Recipes for “Fava” a yellow-lentil spread, and for mussels steamed in ouzo. Delicious.
The Mediterranean Basin is such a gloriously rich and storied melting pot of culinary treats. I recently enjoyed the most perfect bowl of mussels I can recall having, and a delicious starter of mushed yellow lentils, called Fava in Greek (not fava beans).
I dined at Titzikas kai Mermigas, a traditional Greek tavern just off of Syntagma square with a fabulous wine list and deservedly known for their traditional Greek cooking. The food and service were impeccable, the place is inexpensive, and was thoroughly enjoyable. This was also not my first visit, so can confim consistency as well. Ditto for the bar referenced below.
After, I wandered around the corner and enjoyed a cocktail made with Mastiha, which is the sap of the mastic tree, and which makes a delicious liquor.
The bar called Tazza is a baroque living room that spills out onto the streets with exuberance. Just a few blocks from Syntagma Square, it is a fabulously glam spot and is nearly always teaming with customers. They introduced me to a popular drink that is made from the tears of the mastic tree—this is the sap of an evergreen, without the sharpness of pine. Historically, this sap has been used in many confections, such as the famous cornes de gazelle of Morocco, but also were the original binding agent of marshmallows. Go figure. Anyway, they make cocktails with the stuff. Better still, they had a dry version (almost all of them are quite sweet, including the “dry” ones, but the brand “Mastic Tears” proved to be delicious drunk cold on a cube of ice).
It is best to think of this dish as a kind of hummus, as it has a similar consistency, or that of coarsely mashed potatoes, only fava is served warm.
1 cup dried yellow lentils
1 medium white onion, quartered through the stem to keep it together
1 medium carrot, cut in quarters lengthwise
1 bay leaf
Olive oil to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnish: finely chopped tomato, minced onion, and minced parsley
Cook the lentils in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a light boil, skim, and reduce heat to medium-low. Toss in the onion and carrot, and cook until the lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaf, carrot, and onion. Pour off excess water, reserving some in case. Mash or use an immersion blender and blend to a thick consistency, achieving near smoothness. Season to taste with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Spoon out into a wide bowl, creating a depression in the middle. Place the garnish in the middle. Drizzle with olive oil. Serve it warm. It should have the consistency of coarsely mashed potatoes.
Mussels with Ouzo
This broth was subtle with the perfume of anise. It was fresh, light and delicious.
500 g of mussels
2 cloves of garlic minced/crushed to a paste
1 tsp of Greek or Calabrian oregano
2 scallions, whites minced fine, greens coarsely chopped
2 tbsps of chopped wild fennel fronds (you can use the green tops of fennel bulbs too)
2 tbsps of ouzo
Juice of ½ a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Steam the mussels in all the ingredients until they have opened. About 5 minutes. Stir to mix broth and herbs with the mussels. Serve it forth. Yum.
What I wore
I was out with people that I love. That was the most important thing. What else? I wore a short linen skirt, a kind of natural fibre colour, decorated around the waist with shells, and I wore an enormous necklace made of shells and a white blouse. I was channelling my inner mermaid and it felt great to be out and about on a warm evening, savouring its passage into night, and the rose-pink light of another delicious Mediterranean sunset.