Around the corner from my office in DC there's a tiny storefront restaurant called, quite simply, "Greek Deli". It would be easy to miss, were it not for the long serpentine queue stretching all the way to the pavement, then turning 90-degrees and continuing on for a good distance more. Unsuspecting pedestrians are often corralled by the hungry ranks, eyeing the potential interlopers with suspicion as they push through towards their intended destination. You might think foul weather would dampen the resolve of the masses, and sometimes it does. But there are days when the promise of a carton of lush avgolemano soup is the only thing that gets you through the dull, grey drudgery of life in the city. And so you wait.
You take the full hour for lunch, and you spend most of that hour outside in the drizzle, the collar of your wool-coat hiked up and itching your neck because you left your scarf at home again. By the time you make it to the door, your coat smells, and you hate every person ahead of you. You stare at them through the stenciled door, they're smug and cozy, and also idiots. You didn't think this was possible, but you actually hate them more as they bumble through their orders.
And then, the door opens. A rush of warm air, saturated in olive oil hits you, and suddenly the last 40-minutes spent shivering in the cold are forgotten. The space is packed tight to the counter with customers. Behind the glass stands Kostas Fostieris. He looks like the captain of an old dory, with his fisherman's cap, leathery skin, and a beard as full as his belly. You watch him age through the pictures and news-clips crowding the walls. You're shocked by how little has changed. Aside from the color of his beard and the style of the suits, the scene around you perfectly mirrors the ones on display. Does he notice it too? Finally, it's your turn. But you were distracted by the photos and the baklava. "MEEEEEESSSS! MEEEEESS?" barks Kostas, and you realize that you haven't decided what to order. Now you're the one staring into the case of steaming lamb and salmon and brisket and spanakopita and moussaka and orzo and white beans and green beens like a tongue-tied nincompoop. The woman behind you sighs heavily, and someone from the back of the shop hisses "you've gotta be kidding." Suddenly you're very warm, you blurt out a list of six different items. Because overcompensation? Azzad is at the the register, more relaxed than his employer, he sneaks you a wink and a smile along with your giant white sack of food.
By the time you make it back out into the rain you're late for work. You take the shortcut through the alley, and a driver blares his horn at you for blocking his way. That girl across the hall gives you the stink eye as you slink into your office, and you can't really blame her. The conference call you were supposed to be on has already started and you hope no one notices the 'bloop' announcing your arrival. They say something about slide five, you mute your line. You, are very, very hungry. You rip open the sack, it's oil-stained now and making an even bigger mess of your desk. You start to ask yourself why you keep going there anyway, but the first bite of warm bread shuts you up before you can finish the thought.
The below is my rendition of one of my very favorite dishes from the Greek Deli. I've added kale to make the dish a bit more substantial, and would not be against throwing a fried egg on top for good measure. Serve with crusty bread.
Rustic Gigantes Beans with Kale
3/4 lb. dried large white beans
1/2 c olive oil
1/2 large sweet onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 c white wine
2 t fresh dill
1 16 oz can good Italian tomatoes, whole
2 c kale, chopped
2 oz Greek feta
Cook beans in salted water according to your preference until just shy of done. For me, this means a "power soak," followed by about 20 min. in the pressure cooker.
While beans are cooking, prepare tomato sauce. Pour tomatoes (including their juices) into a large bowl, and squish to break up into a nearly uniform consistency. Heat 1/4 c olive oil in a large sauté pan, cook onion until translucent, add garlic and cook 2 more minutes. Add wine and tomatoes, fill can half full with water to rinse out any additional juice and add that as well. Cook over high heat until reduced by almost half (you can always add water if it gets too concentrated, sauce should still be a bit soupy). Add beans, kale and dill, and season to taste, then stew until beans are tender. Stir in additional 1/4 c olive oil, and top with crumbled feta.