They are humble, plain, and sometimes less-than-attractive when cooked, but humans have been cultivating and consuming legumes for thousands of years. In fact peas and lentils have been used in Greek cooking since ancient times. You don’t get a much better example of “withstanding the tests of time” than that.
Really, it should come as no surprise. They are easy to grow, easy to prepare, and easy to store for long periods of time. They also make tasty and nutritious meals. Legumes like peas and lentils are especially easy to cook, because they don’t require any soaking to reduce their cooking time, which is already pretty short compared to other beans.
In Greek, “fava” refers to a pureed soup made with peas, either fresh or dried. Don’t confuse it with the fava bean, which is also consumed in Greece. Most people here are familiar with “fava” as split-pea soup, often made with chunks of salted ham. The basic recipe is the same, though in Greece it is usually without the meat. The recipe below can be done either way, whatever floats your boat! Fava is usually not made with lentils, but they add a really nice flavor to the final soup, so why not?
Many recipes for split-pea soup have you boil a ham steak in water with the other ingredients, but that washes out the flavor in the meat and you have to fish it out to cut it up. This recipe uses broth to add the flavor, then add the cut ham for the final touch. Much better, if I do say so (and I do!).
Recipe for Greek Fava, a.k.a. Split Pea and Lentil Soup
In the pictures, I was making a triple batch of the recipe below, which resulted in approximately 7 quarts of soup. The extras are put into containers just big enough for a couple of night’s dinners, and frozen.
- 1 cup dried split peas, green or yellow
- 1 cup dried brown lentils
- 7 cups broth (I used a blend of ham and pork bone broths. Chicken, turkey, or vegetable broth, or even water could be used.)
- 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced into chunks
- 1 small onion, sliced (about 1/3 pound)
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1-2 cups ham, cut into small chunks (optional)
- salt/pepper to taste
- extra virgin olive oil
Pour a few glugs of olive oil into a large stock pot (about 2-3 Tbsp.). Add onions and sauté on high heat until wilted, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and carrots and continue to cook until the carrots are heated through. Or you can cheat (like I did) and throw everything up to the ham into the pot at once and move on from there.
Pour in the broth and add lentils and peas. Add the bay leaf and pepper (if desired). Bring almost to a boil, stirring occasionally to keep the legumes from sticking, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cover the pot. Cook, stirring on occasion, until the peas are disintegrated and the lentils are very soft, about 30-40 minutes. The carrots should be tender, as well.
If you want a pureed soup, remove the bay leaf, then use either a blender or an immersion blender to puree to the desired consistency. You could also use a whisk by rolling the handle between your hands with the wires in the soup. It won’t give as fine of a consistency, but will still work to create a smoother texture.
Add the ham now, if using, and return the pot to low heat. Start with the smaller amount of ham, mix in, and add more if desired. Some people like a lot, and some not as much. Allow to heat through and the flavors of the ham to blend in with the soup, about 15-20 minutes. Ham is usually salty, so this will likely be enough for flavoring. If not using the ham, add salt for desired taste. Don’t forget to save your ham bone for making more broth!
Greeks usually serve Fava and other legume soups with a splash of red wine vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil. I skip the vinegar, but keep the oil. Try it with the vinegar, you might like it. Serve with a nice chunk of hearty bread on the side. Καλη óρεξη! (Bon appetite!)