White beans, similar to Italian cannellini – a New World legume – along with lentils and chickpeas were a staple of the impoverished Greek diet until the '70s. In my first grade school book, published right after the Second World War, there was a description of fassolàda (bean soup), often referred to as 'the Greek national dish,' surprisingly without tomato. I was shocked, as fassolàda is always made with tomatoes, or 'golden apples' as they were initially called, from the Italian word pomodoro. Tomatoes became a common household ingredient all over the country at the beginning of the 20th century, but they were slow to penetrate fassolàda, apparently. The fact that a tomato-less recipe for fassolàda endured for half a century after the introduction of tomatoes to the Greek kitchen shows the age and strong traditions behind the dish.
But times do change, and in this case for the better. Fassolàda means tomatoes, which 'make everything taste better,' as my grandmother used to say. My addition to the family recipe is the inclusion of turmeric, which deepens the flavor of all legumes. My mother added orange peel, when available, to most dishes with tomatoes, inspired by the days she had spent in Sparta in the southern Peloponnese, an area filled with orange and olive groves. She later started to add mustard to her fassolàda, claiming that it made the beans easier to digest. I have my doubts about the apothecary’s claim, but mustard certainly enhances the soup's flavor. I sometimes add chopped preserved lemon instead of the orange, omitting of reducing the amount of salt.