A good week to be Greek
It’s been a pretty good week for the Balkans: the Greek national team has gotten through to the World Cup round of 16 in an historic and totally unexpected victory; and in my corner of South East London, Peckham Bazaar has just announced its imminent re-opening.
P to the Bizzle
Peckham Bazaar is easily one of my favourite restaurants. It manages to strike so many chords for me: rustic, eastern Mediterranean flavours, but refined and elevated beyond what I’m able to produce at home or what you get at even some of the best seaside tavernas in Greece. Chef John Gionleka’s taramasalata is creamy and delicate, artfully laureled with bitter herbs and sprinkled with dukkah. Sitting on their sun-trapped terrace eating Gionleka’s dishes is electrifying- food here is not ‘just as good as’ the home country, it is both totally different and totally familiar, a product of more than one place of origin, like Gionleka himself (he’s originally Albanian, but speaks fluent Greek and I think a handful of other languages too).
I always leave P Baz on a high, not just because I’ve sampled large amounts of their excellent Balkan wine list but also full of ideas of things I want to try to re-create. But for a long time their fava puree has stumped me. How do they get it so smooth, so smoky flavoured? I tried soaking the split peas overnight before cooking, blending the cooked pulses, even pushing the cooked lentils through a seive, but although it always ended up as nice enough fava, nothing near what PB produce. When I finally discovered the secret in Maria Elia’s cookbook Smashing Plates, it was so much more obvious than all that: the trick, as with so much Greek cooking, is a bucketload of olive oil.
My housemate at university used to joke that fava was ‘poor man’s hummus’; I think he’ll agree that this quantity of olive oil refutes that claim.
Fava puree with putanesca garnish (adapted from Maria Elia)
- Put the lentils in fine-holed colander and rinse thoroughly under cold water to get rid of some of the starches.
- Put the washed fava in a medium sized saucepan along with the onion, garlic, bay and thyme. Cover with plenty of water and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer, stirring frequently and skimming the white scum off the surface.
- When the fava is soft (you should be able to squeeze a lentil with your fingers and have no resistance), drain it, reserving some of the cooking liquid.
- Discard the onion, bay and thyme and whizz the lentils with the olive oil until smooth, then add the lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. If it’s a bit thick, add some of the reserved cooking liquid, otherwise you can discard that.
- Traditional garnish is thinly sliced red onion, more olive oil and lemon juice and a bit of oregano. Sharp flavours contrast well with the creamy texture though. This time I made a sort of ‘putanesca’ garnish, mixing olive oil, some finely chopped anchovies, turkish chilli flakes and capers, and leaving it all to infuse before drizzling the mixture on top of the fava along with some thinly sliced red onion.