Saturday, May 7, 2016

Traditional Greek fasolada

This dish may not be exactly the embodiment of spring, but it is a staple in my home no matter the season, because this is how this Greek girl rolls.

This is fasolada, the national dish of Greece, and S’s favorite food in the whole wide world. Growing up, it wasn’t my favorite of the traditional Greek legume dishes, it was actually my least favorite. Then I met S and he made a convert out of me. Not least due to the fact that when we moved in together, I started cooking it for him. He used to declare that his mom’s fasolada was the best (Greek men always say that), but now, he’s singing a different tune. He says my fasolada is the best, even better than his mom’s, while I gleam with pride and joy.

Fasolada, if you’ve never heard of it before, is a bean soup. The beans traditionally used are Greek small white beans and they are cooked with copious amounts of olive oil, tomatoes, onions and celery leaves. It is as simple as it can get and it is, essentially, poor man’s food, as is most of Greek food.

Greece has always been a poor country and its cuisine is frugal and built on simple ingredients that go a long way, like legumes. You can feed your whole family for a couple of days on a single pot of beans, lentils or chickpeas.

I love this kind of food, the food of my country, the food I grew up with and have been fed my entire life; the food I am cooking for myself and my partner and someday perhaps my kids.

We eat legumes at least twice a week (gigantes, lentils, chickpeas, fava), and even though I love legume dishes from other countries, like India and the Middle East, ninety percent of the time, I cook legumes the Greek way, using my family’s recipes.

Without further ado, I give you my recipe for Greek fasolada; robust, hearty and oh so delicious. I hope you try it and you enjoy it.

Traditional Greek fasolada (Bean soup)

As I mention above, the traditional beans used for this soup are Greek small white beans, always dried of course. In Greece, nobody uses anything other than dried legumes. Before I moved to the Netherlands, I didn’t even know that canned beans even existed, and I’m not exaggerating.
You can use navy beans or any other small bean. This time, I used Dutch brown beans that are delicious and they give a more intense, meaty flavor to the fasolada (pronounced fassolátha). Other times, I use dried handres (borlotti) beans.

Greek legume dishes are customarily accompanied by cured fish like sardines, anchovies or herring, feta or other Greek cheeses, some sort of dip like melitzanosalata that you see pictured (which this time I made smoother than I normally do) or taramosalata, olives of course and lots of bread.

Yield: 6 servings

500 g dried small beans (white, brown or borlotti)
230 ml good quality olive oil (I use Greek extra virgin)
2 large red onions, peeled and grated or processed in a food processor
2-3 large carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
A small bunch of fresh celery leaves with their stalks (about 30 g), whole
500 g tomato passata
1.2 liters hot water
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried red chilli flakes (I use Greek boukovo), plus more for serving if you wish

Special equipment: coarse grater or small food processor, colander, large wide pan with lid (I use a Dutch oven)

The night before, place the beans in a very large bowl and add 2 liters of cold tap water. Soak them for 14-16 hours.

The next day, rinse the beans under cold, running water, place them in a large pan and add 2 liters of cold tap water. Cover the pan and bring water to the boil over high heat. You will notice that once the water comes to a rolling boil, white foam will rise up to the surface of the water. Remove the foam with a large spoon and drain the beans in a colander.

In the same pan, add the olive oil and place over a medium-high heat. Once it starts to shimmer, add the onions and sauté for a couple of minutes until they soften. Then add the carrots and sauté for a minute. Add the beans and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the tomato passata and mix well, then add the hot water and the celery leaves and stir. Finally, add some freshly ground black pepper, give a last stir and cover the pan. When it comes to the boil, turn the heat down to medium-low (you need to keep it at a lively simmer). Cook the beans for 1½ to 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes and checking if they need more water. If you see after 1 hour that there’s not a lot of liquid left, you need to add a bit more as this should be a thick soup.
Half an hour before the beans are cooked, add salt and the dried red chilli flakes.

When ready, leave to cool a bit and then serve in individual bowls. Add more chilli if you prefer it hotter.

The fasolada is more flavorful the next day and the couple days that follow. You can keep it in the fridge for 4 days, in an airtight container. You can also store it in the freezer for a couple of weeks. Thaw in the fridge before reheating in the microwave or in a pan on the stove.


  1. Looks great. Bean soups are always tasty, thanks for the idea

  2. can't get enough of these photos, just love how hearty and inviting they are!

  3. And I came from the opposite tradition - beans came in and it want till I left home that I discovered dried beans! We love bean soups, now that Mark is able to eat them. We will try this soon!

    1. Haha I see. You have to try this, for sure. It's a classic

  4. What kind of oli you have on your cottage chesse?! Looks so tasty!