Happy belated New Year everyone! I hope you had a nice, restful holiday and that you’re excited for the year ahead. Since it’s been awhile, I thought I’d share some snapshots of our holiday trip to England (!!!)
Spyros and I had the great luck to spend a day in London. We lunched at Honey & Co—the cozy, nook-like restaurant run by husband-and-wife team Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer. They have an impressive background; Sarit Packer was head of pastry at Ottolenghi and head chef at Nopi; Srulovich was head chef at Ottolenghi. Honey & Co is the realization of their dream to share the Middle Eastern foods they loved as children, what they cook at home, and the flavors they still miss. Spyros and I confirm, they’ve succeeded!
The restaurant is very petite, but that’s part of its charm, as is the friendly service. When we arrived at lunchtime, the place was packed and we felt rather embarrassed walking in without a reservation. To our surprise, the hostess seemed genuinely concerned that we might walk away hungry. “We’re booked,” she said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “But a table is leaving soon and it will be free for half an hour. You could sit there and move to the window bar later.” Of course, we accepted. We ate this:
Tummies full and curiosity satisfied, we continued our walk until the sky darkened.
Later in the trip, my wonderful brother and sister-in-law took us to Winchester Cathedral where we visited Jane Austen’s grave and Southampton where she, her mother, and sister Cassandra moved after her father’s death in 1807. Spyros and I found this plaque commemorating her:
Our days were warm and revolved around family and great meals. I tried every British food I encountered: fish and chips, kedgeree, Christmas Cake, a delightful drink called a snowball…it ended too soon. On Sunday it was back to Athens and we arrived home craving beans and crusty bread. A dish like this:
Nope, I’m not advertising for Perrins… I just liked the bottle in this photo. This is Fasolada or bean soup, a meal many consider to Greece’s national dish. It is no ordinary navy bean soup–forget the canned and watery frozen varieties from your childhood. Tomato-based and packed with veggies, Fasolada is an unctuous but bright meal, one that reaches true culinary heights when topped with a good glug of olive oil and eaten with hunks of sourdough bread.
I made this dish back in November but it seems so relevant to write about now, the first month of the year. In the Northeast we eat beans in January for good luck. In the southern U.S. people eat Hoppin’ John, a dish of black-eyed-peas, greens and pork. The beans, they say, symbolize coins and the greens are the color of American dollar bills. Beans and greens, it seems, are harbingers for money and success.
While I can’t promise fasolada will make you any richer in 2016, beans are good for you which might be a kind of success for your health. Their fiber gets digested slowly, preventing blood sugar highs and lows. Beans are also an excellent source of protein and antioxidants…nutrients that may well have been absent from your holiday diet. A bowl of fasolada is a great way to replenish and I promise, your taste buds will approve.
I plan on cooking more beans in 2016, which by the way, the UN has declared to be the international year of pulses. My goal is to cook one bean-based dish a week. I’ll start by making fasolada for a frugal, delicious January feast. Whatever your hopes, goals and aspirations this year, I wish you much success; I offer this soup. Happy 2016!
1 pound (500 grams) dried navy or cannellini beans
1 medium onion, diced
3 large carrots, sliced
4 celery ribs, finely diced
1 14-ounce (400 grams) can peeled, whole tomatoes
2 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
salt, crushed red pepper flakes, and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup parsley, chopped, for garnish
1. Soak the beans in water for at least 18 hours (preferably 24 hours) prior to cooking. Strain and rinse the beans; place in a large stock-pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 4 minutes. Strain the beans, discarding the liquid. Return the beans to the pot and add cold water to cover about 2 inches. Then add 3 additional cups of cold water. Place the pot, uncovered, over high heat until the beans begin to simmer. Skim any foam from the top.
2. Add the next 8 ingredients and simmer for 2 hours on medium-low heat; stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking and adding additional water, if needed, to prevent the soup from becoming too thick. The soup is ready when the beans are tender and soft. Adjust seasoning to your taste. Garnish with fresh parsley. Serve with fresh olive oil, crusty bread, and crumbled feta.
*This recipe is adapted from one that I originally published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in March 2008.