Greek Thyme and Bay Leaves - טימין יווני ועלי דפנה יווניים
Two summers ago Ken and I went to visit a dear friend whose family is from the Aegean island of Ikaria (Ικαρία). Legend has it, that Icarus fell into the waters off the island's shores when his wings melted flying too close to the sun. Hence, the name. Ikaria is very close to Samos, a larger and better known island. There is a long standing rivalry between them.
We took the ferry from Piraeus and sat up all night on the milk run from Athens to the islands. Couldn't get a stateroom. We did not get a lot of sleep, but I was able to watch many episodes of a Greek soap opera blaring from the television mounted on the wall. The other passengers were not bothered by the noise. Most of them were heading "home" after 10 months on the mainland and were happy to be on their way.
Ikaria is a real place. It is not fancy. Ordinary people live there and ordinary people return every summer to take in the quiet (sometimes) beaches and the very beautiful but austere mountains. Ikaria is also a "blue zone", a place where the population enjoys extraordinary longevity. Some say it is because of the fish. Some say it is because of the pace of life. Some say it is because of the ouzo. I have my own theories.
We did a lot of travelling in a small car with our friend Manolis at the wheel (hold on). We went up and down the island many times, and across the island over the mountains on narrow dirt roads with no shoulders. Often there were no lights and no options if another car came in the opposite direction. Manolis took us to an amazing monastery high up in the hills. It was no longer a religious retreat but a had become a thriving small farm operation with a cafe that served coffee and honey dipped donuts and a small store that proffered local herbs and honey and goat cheese (I met the goats).
We had a good time everywhere we went but for me eating at a restaurant in the village of Evdilos (Εύδηλος) was the highlight. We arrived very late - nothing unusual about that - about 11 pm. Manolis wanted us to try their famed roasted goat but we had just missed the last serving. He was annoyed. I wasn't because they had so many amazing things to choose from. We ordered Cretan barley rusk salad topped with feta and tomatoes and deep fried eggplant with tzatziki. Both were wonderful but my favorite was the simple Greek fava (φάβα) dish. It was warm and smooth and so good with the tomatoes and onions and oregano.
I dreamt about that dish for months, so when Manolis came to visit us in Tel Aviv last year I asked for fava. I expected פול (fava or broad beans). I did not expect a package of yellow split peas. But I have learned since that pulses and beans often have the same name in English that they do in another language, but the referent is entirely different. Even in Greece they are known as fava and santorini beans.
I made the dish as best as I could, reconstructing the recipe from my memory of that night. But it was not as satisfying and I was disappointed. I chalked it up to my clumsy technique and the lack of mountain air. All the packages of fava from Greece were used up quickly. I made a lot of dahl.
This morning it began to rain again. I thought I had better make a soup so that we would have something hot for lunch, but rummaging through the refrigerator turned up nothing even remotely usable. I dug deep into the pasta drawer looking for green split peas and found a lone package of Greek fava. I wasn't enthusiastic but in the absence of green peas, yellow would have to do.
I have a pea soup recipe from my sister-in-law, Susie z"l. It is really the easiest and best soup ever and does not rely on any animal protein for flavor. I intended to make this soup with the yellow peas but then changed my mind. I decided to make BT's pea soup. A little bit Sechelt. A little bit Greece and a lot Tel Aviv Shuk. It was the taste I was dreaming about.
As with all the recipes it will be also be published later under a Creative Commons License. The attribution is important to me. If you enjoy the soup, let me know and don't forget the shout-out.
BT's Greek Fava and Chickpea Soup (to warm you heart)
8 oz. or 500 grams yellow split peas
1 cup or 128 grams cooked whole chickpeas
1 medium leek
1 small yellow onion
1 stalk dark green celery
3 small carrots
1 red chili pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 rounded teaspoons [sic] marjoram
1 very large or 2 medium bay leaves - preferably Greek
10 cups or 2 1/2 litres water
Wash leek and celery stalks
Dice leek, celery, onion and chili into small even pieces
Add vegetable oil to pot
Place heavy gauge pot or pressure cooker on burner
Turn heat on medium low flame
When oil is hot add chopped leek, celery, onion and chili
Sauté vegetables until they become translucent
Sprinkle a tiny amount of salt on the vegetables
Add 2 grinds of black pepper
While vegetables are cooking wash yellow split peas in a colander being careful to remove any stones or detritus
Peel carrots. Dice into quarters.
Add water to pot with vegetables
Add washed split peas and cooked chickpeas
Add marjoram and bay leaves
If using heavy gauge pot - cook on low heat for 45- 55 minutes. Stirring frequently to ensure peas do not stick to bottom of the pan and burn. When peas are cooked, turn off heat and remove bay leaves.
If using pressure cooker - seal lid tightly, raises the heat to high until cooker begins to whistle. When it whistles, turn down heat to low and cook for 20 minutes. Turn heat off and let cooker release its steam naturally. Do not force it open. When pressure has dissipated, open lid and gently stir. Remove bay leaves
Add salt to taste.
Let soup rests for 1 hour.
To serve: Gently reheat the soup. Ladle into bowls. Add slices of lemon, sliced raw onion and fruity olive oil.
NB: The title of this post is Greek Thyme and Bay Leaves. And while I did not use thyme in the recipe I think of these two herbs everytime I think of Greece. To me they go hand in hand. There are bay leaves here and there is thyme here (very good fresh thyme), but Greece produces the best of these. Maybe it's the soil or the sea. I don't know. All I know is that I travel everywhere with an empty suitcase so that I can gather the best stuff when I see it. A little out-there, I know. But I like it that way.