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Thursday, 10 January 2008

Fasolada (Φασολάδα)

Fasolada - bean soup - is the national dish of Greece. It is also one of the most nutritious meals you can have. It is vegetarian, and combines the healthiest parts of the Mediterranean diet: vagetables, pulses (beans) and olive oil. And it's easy to make. It keeps in the fridge for up to five days. In our house, it is on the menu every fortnight. If you like your food colourful, then bean soup is the most colourful of all the bean-pulse dishes of Greek cuisine.

In my Cretan kitchen, we even have a special name for it; faskolada. A few years ago, we took our very young children on a trip to London. It was the middle of March, and needless to say, it was freezing. How we managed to escape rain for ten days in London beats me, but the cold we experienced more than made up for the lack of precipitation in that year. Every morning, after a hearty breakfast, we would dress up the children warmly to take them out sightseeing with us; we never hired a babysitter. After they put on their palto (coat), we would say to them: "Kapelo, gantia, kaskol!" (hat, gloves, scarf), and we'd help them to put them on.

One day, my daughter, then barely 4 years old, couldn't find her scarf. She asked me: "Pou ine to faskol mou?" meaning to say "Pou ine to kaskol mou?", which translates to "Where's my scarf?" We liked her slip of the tongue so much, that we wanted to keep the newly coined 'scarf' word in use. In honour of Christine's linguistic misdemeanours, we have renamed fasolada to faskolada instead. Not funny? Lost in translation...

You need:
400g dry white navy (haricot) beans
1/2 cup of olive oil
1 large onion, grated
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
a small bunch (like a posy) of celery, chopped finely
a few sprigs of parsley, chopped finely
2 medium carrots, sliced in thin rounds
500g fresh tomato, pulped
1 teaspoon of tomato paste
salt, pepper and oregano
Boil some water in a large pot and pour the beans in. Let them cook for five minutes, then drain the water away and wash the beans. Apparently, beans contain certain toxins that can be eliminated by boiling them lightly in this way. You can use the same pot afterwards to heat the oil, and saute the onion and garlic in it. When they become translucent, add all the other ingredients (except the salt - it toughens dry beans and should be added towards the end of cooking time for best results) to the pot, and mix them into the oil. Add enough water to cover the pot with 3cm above the beans mixture and bring it to the boil. Cover the pot, turn the heat down to the minimum, and let the beans cook away for 1 1/2 hours.

If, after that time, the beans are still too tough for your liking to eat, you might try changing brands; let the beans cook longer, adding more water - you could also cook this soup more efficiently in a pressure cooker, something I have never used, as I still cook more or less the way a less modern Greek yiayia cook. It's all a matter of what you're used to. I let the beans cook for at least two hours, because everyone in my house likes them super soft. If there isn't enough water in the pot or the beans are starting to stick to the bottom of the pot, add some more, enough to cook the beans, not turn them into watery soup, as my husband dictates!


Saucy bean dishes are best served with some boiled eggs and cheese. They go especially well with leftover BBQ meat and fried fish. When serving the soup, squeeze some lemon juice over it for a tangier taste. Don't forget the crusty sourdough bread! Freeze individual servings or leftovers for a nourishing ready meal.

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