Bronwen Kemp
Bronwen Kemp
Bronwen Kemp
Bronwen Kemp Bronwen Kemp
Bronwen Kemp
Credit: Bronwen Kemp

Fava and pickled sardines

Ella Mittas is a cooking teacher, chef and food writer.

Credit: Bronwen Kemp

Greek fava is made from yellow split peas. Confusingly, in Turkey it’s made from fava beans, as you would expect by its name. Somehow, at some point, it evolved when it was introduced to Greece. Now each country has its own version that it swears is totally different from the other.

This recipe is for the Greek version, with the yellow split peas giving it a quite neutral but sweet and earthy taste that pairs well with salty or strong flavours. It’s eaten traditionally as a meze, or to accompany proteins. Anyone who’s been to Greece will have fond memories of eating fava with octopus on an island. I have two distinct memories of it, from my first trip to the Mediterranean. First in a restaurant in Thessaloniki, where it came set in a cube shape and was topped with salty, smoked mackerel. Then at Ntounias, a restaurant in Crete where I worked. There it was slathered in olive oil and sprinkled with capers and chunks of raw red onion.

I’d ended up working in Crete while searching for the most traditional Greek food I could find. Ntounias restaurant in the mountains near Chania served slow food in the slowest way possible. The service was terrible. But they raised animals for milk and meat, grew vegetables, milled their own wheat and cooked without using any electricity. Everything was heated by fire. This meant the wait for olive oil fried chips could stretch more than 40 minutes if it was windy outside where the pans were set up.   

It was utter chaos. Responsibilities were amorphous, and there was never anything prepared. Over and over, waiters would walk into the kitchen yelling orders, at which point everyone would scramble into the garden to collect the vegetables needed for those specific dishes. I’d be on my hands and knees tearing up garden beds, trying to find onions to top the fava.

The food was utterly delicious, though, and the land around the restaurant totally pristine. I would have stayed in that village forever, just to eat what came out of that kitchen. This recipe for fava comes from Ntounias, with this version having slightly less olive oil but just as much heart. I’ve paired the fava with pickled sardines – a sort of midpoint between my first two memories eating it. It’s excellent with crunchy toast on the side, and even better with Cretan barley rusks, if you can get your hands on some.

  • 2 cups yellow split peas
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, plus more to serve
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp salt
  • capers to serve
  • 1 red onion, sliced to serve
  1. Soak the split peas overnight.
  2. Fry off the onion in the olive oil until translucent, then add the split peas and cover with water. Add the bay leaves, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer, skimming the whole time this is cooking. (The more you skim the scum off the surface, the sweeter your fava will be.)
  3. When the split peas are totally cooked through, take them off the heat. Once the mix has cooled, purée until smooth and season with olive oil and salt.
  4. Serve garnished with capers, sliced red onion and more olive oil. If the flavour of raw red onion is too intense for you, soak the onion in cold water for 15 minutes before serving.

Pickled sardines

  • 500g sardines (I buy mine already cleaned and butterflied)
  • salt
  • ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or a combination of parsley and dill (I sometimes use hard herbs such as marjoram and thyme, too)
  • about ¼ cup white wine vinegar or red wine vinegar, as needed
  • about ½ cup good-quality olive oil, as needed
  1. Make a layer of the butterflied sardines, skin side down in a baking dish or container that’s not metal. Sprinkle with salt, lemon juice, garlic, chopped herbs and vinegar, then make another layer of sardines on top of that one.
  2. Repeat until you have used all the sardines, using the aromatics, vinegar and lemon throughout the layers. Once finished, top with olive oil. You want the olive oil to form a film over the sardines, protecting them from the air.
  3. These will be ready in a few hours and can be kept for four days. You can tell when your sardines are ready as they will become firm and change colour slightly.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 10, 2019 as "How’s your fava?".

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Ella Mittas is a cooking teacher, chef and food writer.