Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Broad Beans (Κουκιά)

Since I can't cook easily in my own home due to renovations, this is a chance for me to showcase some of my friends' cooking, especially since it's unlikely that I'm going to cook these special dishes myself.

As much as I want to grow as many plant varieties in my garden as possible, it is often the case that we get a lot of vegetables leftover, and there are so many left over, to the point that we find it difficult to eat it all ourselves. We preserve what we can, we give as much as possible away, but we still get left with a lot of fresh produce that we can't always get through. So I was kind of glad this year that we didn't plant spring crops like broad beans - I've still got a few summer beans in the deep freeze!

My friend Eirini is a big fan of broad beans, something she gets to eat when she spends time with her parents at their village in Hania. They are given to her by various people who are also growing a lot of crops in their small but bountiful gardens, which goes to show how easy it is to get things to grow in Crete. It's difficult not to get something edible to grow here.

Broad beans are enjoyed completely fresh, like a snack. You just peel the skin off and eat them as they are. When we cook them, they are usually boiled, with the top part (the black vein) removed. Boiled broad beans are eaten with boiled greens, and dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and salt.

Ascrolimbi and broad beans
A favorite of Eirini's is fresh immature broad bean pods, fried in olive oil after being dusted with flour. With a pinch of sea salt, they are like eating bean chips. It's a treat to enjoy such a dish and it isn't commonly known or eaten these days - you really need to be a grower to have it, as immature bean pods are rarely sold.

Fried immature broad bean pods
But the king of broad bean dishes in Crete is when they are cooked with artichokes. The sauce they are stewed in can be lemon-based or tomato-based - in fact, many Greek dishes are basically based on either lemon or tomato (which are usually not combined), and nearly all dishes have both a lemon and tomato variant.

Here is what Eirini says about this dish: "Snails, artichokes and immature broad beans in the pod - we call it derbiyie (derbiyedaki as my dad says it). Snail lovers will adore it from the first bite! This recipe was given to me last night when we went for a short walk with my father and a friend we met gave it to me. My father got the beans from the farmers' market. We had to search around a lot as the season for the baby broad beans is over. I was lucky and he found some for me. Broad beans were a favourite bean in my father's family when he was young. The best time to collect the baby broad beans is in early April. When they grow a bit you can make them 'derbiyie' (with lemon and flour). A very good match is artichokes - here, the snails are added too and make the dish a speciality. When the broad beans grow more you can have them bolied and eaten either with boiled artichokes or greens (horta)."
Broad beans and artichokes make a superb meal in combination, but when combined with one more particularly Cretan ingredient - the snail - they show how truly creative, local ans seasonal Cretan cuisine is. You cannot make this dish whenever you like - it has to be spring.

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