Legumes have such a proud and prominent place on the Greek table. Mainly due to the rules of fasting in the Greek Orthodox faith - but their use goes all the way back to Ancient Greece. Heard of the saying, "to spill the beans"? The folk etymology of this saying, meaning to give away a secret, derives from the electing of a council member in ancient Greece. Each council member would vote with either a white bean (yes) or a brown bean (no), and these would secretly be put into a pottery jar, so that no one would know which way the members voted. However, if the jar was knocked over causing the beans to spill out, the proportion of yes and no votes would be seen. Perhaps voting with a black eye pea that is both white and brown was hedging a bet each way?
Black-eyed peas are so easy to cook and packed with nutriton. I love their wonderful, nutty flavor. There are so may regional specialties in Greece for black-eyed peas, quite often they are stewed with wild greens and fennel or added to soups. My favourite way of cooking them is to add them to this simple salad. It makes a wonderful side dish paired with lemonata style fish baked in the oven or vegetarian main course. I prefer not to soak the beans overnight and use the method set out below, it gives the beans a fresher taste and it helps it retain the nutty flavour. I also only salt the water that the beans cook in, rather than the final dish itself. You can also double the quantities below if you are cooking for a larger group.
Black-eyed pea salad (Φασόλια Μαυρομάτικα Σαλάτα)
Serves 4, as a side dish or 2 as a main
1/2 cup dried black-eyed peas
1 teaspoon of sea salt (for dried peas)
5 cups of water (for dried peas)
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon of fresh fennel fronds, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup celery, finely diced
1 & 1/2 tablespoons of good Greek rose wine vinegar
3-4 tablespoons of Greek extra virgin olive oil
Kalamata olives & edible flowers to garnish
Step 1. Wash beans well. Place in a saucepan and add 2 & 1/2 cups of water. Bring the peas slowly to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and leave until plump - about 1 hour.
Step 2. In a seperate bowl, add vinegar and onion. Mix well and leave to soak.
Step 3. Drain and rinse the peas. Place in a saucepan and add another 2 & 1/2 cups of water. Return to the boil and simmer gentley for 1 hour. Add salt to taste and simmer for another 30 minutes until tender. Drain and add to salad bowl with onion and vinegar. Toss with remaining ingredients and garnish with olives and edible flowers.