In Praise of the Simple Pea
One of the geniuses of the Greek cook is her ability to turn the simplest, the humblest, and the commonest ingredient into an entire meal. Case in point, the fresh green pea. While appreciated with equal passion elsewhere in the world, in very few places does the pea take on the protagonist's role at table. Here, on the contrary, cooks who love their vegetables wait eagerly for spring -the time of year when the pea is at the apex of its crisp, sweet freshness- so they can enjoy their peas with artichokes, or stewed with tomatoes, or giahni, loaded with onions and dill.
There is only one species of edible pea, Pisum sativum, also called Pisum hortensis -the simple garden pea. But there are several hundred varieties. Its origins are ancient and unknown, and its original ancestor probably extinct. The oldest remains of the pea were found in what is known as the Spirit Cave, on the border between Burma and Thailand and date to 9750 B.C. In the Near East, the oldest pea remains date to the seventh century B.C. and were found in Jarma, in north western Iraq. The pea reached Greece very early, but possibly not by the usual routes that food moved north from Mesopotamia, through Sumer, Assyria, and Phoenicia. Most sources point to it having traveled overland from India, not through the hot lowlands of the Near East, but via the cooler mountainous country a little farther north. We know that they were grown in Mycenae, and that in Periclean Athens hot pea soup was sold on the streets.
The pea was commonly grown in ancient Attica, and Greeks usually ate them dried (fava), as did the Romans, in the form of soup and thick porridge. Peas, together with fava beans, lupines, lentils, and chick peas, were the basis of many soups and side dishes.
Hot Peppers in the Greek Kitchen
Hot peppers have been a part of the culinary culture of Greece for about four hundred years. Until a generation or two ago, Central Macedonia was the center for pepper cultivation, specifically around the area of Aridea.
Okra, One of the Classic Summer Vegetables
Okra falls into that category of food -like eel and snails- that you either love or despise, mostly because of their slippery, mucous-like texture.
Greek Potatoes, Hard to Imagine a Greek Table without It
Potatoes in Greece had a comic, telling start. Legend has it that the New World crop arrived, during the tenure of Greece's first Prime Minister, Ioanis Kapodistrias, in the 1820s.
Garlic: Indispensable to Greek Cooking
One never quite thinks of garlic as having a season, but in Greece the plant's cycle is evident at market. In spring, right around the start of Lent, tender stalks of fresh garlic arrive at greengrocers' and farmers' markets.
Beans: Staples of the Greek Kitchen
Beans and pulses are among the traditional Greek foods. For eons, these simple, healthful ingredients have been staples of the kitchen, an easy, economical, nutritious way to feed body and soul alike.