beans. This makes a wonderful stew and when served with rice, it becomes a complete meal.

Serves 10-12

  • 1kg Prespa beans (or red kidney beans)
  • Olive oil
  • 2 onions
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 700ml red wine
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons (= 1 heaped spoon) tomato paste
  • 200g kale
  • 500g mushrooms
  • salt and pepper

First soak the beans the day before you want to make the stew. After soaking, cook the beans in clean water, changing the water after 10 minutes once it comes to a boil. Let the beans cook until soft, but not completely mushy – may take as much as 45 minutes to an hour. Drain the beans and set them aside while you make the sauce.

In a large pot, sautée the chopped onions in a little olive oil until they begin to turn golden. Add the mashed garlic and then sprinkle on the flour. Stir until the flour is coated in the oil. Add the wine, stock, bay leaf, thyme and tomato paste. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat to a simmer and let it cook for about half an hour. The sauce should thicken slightly.

Clean and cut your mushrooms into halves (if small) or quarters (if large). Sautée these in separate pan. When they are part cooked, add these and the cleaned, finely chopped kale (minus the tough mid rib) to the sauce. Stir and let it cook for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are completely cooked. Add the beans and coat them all over with the sauce. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil again and then lower the temperature to let it simmer for another 15 minutes while the beans get up to temperature.

Can be served immediately over rice, although the flavour – like most stews – improved when let to meld for 24 hours. Refrigerate if waiting. Or, freeze in packets for smaller meals later.

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Buying Beans by the shore of Lake Prespa

I’ve blogged about these iconic black beans before with a traditional recipe for Prespa Bean Salad. That previous post contains some interesting information on that beautiful and special area of Greece.

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