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. See also how the kitchen and stove was in the 1950ies…
We love to eat fassolàda with feta cheese, but also with sardines in olive oil or any smoked fish. A simple bowl of olives is the custom in Greece during the days of Lent.
2 cups dried white beans, soaked overnight in water and drained, or 4 cups pre-cooked bean
1/2 cup olive oil
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
3 large garlic cloves, sliced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup green split peas (optional)
2-3 carrots, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 16-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice or 2 cups grated ripe tomatoes (see page 000)
1 tablespoon turmeric
Peel from half an orange, in 2 strips or 2-3 pieces preserved lemon, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1-2 teaspoons Maraş pepper or crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
2 cups coarsely chopped celery, preferably ‘wild’ (see note)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Extra-virgin olive oil to drizzle
1 lemon, quartered
Place the beans in a large pot and cover with plenty of water, about 3-4 inches. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook 5 minutes. Drain, discarding the cooking water. If you use pre-cooked beans omit this step.
In the pot warm the olive oil, add the sliced onion and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic, sauté one minute more then add the tomato paste and stir a few seconds. Add the peas, if you use them, along with the carrots and the precooked beans. Toss a few times and add the tomatoes, turmeric, orange peel, salt, Maraş pepper, celery, and 2 cups water.
Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, adding water as needed, until the beans are very tender, almost mushy. Add the mustard, taste and adjust the seasoning. Simmer for 5 minutes more, until the beans are just covered with broth.
Remove from the heat and serve, drizzling with extra-virgin olive oil.
Pass the lemon quarters so people can add a fresh, bright squeeze at the table, and also pass Maraş pepper to sprinkle over the beans.
If you use common celery add an extra 1/2 cup coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley with the mustard toward the end of cooking.
The leaf or ‘wild’ celery commonly used in Europe is strongly aromatic and looks like oversized flat leaf parsley. You can easily grow it in your garden or in pots. It is very different from American celery, which has long crunchy stalks, and wild celery is never eaten raw.
You can get leaf or ‘wild’ celery in Asian markets under the name kun choi or kin tsai. When you find it, buy it in quantity, wash it, coarsely chop it and keep it in zip-log bags in the freezer to use as needed. Unlike common celery, it does not keep long in the refrigerator.