Rovitsa: the Exotic Mung Beans!

Between the rich feasts of Christmas and the New Year, this humble yet delicious mung bean soup is what I would love to cook and eat!

Last year a friend of mine, a Greek-American retired archeologist who lives permanently in Kea and travels often with her husband all over Greece, brought me a bag of mung beans from the north, thinking that she had discovered a new kind of indigenous bean. She hadn’t seen them in the market before as they seem to be half-forgotten now after they created a sensation in the ‘80ies. My friend, like many others, didn’t know that this ancient Asian bean called rovitsa (pron. rov-EE-tsah) in Greek was “recently moved from the genusPhaseolus to Vigna,” according to Wikipedia, and was first domesticated in Mongolia where it occurs wild. In Punjab and other parts of India archaeologists have found evidence of cultivated mung beans dating back 4,500 years!

And while here we most often treat mung beans just like we would our common lentils to make soups and salads, in India, China and the Philippines mung beans –whole or peeled– are cooked in a myriad of ways, in stews or mixed with rice in various nourishing vegan dishes. They are also ground and used to make pancakes and patties. With the addition of sugar and coconut milk they become puddings, ice creams and even drinks.

Here I have adapted my mother’s simple recipe for lentil soup, a winter staple in our house for as long as I can remember. My mother added mustard to all the pulses believing that it helped tame the occasional digestive issues.

Somehow inspired by the bean’s origin I add turmeric and my mung beans become a richer and more flavorful soup than the original lentils!
Unfortunately these tiny green beans all not readily available in Kea…

Mung Bean Soup with Tomato and Turmeric

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