Greek fava has nothing to do with fava beans

photo by me
This is the waterfront of the delightful city of Chania. It's on the western edge of the truly enchanted island of Crete and I was fortunate to spend a week there last June.

This time last year, Frank and I were putting the finishing touches on a month long trip to Austria and Greece. That planning and the trip itself feel like they happened a lifetime ago. If I think about it too much I get entirely too consumed with what feels like a loss. Wait a minute, it's not that it feels like a loss, it is indeed a loss. The world I once knew is gone and the world that will replace it has yet to make an appearance. I find that to be unsettling to say the least.

Anyhow, the Chania water front is lined with family-owned restaurants and like just about everywhere in Greece, there's a maître d' positioned in front of each of those restaurants. Unlike just about everywhere else in Greece, these gentlemen aren't carnival barkers who won't take no for an answer. In Chania, they invite you into the kitchen and introduce you to their mothers. I'm not exaggerating. By the time we arrived in Chania, Frank and I had been in Greece for about a week and I'd become pretty good at getting restaurant maître d's to back off. And a lot of times, I had to get pretty aggressive about it. If you've ever run the gauntlet of restaurants on Makrigianni or in the Plaka in Athens you know what I mean. However, the guys in Chania were so sincere and so kind I found myself disarmed completely. I lost count of the kitchens I toured and the family members I met. Chania is hands-down the most wonderful place I've ever visited. Considering the number of place I've visited, that's saying a lot.

In each of the restaurants along that water front, dinner starts with mezze. Mezze are appetizers but what they are really is an introduction to Greek food and culture. I went to Greece half expecting to eat gyros for a couple of weeks but what I found instead was glorious.

Every night, we'd follow the recommendations of our servers and every night, dinner started with something they were calling fava. To my eyes, it looked like hummus but it was bright yellow. I knew fava beans wouldn't make a spread that color. My biggest regret of that trip was that I'd done such a poor job of preparing to surmount the language barrier we ran into so when I'd ask what it was in broken Greek, I'd get an answer in broken English that it was fava.

It was frustrating and I didn't get to the bottom of it until I came back to the US. Once here, I found out that Greek fava is made from yellow split peas. Near as I can tell, the word for bean in Latin is faba, just like it is in Italian. However in Greek, Bs are pronounced as Vs and so fava means beans essentially.

Within a few days of being home, I made my first batch of it and made some pita to go with it. Ahhh. It was like being back in Crete.


Here's how to make it.

450 grams of yellow split peas, rinsed
2 large red onions, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice or 3–4 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 1⁄2 cups olive oil
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley leaves

  • Put split peas, three-quarters of the onions, and 7 cups water into a heavy medium pot. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat, skimming foam that rises to the surface. Reduce heat to medium-low and gently simmer, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and peas have broken apart, 1–1 1⁄2 hours. Stir peas more frequently during last 15 minutes of cooking to prevent them from scorching. Season to taste with salt about 5 minutes before finished cooking.
  • Remove pot from heat. Vigorously stir peas while gradually adding lemon juice and half of the oil. Cover pot with a clean kitchen towel and set aside to let purée cool (it will thicken as it as it cools), 3-4 hours.
  • Stir purée again, season to taste with salt, and transfer to a serving dish. Sprinkle parsley and remaining onions on top and drizzle with remaining oil. 

Mix up a batch of that stuff and you'll never eat hummus again.