Some people are put off by the thought of eating lentils. I don't know if it is their smell or appearance, or a certain adverse feeling towards them, generated by some characters from a British 1980s sitcom called The Young Ones. Maybe it's because they do not know how to cook them without turning them into tasteless mush. Greek lentil soup resembles Indian dhal, but it is more liquidy. It is eaten with the same kind of accompaniments as dhal - freshly cut crispy vegetables like cabbage, carrots and cucumber, boiled eggs and feta or gruyere cheese. It also goes well with roasted meat or fish. I like to make a huge pot of it (or any other soupy bean meal) on Friday night so that we can eat it on Saturday when I'm out and about in town with the children; whatever is left is eaten on Monday with the leftovers of the Sunday roast. It's part of our weekly food plan.
Admittedly, fakes isn't as appealing to the eye as fasolada - it seems almost colourless in comparison. But it more than makes up for its lack of appearance in its taste. It is my children's favorite bean dish.
1/2 cup olive oil
2 large onions, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
400g fresh pureed tomato (or 1 tin of canned tomatoes)
1 teaspoon tomato paste
salt, pepper and oregano
Wash the lentils under cold running water in a colander. This is to remove the toxins (other beans need to be boiled for a few minutes before cooking, but lentils don't). Put the olive oil in a pot and brown the onion and garlic in it. Then add the washed lentils and the tomatos. I was lucky to have put away some freshly frozen pureed tomato picked in the summer from our garden. In the winter, if I haven't got any fresh tomato, I use the canned variety, with a little tomato paste. It works just as well. Add some salt, pepper and oregano; you can also add cumin or chili (if you prefer a more exotic taste- we just stick to the traditional Greek seasonings). Now add enough water to cover the lentils up to 4cm above the top. Cover the pot, and cook on a slow heat for two hours. Serve hot or warm, in a soup plate.
Admittedly, fakes are not used in many ways in Greece. They are used alone in bean soups, or as part of a medley of beans in a bean dish. You will rarely see a traditional Greek dish dressed up with lentils in the way a Westerner might throw a handful in a salad. One favorite variation of many cooks is to add a fistful of rice towards the end of the cooking time, in the same way as for black-eyed beans. This is called fakorizo. It gives the fakes a lighter, soupy taste. I used to do this for the children when they were young, but now we prefer them plain. If you do add the rice, bear in mind that rice tends to go mushy if kept in liquid, so if you serve it with rice, make sure you rinse off as much starch as possible form the rice by running cold water over the rice in a colander. This will help the rice to stabilise better once it is cooked, as well as it preserve it in better shape if you intend to serve it the day after cooking. When you are ready to serve the soup, squeeze some lemon juice (or vinegar - both are optional) over the soup once you have ladled it into individual soup plates. Serve hot with plenty of crisp vegetables, crusty bread and feta cheese (or fried fish, if you prefer a non-vegetarian version). We also eat it with guacomole. My daughter likes to break a piece of feta into small pieces straight into the soup. Yum, yum! Any leftovers? Freeze individual servings for some ready comfort food on difficult days.
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MORE BEAN RECIPES:
Chili con carne
String bean stew
Split yellow peas
Giant butter beans