Don’t worry, Beautiful People, I am not cooking elephants!
Ancient Greece is famous for great art, great culture, great poets and philosophers, and last but definitely not least, Alexander the Great.
There are many sculptural portraits of Alexander III of Macedonia, some of them idealized as was the prevalent style in the Golden Age of Greece, and some, perhaps, more accurate, but I have chosen this one, since to me, it expresses the character of a high-spirited, highly educated youth, a regent of a kingdom at the age of 16 and its ruler at 20. “There is nothing impossible to him who will try,” proclaimed a young king and proceeded to win battle after battle, without losing even one. To be sure, Greece, divided into independent city-states, has been weakened by centuries of constant wars: Athenians against Spartans, Athenians and Spartans against Thebans, Thebans against invading Persians, Athenians and Spartans against Thebans and Persians – I sometimes think they themselves got confused between friends and enemies. Yet Macedonia, in the North, kept neutral, until King Philip II decided to put an end to this nonsense by uniting the entire Greece under his rule. I hope you don’t believe everything you see in the movies, Beautiful People, because, contrary to a brutal savage portrayed by the passionate Val Kilmer in 2004 film Alexander, real King Philip was a true product of the Golden Age of Greece, a shrewd diplomat and a cultured man who chose Aristotle as his son’s tutor (Roisman and Worthington, 2010).
Sadly, King Philip was assassinated when Alexander was 20 years old, and the young king, who just recently expressed noble philosophical ideas, such as “Whatever possession we gain by our sword cannot be sure or lasting, but the love gained by kindness and moderation is certain and durable,” had to take over not only the kingdom of Macedonia, but also his father’s far reaching imperial plans. First on the list was the old enemy – Persia. Having successfully conquered “huge chunks of Western Asia and Egypt,” he “pressed on into the Indus valley” (https://www.history.com) where he came up up against unusual, terrorizing opposition:
War elephants, employed in India and Persia, but hitherto not seen elsewhere in Alexander’s world, did not prevent his cavalry and archers from winning the battle and capturing these “live tanks” (historical sources alternatively list various numbers of elephants involved, from 15 to 300). Alexander, acclaimed military genius, immediately recognized the advantage of using huge trained beasts and began utilizing them in further conquests. He was the one who introduced war elephants to Egypt.
This is a stage set for Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Aida at the Verona Opera Festival, held every summer at Arena di Verona, the 2000-year old Roman amphitheater. The festival started in 1913 with this opera, and to this day it is the most frequently performed one there, sometimes with live elephants and camels brought on stage for the famous Triumphal March (ibid.) However, the Metropolitan Opera House, which could not have elephants march across its stage, had to make do with live horses:
Still pretty impressive, isn’t it? To finish with legendary Alexander the Great, he died at the age of 32, and his death is still a mystery. Different accounts are given by prominent Ancient Greek historians, from Plutarch to Diodorus, with wine, poison, and poorly treated wound named as possible causes, yet the truth remains to be discovered.
There is no wine and definitely no poison in my savory tender Giant Greek Elephant beans.
These huge beauties, officially called Greek Elephants are grown in the only place in the world, Kastoria, Greece. I have never seen them in stores, but order them on Amazon or E-bay*. What you see is a variation on a traditional Greek dish Gigantes Plaki.
- 2 cups elephant beans (*lima beans could be used), dried
- 1 cup diced tomatoes
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, grated
- 2 celery sticks, chopped
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons agave
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 2 – 3 bay leaves
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Sprinkle of cinnamon
- 3 – 4 garlic cloves, diced
- Handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
- 2 cups of hot water
- Soak beans overnight in 6 cups of water, drain
- Sauté onion and garlic in Instant Pot or stove top until soft and translucent
- Add the rest of ingredients. Cook on Manual, Medium setting for 30 minutes
- Alternatively, add beans and hot water, cook stove top until tender. Remove, add the rest of ingredients, mix well, bake covered at 350 F for 30 minutes.
- Garnish with fresh cilantro.