Fava occupies a special place in Greek diet since ancient times. In the past, it was the poor man’s meat and one of the basic Lenten dishes. During religious fasting periods amounts of this puree was consumed particularly in the orthodox monasteries. As the monks avoid the olive oilduring periods of fasting, their fava was served with sesame oil. Today it is served in a tahini substance. Fava is also a favorite dish in the menu of tavernas since Byzantine years. From tavernas it finally made a triumphant entrance to the haute cuisine.
- Fava comes from the Latin word faba = bean. But when the Greeks say fava they refer to the dried or fresh seeds of Vicia faba (broad beans) or the dried seeds of Pissum sativum (peas) or the yellow shelled lentils or the seeds of Lathyrus (grass peas). They also refer to the variety of pulses that are made from them.
- Kyaminon etnos, a pulse soup made of broad beans, was a common ancient dish. Fava from peas was a favorite food during the years of ottoman occupation. However the fava from Lathyrus is the most delicius pulse of all.
- Lathyrus has played a key part in the Aegean and Cretan gastronomy. Its history goes back to prehistoric times. Lathyrus sativus, the cultivated grass pea, and its progenitor Lathyrus cicera have been found in archaeological sites from Santorini and Crete, dating to 1500 B.C. and to 1480-1425 B.C. respectively.
- Lathyrus seeds contain a neurotoxin, beta-N-L-alpha-beta-diaminopropionic acid, or ODAP. This can cause permanent paralysis if a person eats too much lathyrus, which happened in time of hardship when little else was available. The neurotoxin is destroyed by cooking, so the well – cooked grass peas are absolutely safe.
- The bulk of lathyrus -fava production comes from Aegean islands and Crete, however Santorini fava is considered unique as originates from the variety Lathyrus clymenous. It has a slightly sweet flavor, a velvet taste and a really high price. Dry climate and volcanic soil rich in potassium, magnesium and iron provide the perfect conditions for the cultivation of this legume.
- In nowadays lathyrus fava is usually associated with the local cuisines of Aegean islands where is served in various different ways: with chopped onions, fresh parsley and virgin olive oil; accompanied by dried octopus, or sardines or lakerda (cured mackerel); sauted with fried ‘kavourma’ (smoked pork); as patties (favokeftes). The leftover fava can be mixed with other ingredients like sauted onions or sun dried capers cooked in a tomato sauce. In these cases it’s called pantremeni (married).
- Fava can also find its way into the filling of a very distinctive dolma which is made with cyclamen leaves.
- Cyclamen is a widespread genus of flowered plants, which in its various species and subspecies grows from southern Spain to Iran and from North- Eastern Africa to Palestine. Cyclamen Graecum is a subspecies with beautiful heart-shaped leaves. Its wild distribution includes Corfu island, the southern parts of Sterea, most of the Peloponnese, the Saronic islands, Crete, Rhodes, the islands of Eastern Aegean, the Sporades, parts of Cyprus and the south coast of Turkey.
- The dolmades with cyclamen leaves are found in the islands of Dodecanese. The following preparation is from Symi island. A similar recipe is common in Rhodes, though it contains lentils instead of lathyrus. Of course one can prepare these dolmades using vine leaves even if their taste is altered.
STUFFED CYCLAMEN LEAVES WITH FAVA
500 gr. grass peas or yellow split peas
1/2 cup short-grain rice
2 large onions, finely chopped
3/4 cup tomato, grated
3 tbs. fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
40-45 tender cyclamen leaves
juice of 2 lemons
Pick through the grass peas and remove any pebbles. Transfer to a bowl, cover with water and soak overnight. Next morning drain and rinse them. Combine the grass peas, rice, onions, tomato, parsley, ½ cup olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Pour the juice of 1 lemon. Stir well and taste.
Bring water to a boil and blanch the cyclamen leaves for 30 seconds. Remove and rinse immediately under cold water. Place each leaf on a board (shiny side down) and put ¾ tablespoon of the filling near the bottom of each leaf. Roll up as for dolmathes. Place each dolma, seam side down, in a large steel pan and press tightly to one another. Pour in the remaining olive oil, remaining lemon juice, 1 tsp salt, and enough water to cover the dolmades. Place a plate to weigh them down and to keep them rolled while cooking. Cook at a low heat for about 45 to 60 minutes, or until dolmades are tender and the juice absorbed. Remove and let them cool.
Serve them warm or cold, with thick Greek yogurt.