Unlike at U.S. universities, there was no cafeteria or meal plan available, so we all had to get our own meals. And as was the case for most of our dorm-mates, my husband had left home with non-existent cooking skills.
Add to that the fact that most of us were trying to get by on tight student budgets, and it’s easy to understand that we would do whatever we could to save money on food and still eat.
Suffice it to say that I saw some interesting and, shall we say, “creative” concoctions in that dorm kitchen during the time I lived there. Sometimes dinner consisted of a can of herring in tomato sauce served over pasta.
Yes, even though I grew up cooking for my large family from an early age and had a wealth of kitchen and cooking experience by comparison to my fellow students, I was also still just a young person trying to find my way for the first time as an independent adult.
In a foreign country, no less.
But that type of eating got old pretty darned quickly, so most of us soon expanded our repertoire of recipes. I began to call upon more of the meals I grew up with, and everyone else soon figured out the basics of cooking in order to put some of their childhood favorites on the table.
There was a lot of trial and error, but over time skills improved dramatically, and I shared many delicious meals and cuisine from around the world.
This hearty, satisfying, and cheap stew was one of the first meals my husband – then boy friend – cooked for me.
In Cyprus they refer to it as “red beans” to differentiate it from another bean meal that has a clear broth. It perfectly represents the simple, nutritious, and economical fare that makes the Mediterranean diet such a favorite one.
From start to finish, the meal takes about 30-40 minutes. Actual prep time is about 15. The stew itself serves 8 and costs only about $7-8, so less than $1 per serving.
With a tossed green salad and a nice loaf of whole grain bread, the cost is still less than $1.50 per serving. A great meal for pennies.
Here’s the recipe:
Makes approximately 8-10 hearty servings
Total prep time – Approx. 15-20 minutes
Start to finish time – Approx. 30-40 minutes
Total recipe cost – Approx. $8.00
Total per person meal cost, with whole grain fresh bread and tossed salad – Approx. $1.50
2-3 tablespoons canola or olive oil
3-4 14-16 ounce cans white cannellini beans
1 can tomato paste (6-ounce size), plus 2 cups of water
OR 1 28-32-ounce can tomato puree or crushed tomatoes
1 large or 2 medium onions
2-3 large potatoes
5 medium/large carrots
3 stalks celery
3 cloves garlic
4 cups water
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
Bunch of fresh parsley (optional)
Canned sardines, anchovies, or mackerel (optional)
Recipe continues below pictures
- Peel and dice the onion(s). Set aside.
- Wash and dice the 3 stalks of celery and set aside with the onions.
- Peel and chop or mince the 3 cloves of garlic and set aside.
- Wash and scrub or peel the 2-3 large potatoes, and cut into approximately ½-inch chunks. This should make about 3 cups. Set aside.
- Wash and scrub the 5 large carrots, and slice crosswise into 1/2 inch chunks. This should make about 2 cups. Set the carrots aside with the potatoes.
- Heat the 2-3 tablespoons of oil over medium heat for 1-2 minutes in a large pot with a minimum 6 quart capacity. Stir in the onions and celery and sauté for 5-8 minutes or until the onions are becoming translucent. Stir frequently.
- Scrape the garlic into the onion and celery mixture and sauté for about 1 minute, stirring frequently.
- Add the 4 cups of water, the potatoes, carrots, and ½ teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper to the mixture and stir to mix well.
- Cover the pan and turn the burner to high heat. Bring the contents to a boil. Once the stew is boiling, reduce the temperature to medium or low to maintain a steady simmer. Keep the stew covered and allow it to simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
- While the stew is cooking, drain the beans and mix the 6-ounce can of tomato paste and the 2 cups of water and stir until smooth and well blended to make puree.
- Now is also a good time to wash and chop the parsley coarsely to make about ½ cup.
- When the vegetables are tender, stir in the tomato puree or other tomato product until well blended and return the contents to a simmer for about 5-10 minutes.
- Add the 4 cans of drained beans to the stew and stir to blend well. Allow to heat through for about 5 minutes.
- Ladle the stew into bowls and sprinkle the fresh parsley on top (optional).
- Serve it along with a tossed salad and a nice loaf of fresh, whole grain bread. As an option, you can also serve it with the canned sardines or other fish. That is the traditional Greek way, but the meal is delicious and nutritious as is.