Which legume is so good to be honored as “National Food”? So important that a myth is associated with it? A legume that saved thousands from starvation during the hardest historic periods? Affordable, filling, super comforting, easy to cook, highly nutritious (high-fiber, low-fat source of folate, iron) and an excellent source of non-animal protein? Right! Beans, in particular, a hearty, rich Greek white bean soup (or stew) called fasolada (or fasoulada or fassoulatha or fasolia).
Not interesting? No problem Jump to Recipe
Eating fasolada is written in Greek DNA. Legumes and especially white beans were known in ancient Greece as a superfood. Ancient Greeks offered them as a sacrifice to Greek god Apollo at the Pyanopsia festival, a whole day dedicating to white bean soup. According to the myth, it was first Theseus, the legendary King of Athens, who offered a kind of white bean soup to Apollo. He visited Delos, the sacred island of Apollo, in order to thank him for killing Minotaur, a lethal beast at the island of Crete. But a seven day trip from Crete to Delos left Theseus without supplies and therefore he had to improvise and find something nice to offer to the god. After all, ancient Greek gods were often so demanding and hard to please. He gathered everything he could find on the island and made a soup from the seeds of a plant. Boom!!! The first white bean soup was born.
Ever since beans are a staple along with all kinds of legumes and feed the Greeks throughout difficult times. My grandmother’s vegetable garden saved my family from starvation during World War II and fasolada (beans and other legumes like lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas) was a valuable source of protein for years. Nowadays, beans used to be hugely underrated and the Greek white bean soup was once considered “poor man’s” food but they got the respect they deserve after the economic crisis.
Fasolada is nothing more than white beans stew with veggies like onion, celery, and carrot. That’s it. Actually, there are two kinds. The white version with lemon and the red one with tomato paste or/and passata. Both of them are equally delicious and so similar to cook that it is usually a last-minute decision whether my family’s white bean soup will be white or red.
For this post, I was facing the same dilemma: white or red? Lemon or tomato? Ah, what the heck, I’ll post both of them. There you go. Problem solved and excited by this challenge, let’s cook!
To begin with, Greek white bean soup calls for good quality dried beans. I am sorry to disappoint those who prefer the convenience of canned beans (that I totally get it and respect it) but I have to be honest and tell you that you will get neither the perfect flavor nor the desired texture from canned beans. The taste is totally bland and the texture more or less mushy. On the other hand, dried beans need soaking and more cooking time which is totally worth the trouble because that’s how they take on flavor as they cook. It’s your choice.
The traditional recipe asks for cannellini or navy beans but any medium-sized dried white bean is good to go. Try to find good quality bulk beans and ask for as fresh as possible. The secret behind the perfect white bean soup is new crop beans. They have this wonderful light flavor, cook up faster and give the perfect texture which is something between soup and stew. I will explain soon. Fasolada is served as a main dish and it is thick enough not to be a soup but it’s still runny enough not to be a typical stew dish. Crazy, isn’t it?
Discard any foreign objects (leaves, small stones, broken beans) and give the beans a quick rinse with cool water.
Soaking at least 8-12 hours at room temperature in three times their volume of water is necessary in order to make them more digestible and enhance their nutritional benefits. Additionally, boil them for 2-3 minutes, drain and discard the water. Soaking and fast boiling will increase digestibility, reduce phytic acid effects and prepare the legume to give their best flavor. Start the cooking procedure with hot water because cold water over hot beans will instantly make them hard. Not good.
COOKING WHITE BEANS
To begin with, I avoid sautéing whenever is possible. I save at least 10 minutes which is certainly a bonus without compromising on flavor.
Gentle simmer will prevent split skins and gradually enhance creamy texture and desired flavor. No need to rush here. Add the veggies and let them simmer. Most of the time is passive time. Stir occasionally throughout the cooking process to prevent sticking and if you need more water, it should be hot.
Salt and acidic ingredients like lemon and tomato should be added when beans are fully cooked. Otherwise, they prevent the beans from becoming tender resulting in more cooking time.
Extra virgin olive oil is the last addition when we remove the pot from the heat. That’s how we keep all its magic components intact and ready to south our body and soul. Not to mention that this cooking technique provides extra glorious thick and creamy texture.
TIPS FOR THE CREAMIEST WHITE BEAN SOUP
Mash a cup of already cooked white bean soup to your desired consistency. No need to overdo it or blend it in a food processor. Just fork mash it and add the mixture to the pot. It will result in the creamiest soup ever. So filling and hearty!
If you like your soup thicker, you may add a medium or large potato. It’s also a brilliant idea if you have a hungry army to feed because it gives more body to the soup. However, it needs some expertise to add potato in a soup because you risk releasing more starch that you actually want. More starch means gummy soup and I don’t enjoy a soup that sticks to my teeth. But as always, it is your game so make your own version of Greek white bean soup and tell me how it went.
WHITE WITH LEMON OR RED WITH TOMATO?
You are going to love both of them. Let’s say that your taste buds scream for lemony flavor for dinner. While cooking your kid disagrees with you because “I really want to eat tomato today momyyyyyy”. Breathe in, breathe out. Take out tomato paste (or passata) from the pantry and simply add some into the pot. Everything is under control. Dinner and mood are saved, thank God!
Both recipes follow the same steps right from the beginning and the major difference is the addition of tomato paste (or passata). Traditionally the white version calls for lemon juice served on the plate seconds before enjoying it.
READY! NOW, WHAT?
It is rather difficult to find this dish in an urban restaurant but you should absolutely ask for it if you find yourself in a Greek mountain village during winter. However, it is a staple in every Greek home that follows the Mediterranean eating patterns. Legumes are served at least 2 times per week usually served with crusty whole-wheat bread, whole wheat pitas, fermented vegetables like carrots, peppers, salads with vinegar like Greek cabbage salad, salty fish like smoked herring and anchovies and definitely Kalamata olives.
Serve your luscious Greek white bean soup with an aromatic red wine like Xinomavro.
Greek White Bean Soup (fasolada)
WHITE BEAN SOUP WITH LEMON
- 1½ cup (300g) dried cannellini (or navy) beans, soaked overnight in cold water, drained
- 6 cups (1½liter) hot water
- 1 large red onion, chopped
- 3 medium carrots, sliced
- 2 stalks of celery and leaves, chopped
- ½ cup (120g) olive oil
- Red pepper flakes (optional)
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped (optional)
- Lemon juice to taste
- Salt & pepper to taste
WHITE BEAN SOUP WITH TOMATO (additional ingredients)
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon dried rosemary, chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste, dissolved in 6 tablespoons water*
FOR THE WHITE BEAN SOUP WITH LEMON
- Rinse soaked beans and boil them for 2-3 minutes. Drain and discard the water.
- Clean the pot, add the beans and the hot water. Add onion, carrot, celery, garlic (optional). Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 1 – 1 ½ hours until soften but not mushy. Add more hot water if desired.
- Add salt and pepper. Add the olive oil. Fork mash one cup of soup and pour the mixture in the pot. Simmer for another 5 minutes. Stir well and remove from heat.
- Serve with the desired amount of fresh lemon juice and red pepper flakes (optional).
FOR THE WHITE BEAN SOUP WITH TOMATO
- Follow instructions #1 and #2 above and add the dried rosemary, the bay leaf and the tomato paste (or passata or canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes).
- Follow instruction #3 above and skip the lemon from instruction #4. Serve with red pepper flakes or/and thyme (optional).