Friday, 23 October 2009

FASSOLATHA or FASOLADA IS GREEK FOR BEAN SOUP!

Fassolatha is the Greek word for bean soup. This traditional soup is a meal that is simple to make, easy on the budget, and big on deliciousness. A favourite winter food, it warms one up on a cold day! 



Very nutritious, beans contain almost no fat, are high in protein, fibre, complex carbohydrates, and are a great source of calcium, potassium, B vitamins, and iron. How perfect is that? Considering beans were one of the first crops to be cultivated by humans, they have played an integral part in the development of civilization. 

Fassolatha is a staple in Greek cuisine. I would call it Greek soul food. I would also call it the Greek national dish. Greeks not only savour a bowl of fassolatha, they respect it! Stories of hard times abound in Greece, times when folk would have beans to eat and nothing else. During the World War II years, for example, people would stow away a sack or two of beans for soup to help them make it through the winter. My older relatives would often recount stories of their experience during the brutal nazi occupation of Greece, and they would tell me how they staved off famine through a steady diet of fassolatha. My father has said that to have had beans to eat during the war was like having gold! 

Of course, during those times the soup was made without any oil; there was no oil available, therefore Greeks used just plain water. My mother told me that she didn't see a single olive for all the years of the nazi occupation, something I find to be an unsettling fact in a nation that produces high amounts of both olives and olive oil. Regrettably, most everything produced by Greeks was appropriated by the nazis. And yet, and yet ... fassolatha kept the Greek population going and resisting. Thyme and oregano grew wild on the hillsides, and the Greeks would pick them, and they would pick whatever other greens grew wild, and along with beans, they would have a war-time feast. 

Unfortunately, famine still exists in the world, and there are people (even in the good old USA), who do not have the means to supply food for their family. Among all the inequities in the world, this is one of the most horrible and painful. 

I always have a certain amount of reverence and love in my heart when I make this soup. It is Greek soul food, and much like American soul food, it has been on the table in good times and in bad, in times of plenty and in times of want.

Ingredients:


  • 1/4 olive oil
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 3 ribs of celery, leaves included, chopped
  • 2 or 3 carrots, chopped 
  • 1 bell pepper, diced 
  • optional: a small hot pepper, sliced
  • tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped or use canned whole tomatoes: I'll let you decide on the amount
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 1 pound dried beans which have been rinsed, soaked overnight, and drained 
  • 6 cups water, and go ahead, substitute vegetable broth for some of the water, but make sure its salt content is low: beans will taste better when cooked fully before adding salt. 
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • another 1/4 cup olive oil


Directions:

  • In a soup pot heat 1/4 cup of olive oil and add the onions, celery, pepper, and carrots.
  • Saute until the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes and stir for about two minutes.
  • Add the black pepper, thyme, rosemary, and oregano. 
  • Carefully fold in the beans.
  • Add the liquid and bring to a boil. 
  • Lower the heat and simmer for about one and a half hour: cook until the beans are soft. 
  • It was my mother's idea to start using canned beans. It's faster and convenient she said, plus "if they already soften them for us, why should I bother soaking them overnight?" However, what really prompted her to start experimenting with canned beans was that the dried ones in the US do not have a flavour or substance similar to those in Greece. But somehow, the canned ones fit the bill perfectly. If you will use dried beans check the expiration date: when dried beans have been hanging on the shelf too long, they will never soften no matter how long they are cooked for. 
  • About 10 minutes before turning off the heat add the parsley, the other 1/4 cup of olive oil, and salt to taste. Remember that salt always gets added last. 
Sometimes the soup is accompanied with lemon slices. 

Serve with some nice fresh bread and a salad, or ... Today, while the soup was cooking I decided to make some (Greek-style) empanadas for accompaniment. They turned out delicious! 

Greek-Style Feta Cheese Empanadas!





To make these empanadas you will need a package of ready-made empanada disks. A good brand to buy is the one from "Goya Foods," found in your grocer's freezer. There are ten empanada disks per package. Defrost according to instructions. 

Additional ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup of crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup of ricotta cheese
  • 2 Kalamata olives pitted and diced (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint 
  • A little olive oil and some Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Some water and a pastry brush


Directions:
  • Preheat the oven to 350-degrees F/180-degrees C. 
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Make a cheese stuffing by mixing all the ingredients.
  • Take an empanada disk and using a brush, wet its circumference with a bit of water.
  • Place about a tablespoon of the stuffing on one half of the disk.  
  • Fold over the other half, joining it to create a half moon shape. 
  • The water you've used will make the two layers of dough adhere to themselves. Create a decorative edging using the tines of a fork. 
  • Place the empanada on your prepared baking sheet 
  • Repeat!
  • Brush the tops with some olive oil and sprinkle Pecorino Romano cheese as a topping. 
  • Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the dough develops a nice crust. 
  • These are not traditional empanadas, but the combination of cheeses and the fact that they are baked and not fried makes them irresistible. They are reminiscent of a Greek tyropita.