“If you want to live a long life, eat like a Cretan” – says everyone I ask about the diet of Crete.
The island of Crete is the birthplace of the Mediterranean Diet, and where we first discovered its health benefits back in the 1960s. Their cuisine today is similar to what people have been eating for centuries: beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts, olives and olive oil, whole grains, yogurt, and seafood. The cuisine there is not only healthy, but these recipes have been perfected over centuries to be incredibly delicious.
I make this soup with dried beans, from Rancho Gordo. Any white bean will work, and they are all good. You can absolutely make this with canned beans, and have a great soup on the table in less than an hour. This soup is hearty, filling, delicious, creamy, and completely satisfying.
Here’s how to make Fasolada, Cretan style:
Fasolada: Greek White Bean Soup
Serves 4 or 2 with leftovers for lunch
- 1 lb. dried white beans, or 4 cans white beans
- 1 large red onion, diced
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
- 3 stalks celery, chopped
- 4 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 – 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (to taste, I use 1/2 and it is just a little peppery)
- 3 TBS tomato paste ( I like the tubes)
- Salt and pepper
- 6 TBS extra virgin olive oil – divided
- 2 3-inch strips of orange zest – use a vegetable peeler to get two good strips
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 1/2 quarts water
- 4 tsp. Red wine vinegar
- 2 TBS chopped fresh dill – optional but recommended
- 2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled – optional but recommended
Soak dried beans overnight or for at least 8 hours in 2 quarts salted water.
- Saute the aromatics:
- In your soup pot, heat 3 TBS of the olive oil over medium heat.
- Add the onion, celery, and carrots to the pot along with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook until softened and starting to brown.
- Add the garlic and red pepper flakes to the pot and cook until you can smell the garlic.
- Move the vegetables to the side of the pan to make some space, and add the tomato paste. Cook, stirring, until the paste begins to darken then mix it into the vegetables.
- Add the beans and stir a minute or two to coat with the oil.
- Add the water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Turn the heat down and simmer for about an hour if using dried beans, 20 minutes if using canned. Stir occasionally so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot.
- Mash some beans:
- Using the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher, mash about 1 cup of the beans on the side of the pot so they make a paste. This will thicken the soup. You can make it as thick or thin as you like.
- Finish the soup:
- Stir everything together, and add 1 teaspoon of salt.
- Remove the orange peel and bay leaves.
- Add the vinegar and stir to incorporate into the soup.
- Add the remaining 3 TBS of olive oil to the soup and stir vigorously. Sometimes I use a whisk. This will create an emulsion so the oil thickens the soup and makes a silky, luxurious broth.
- Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary.
- Top each bowl with some chopped dill and feta cheese and serve.
I serve this soup with a side salad and some crusty whole grain bread and it is a satisfying meal. Leftovers freeze well and will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. The soup will thicken as it sits, which I like. If it gets too thick, add some water after you heat it through.
This way of eating is so important, and so different from our typical American diet, that I am taking a group of students to Crete to study their diet this summer. I can’t wait to experience it firsthand and bring what we learn back to you all.