I used to think vegetables are best when they’re still crunchy. Like pasta, al dente was the way to go. But that was until I encountered the Turkish concept of zeytinyağlı meze, olive oil based dishes, where vegetables are cooked in olive oil over a low heat until they’re completely soft.
And now, true convert that I am, I think there is something quite wonderful about vegetables that have become so soft they almost melt on your tongue. Of course the flavour needs to be there too, otherwise it’s just a sad old vegetable. But if the method used to get there is a good glug of olive oil, some onion, garlic and tomato – count me in.
Virtually any vegetable goes as far as zeytinyağlı meze are concerned but runner beans in olive oil is one of the most common and certainly among the most popular. In spite of its sometimes slightly underwhelming look, it is usually one of the first mezes to disappear from the table. It really is that good.
Zeytinyağlı mezeSmall vegetable dishes cooked in olive oil. Lots of olive oil.
In Turkey, runner beans cut at an angle are usually used. The Greeks have a similar dish using regular green beans (it’s called fasolakia giaxni), so if you can’t get hold of runner beans don’t worry. The flavour and texture will be slightly different, and personally I do prefer the runner beans for this, but it will nevertheless be delicious.
The beans are best eaten at room temperature, so allow at least half an hour for the beans to cool once cooked. The Turks are adamant that the beans should not leave their pot until they are at room temperature, so I daren’t do anything but listen to them. The beans keep well in the fridge, so make ahead if you must. But allow to come to room temperature or gently reheat before eating; being fridge cold does the dish no favours.
The delicate flavours makes this dish highly versatile. Serve as part of a selection of mezes, as dinner with rice and chickpeas, or a side dish with meat or fish. For example. Serves four as a side dish.
- 500 g runner beans
- 5 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tsp sugar
- 200 g tomatoes, chopped (tinned or fresh; if using fresh, peel the tomatoes first and you’ll need two regular-sized ones)
- 50 ml water
- extra virgin oil, to serve
- salt and black pepper
- Rinse and dry the beans. Cut or break off the ends and any string running alongside the edges of the bean. Cut in c. 5×1 cm strips at an angle. If using regular beans, top and tail and use whole or cut in half.
- Fry the onion in a large pan or pot on medium heat until the onion is softened but not browned, 10-12 minutes. Stir regularly.
- Add garlic, sugar and some salt and fry for another minute, stirring continuously. Add the beans, tomatoes and water. Stir well. Put a lid on and let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add extra water if necessary.
- Remove the lid and continue to simmer until the water has evaporated and the beans are completely soft, 10-20 minutes. Season.
- Take off the heat, put the lid back on and let rest until the beans have reached room temperature. Serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on top.
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