Hello everyone! I am eager to resume writing on this blog, after inspiring holidays in Crete and in Athens. Of course, the emphasis haw been on culture and Antiquity, the initial purpose of our journey. However, Justin and I are real “bons vivants“: Every meal was a feast. I intend to flood you with Mediterranean recipes all summer long. I have already written 10 drafts on the subject!
In Athens, it is very easy to stick to a vegetarian and even a vegan diet as soon as one moves away from the most touristic areas – around the Agora, for example. Indeed, the most touristic restaurants have a disproportionate offer of meat and fish – and prices to match. Outside of Athens, it’s even easier. In Crete, we stayed in a small village promoting agro-tourism and the local restaurants had an abundance of vegetarian dishes cooked with local produce.
Vegans can enjoy dolmades (stuffed vine leaves), which normally contain only rice, herbs and sometimes nuts and raisins. In Crete, the same stuffing garnishes zucchini flowers. Be sure they are meat-free, this can unfortunately happen. Fava is an absolutely succulent legume spread, made from yellow split peas, olive oil and lemon juice. You can order a Greek salad without feta – ask for a discount on the bill. Fassolakia yachni is a delicious stew of flat beans with tomatoes and potatoes. Fassolia gigantes are a succulent dish of giant beans baked in tomato sauce. Some canteens also have vegetables stuffed with rice (tomatoes, aubergines, peppers …). Finally, halva is a flat semolina cake, often garnished with citrus peels, warm spices and raisins, without eggs or dairy products (but very sweet and rich in olive oil).
For vegetarians, it’s even simpler: Feta and spinach pies, fennel pies, “real” Greek salads or the Cretan dakos, a variation served with dry bread and local cheese. For dessert, yoghurt with honey is traditional.
Today’s recipe is my favorite. Fava, as its name does not indicate, is made of yellow split peas from the island of Santorini, pureed with lemon juice and olive oil. Back home, I made it with the normal French yellow split peas and it was just as good. The recipe differs from one restaurant to the next but I really like mine: I think, without being sure, that the bay leaves are crucial! The usual green split peas should be perfect too.
Our favourite restaurants in Athens:
- Restaurant : Nona. In Petralona, a sleepy but gentrifying area, at the foot of a hill. The service is attentive and helpful. Everything is fresh and delicious, it was the best feta of our entire holiday. The proportions were so gigantic that we fed all the cats in the neighbourhood. I loved their fava.
Νόνα Εστιατόριο, Troon 66, Athina 118 52.
- A tavern: Taverna Ephemero. We got hungry one evening in the anarchist quarter of Exarcheia, and came across this little jewel nestled in a dark alley. Seemingly local and regular diners, a funny host and a couple of guitarists, obviously the boss’ buddies. It was our best meal. A stunning garlic and nut dip, a fabulous black-eyed-peas salad with dill. The fava is very good, lukewarm for a change. I liked the handwritten menu, the artisanal red wine and, in general, the cheerful atmosphere. To get there, I recommend blending in the surroundings – in appearance. The local population, young and motley, loves street art and illicit substances.
- Ταβέρνα Εφήμερον, Methonis 58, Athina 106 81.
- A canteen: Achilleas. In Exarcheia as well – remember: get away from the tourist center! Justin spotted this canteen. It is stuck between two rather unpleasant restaurants, and I had not noticed it. The daily specials, steaming hot, are on display inside. You get served almost instantly. Everything was perfect: We tried their tomato beans, the giant beans, a feta and aubergine dish, stuffed vegetables, a wonderful chickpea soup, and other things I forgot . Fortunately we walked all day!
Αχιλλέας, Valtetsiou 62, Athina 106 81.
- 500 g “fava” beans, or yellow / green split peas
- 2 onions
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 carrot
- 1 celery stick (optional)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 stem fresh rosemary
- olive oil – lots
- 2 to 4 lemons
One day ahead, soak the peas in a large volume of water.
Finely chop the onions and garlic. Dice the carrot and the celery stalk.
Rinse the peas and place them in a large saucepan. Cover with water up to 1.5 cm above the peas. Add bay leaves and rosemary and bring to a boil. Keep boiling for 10 minutes then simmer over medium heat.
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan. Heat the vegetables over high heat. Lower the heat and cook for a few minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Then add the vegetables to the peas.
Continue cooking until the split peas are perfectly tender. Drain the peas and place them in the bowl of a food processor with its blade knife. Add the juice of 2 lemons and 8 tbsp olive oil and salt to taste.
Mix thoroughly until the texture becomes creamy. Adjust the seasoning: Add lemon juice, salt or olive oil…
Fava is served warm or cold, with a drizzle of olive oil, lemon wedges, fresh tomato dices, thin slices of red onion, black olives and sometimes a sprinkling of parsley .