Santorini Fava with Caramelized Onions and Capers

Adapted from Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts

Braised capers are an ideal topping for the local fava, the trademark dish of Santorini. Today Santorini Fava is served as a meze at taverns throughout Greece, usually prepared with mashed, imported yellow split peas (dal), dressed simply with fruity olive oil, topped with sliced onions and dried Greek oregano.  In the old days, though, fava was made from dried fava beans and/or from an indigenous, ancient legume, a variant of Lathyrus sativus (chickling vetch or grass pea), called cicerchia in Italian and almorta in Spanish.

Inspired chef Dimitris Mavrakis, in Kritamon, his wonderful restaurant in Archanes, Crete, makes fava with a combination of legumes: dried fava beans, split peas and some lentils, and the flavor of the pureed beans is wonderful, even without any topping (see variation).

8-10 Meze servings

For the Fava

3              tablespoons olive oil

1              medium onion, finely chopped

2              teaspoons salt

2              cups yellow split peas

OR a combination of dried fava beans (skinned), together with yellow and green split peas, plus a handful of lentils, picked over and rinsed

2              bay leaves

1              tablespoon turmeric, if you use ONLY yellow split peas

For the Onion-Caper Topping

1              cup good-quality medium or large capers, preferably salt-packed

1/2 – 2/3 cup olive oil

3              cups halved and thinly sliced purple onions

1              cup sweet red wine, such as Mavrodaphne or sweet Marsala

2–3         tablespoons good red wine vinegar (optional if using brine-packed capers)

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Maraş pepper flakes or freshly ground black pepper, dried oregano, pink peppercorns or any other flavoring you choose.

 

Cook the split peas or other legumes: Heat the olive oil in a skillet, add the onion, sprinkle with salt and sauté for about 5 minutes, until just soft.  Place the split peas in a large pot, add the sautéed onions with their oil, cover with water by 4 inches and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, skimming often, for 5 minutes.

Add the turmeric (if using) and bay leaves, simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add a little warm water, if needed, to keep the peas covered as they cook. The peas are done when they are very soft and almost dry. Puree with an immersion blender or transfer to a food processor and process. Let the puree cool completely; it will thicken considerably.

(Can be prepared to this point up to 3 days in advance. Store covered in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.)

The Onion-caper topping: If using salt-packed capers, place them in a colander and rinse under lukewarm running water for 2-3 minutes, or until they lose their excessive saltiness. If using brine-packed capers, rinse them well to remove most of their tartness. Dry the capers on paper towels.

In a deep skillet heat 1/4 cup of the oil and sauté the onions over medium heat, tossing often until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the capers and the remaining oil and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the apers start to sizzle. Pour in the wine and cook for 1 minute. Add a ½ cup of water, reduce the heat to low and cook for 8 minutes.

Turn the heat to high and cook, stirring, until the water has evaporated, and the onions start to caramelize.  Remove from the heat and add vinegar and pepper to taste; you may not need to add vinegar if using capers that were packed in brine. Let cool before serving.

(The capers and onions can be made up to 3 days in advance, covered and refrigerated; bring to room temperature before serving.)

To serve: Transfer the cooled split pea purée to a shallow bowl and spread it with a spoon, leaving about a 1 inch space all around from the edge of the bowl and the purée.  Use the spoon to create a well in the center of the purée.  Spread the onion-caper topping in and around the well. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with Maraş or black pepper, if you like.

VARIATION: Instead of Onion-Caper topping, you can just dress the pureed legumes with chopped onion and dried oregano or any other herb, maybe adding a few capers, then drizzle with very fruity olive oil, and sprinkle with freshly ground pepper to taste. This is the most common way fava is served in Greek taverns, and it is particularly delicious if the puree is made with a combination of legumes: fava beans, yellow and green split peas, and maybe some lentils as chef Dimitris Mavrakis prepares the chunky fava he serves at his restaurant Kritamon, adding instead of capers, a sprig of pickled kritamon (rock samphire) the salty, lightly aromatic plant that grows next to the sea.

 

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