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Friday, 17 February 2012

Cheap 'n' Greek 'n' frugal: Fava (Φάβα)

Prices are in euro (valid in Hania). All ingredients are Greek or locally sourced; those marked with * are considered frugal here because they are cheap and/or people have their own supplies.  

One of the simplest grain dishes in traditional Greek cuisine is fava. Greek fava mustn't be confused with the meaning of the same word in other cultures; in Greece, fava is made with yellow split peas, not broad beans (κουκιά - koukia), which are also known as fava beans. fava needs very few cooking skills to make, and it's easy to digest. Its one fo the first legume dishes that children try.


Despite being a staple traditional Greek taverna dish, the fava pea is often imported. Greek fava is also sold alongside imported fava, and it's only slightly more expensive. Fava is well known in the cuisine of the island of Santorini, as a special kind of fava bean has been grown there, without irrigation, continuously for 3500 years. It's not easy to find this variety outside the island, and it's rather expensive. But don't fret: cheaper Greek-gron fava can be had - it's grown in an area of Corinth called Feneos, which is connected with Greece's ancient history. It's available at most supermarkets, especially now when Greek consumers are more aware of choosing Greek products over imported items.

I've always found it strange that fava is such a popular taverna favorite, as it is so easy to make. I often wonder if people eating it at a taverna don't cook it at home - or do they love it so much that they eat it everywhere all the time?! Greek fava looks very much like a dip rather than a one-dish meal, but most of the time, Greeks eat it as a meal at home, while it is usually a side dish at a taverna.

Fava is sold in 500g packets - that's a  lot of fava. But I still cook up the whole packet: one day, I will serve fava as the main lunch meal; the leftovers will form a side dish with the next day's meal.


You need
500g split dried yellow peas (~2.00 euro)
1 cup olive oil*
3 large onions (1 euro, including those you use for garnish)
salt and pepper*
For garnish: olive oil, finely chopped onion, parsley (carrot and celery sticks are also good when the meal is a side dish rather than a main meal)

Pour the packet of fava into a pot and cover it with water. Boil the fava for thirty minutes, then drain the water away and let the fava stand for half an hour for the peas to swell a little. Drain and rinse them, and toss in the roughly chopped onions, oil and seasonings (it's that simple). Cover the ingredients with water, to level up to 2cm above the peas. Bring the pot to the boil over moderate heat, turn down the heat to a low simmering point and let the fava boil away until all the water has evaporated and the peas have gone soft and mushy. NB: the beans will stick to the pot if you forget to stir them.

At this stage, you can put the mixture into a blender and turn it into a smooth paste, or leave as it is for a crunchier texture (I prefer the latter). Pour the mixture into individual plates and sprinkle with the garnishes. Fava can be served hot or cold, or warmed up the next day. Most people add a lot of olive oil to their own dish, but that depends on how fanatically devoted to the liquid you are. When serving fava as a side dish rather than a main meal, it is good with sausages or some other spicy grilled meat or fish.

For a slight twist to the garnishes, try sauteeing the onions in the olive oil garnish and adding some capers to them, before sprinkling them onto the fava. That's called φάβα παντρεμένη (fava pantremeni - 'married' fava). It's still cheap and Greek and frugal, and it won't cost you any more than using the raw garnishes!

Total cost of meal: about 3.00 euro - 500g of fava will yield about 6 average-sized main-meal portions (about 0.50 cents per person), or 10 dip-sized plates.


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