The epitome of comforting, winter meal for Greeks, fassoláda is warming and filling. Prepared with the excellent ingredients from northern Greece that are now available, it becomes even more enticing!
I originally wrote and posted this seven years ago, as I was going through my first-grade school book published right after the Second World War. In it there was a description of fassoláda (bean soup), which was often referred to as ‘the Greek national dish’ in the old days. Surprisingly, the version in my book had no tomato! I was shocked, as fassoláda is always made with tomatoes as far as I can remember, but probably in those days canned tomatoes as well as tomato paste were not yet a common ingredient in all households. See also how the kitchen and stove looked in most parts of the country the 1950ies…
My revised recipe below is flavored with the wonderful Piperokama, the dried, smoked, hot peppers of Florina that our friend Naoumidis prepares. I am told that it will be soon available in the US, as are his other deeply flavored roasted peppers which you can order HERE and also HERE.
We love to eat fassolàda with feta cheese, but also with canned sardines in olive oil or any smoked fish.
A simple bowl of olives, and/or taramosalata is the custom during the days of Lent, preceding Christmas.
2 cups dried white beans, like cannelini, soaked overnight in water and drained, or 4 cups pre-cooked beans
2/3 cup olive oil
2 small onions, halved and thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
4 large garlic cloves, sliced
2 tablespoons (70 grams) tomato paste
3 medium-small carrots, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
One 16-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice or 2 cups grated ripe tomatoes
1 tablespoon turmeric
Peel from half an orange, in 2 strips or 2-3 pieces preserved lemon, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
2 teaspoons Piperokama, or Maraş (Aleppo) pepper, or crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
2 cups coarsely chopped celery, preferably ‘wild’ (see note)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Extra-virgin olive oil to drizzle
Fleur de sel, preferably from Kythera, to sprinkle
1 lemon, quartered, to serve (optional)
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 Piperokama or Maraş pepper, as well as good Fleur de sel, we use the one from Antheas, so diners can sprinkle more 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.