Beans in Greek Cooking
What would the Greek-Mediterranean cooking be without the plethora of healthy, delicious dishes based on Greek beans and legumes? The most ancient legumes are the lentil, chick pea, fava bean, and vetch, or split pea. All of which are still widely consumed in soups, stews and baked casseroles all over Greece. Greeks traditionally eat beans at least once a week. Famed Greek giant beans (“gigantes”) and white beans of varying sizes grow well in the fertile wet soil of Greece’s rainy North.
In Greece, despite its hard times, war and occupation, people considered themselves lucky to have a bowl of watery bean broth, fasolada. Α rich in carrots, celery, onions, tomato and virgin olive oil. Fasolada is often cited as the country’s most emblematic national dish.
Salads are ever-popular tavern staples year-round. Such as black-eyed peas, and dips like fava, made with split yellow peas.
Following is a short list and description of some of the most popular beans and pulses on the Greek table:
- Broad beans. Greeks call them koukia. In spring, they come to market fresh, and are almost always eaten shelled in stews, especially with artichokes, and in omelets.
- Fresh beans. These include fresh beans, including string beans, butter beans, runner beans, fresh black-eyed peas, flageolets, and cranberry beans. Most fresh beans in the Greek kitchen are cooked as “lathera”. This means over low heat for a long time with tomatoes, potatoes, and a lot of olive oil. Fresh black-eyed peas, called ambelofasoula in Greek, make for a delicious salad, with a little garlic and some fresh herbs.
- Dried beans. These make for delicious, hearty winter fare as well as for great salads.
- Gigantes. To begin with they are the most popular dried beans, or giant beans, which resemble lima or butter beans but are bigger. Secondly, they are made into casseroles baked with tomatoes and other vegetables. Sometimes they are served up simply boiled with a little olive oil, lemon juice and oregano.
- White Beans. Other, smaller white beans are cooked into stews and soups. This is the national bean soup, which is a melee of navy or cannelloni beans, tomatoes, celery, onions, and often hot pepper.
- Black-eyed peas. Dried black-eyed peas are often dispelled by Greeks who have vivid memories of World War II. Since the humble black-eyed pea sustained them through years of hunger.
- Lentils. Lentils are also common in the Greek kitchen, used in soups and pilafs.
- Finally, yellow split peas. Greeks call the yellow split pea fava. It is the staple food on the island of Santorini. There are many preparations. The most common is to simmer the yellow split peas until they become creamy and dense, like mashed potatoes. This is a classic Greek dish, usually topped with raw olive oil and raw onions.
Although Greeks consume many different kinds of beans and pulses, the oldest are no doubt the broad bean, the chick pea and the lentil, which have been savored all over the Mediterranean since time immemorial. Given the fact that pulses were the stable food of the poor and rarely formed part of lavish banquets. Legumes are said to be used throughout antiquity and constitute an essential dietary supplement, since they are an important source of protein. They serve as nutritious food for men and important source during famine. Some varieties of legumes were used medicinally in the Roman period. Legumes have the ability to fix nitrogen into usable form and makes it useful in the fields and in health.