Neolithic man knew of fava and cultivated it in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin circa 6,500 BC. By the Bronze age, the easy growing protein rich and cold resistant plant had made its way across Europe and northern Africa. By the Medieval Age, fava, protein rich (32% RDA for iron, 42% RDA for folate, a good source of thiamine, vitamin K, B-6, potassium, selenium, zinc and magnesium), was the dietary staple of the masses across what is today, Europe.
So, it might be confusing to note that “fava” in Greek cuisine has little to do with the vetch, vicia faba, better known as the fava bean, which turns out, is, technically, not a bean at all. And the moniker, fava? The bean was named after the noble family Fabians of Ancient Rome who rose from humble origins and made their wealth fame as the first farmers on the production and sale of this crop.
Instead, “Fava” in Greek cuisine refers to a puree of bean eaten throughout Greece, often served hot, or at room temperature as a meze with ouzo, or as the main course in a rustic meal—but never with a fine chianti. In Greece the fava bean aka Broad bean, Horse Bean, Meadow Bean etc has been called “koukia” since antiquity and koukia stew is still made today essentially unchanged over three millennia.
Greek fava, the bean, nearly as ancient puree is cooked long and slow, seasoned with no more than a little salt, olive oil and onion. Moreover, this dish is enjoyed across socioeconomic tables as a hearty porridge-thick soup to a molded and sliced cold plate in the summer. Put simply, fava appears on every table in Greece, everywhere and throughout the year.
As a bean puree, several beans can be used—koukia, of course, but more often, the chickpea, and more often, the yellow split pea. Most cherished, is the yellow split pea of Santorini, grown in its hot volcanic soils. It may be that the “yellow split pea” of Santorini is really a varietal of the yellow split chickpea also known as Chana Daal in Indian cooking. Split peas, like lentils and can be prepared interchangeably as available but require different cooking times.
At the Gardens, Fava Dip, is one of our original deli items along with Melitzana and Skordalia. For over 25 years we have slow cooked yellow split peas with olive oil, onion and spices, and pureed the final product to a light creamy dip that is enjoyed year round.