On Sifnos, you’ll eat well, that much I can promise. I always do. There are the standards – souvlaki, moussaka, tzatziki and more. If you’ve been near a Greek restaurant anywhere, you will know these.
But on Sifnos, an island renowned for its food, they’ve been making their own unique dishes for a very long time, some of which you’ll find nowhere else. There’s kaparosalata, a salad made of capers. Mastelo, tender lamb stewed in red wine. Revithia, the chick pea soup that is the island’s signature dish and is a must-have at every festival and any kind of celebration they have around there. It’s also served in every home and taverna every Sunday at noon. Ask for revithia in a restaurant any other day, though, and you’re likely to be told a firm, “No.” Chick pea soup on Sifnos is always, always cooked in a skepastaria, a clay pot that is used for nothing else, placed in a wood-fired oven on Saturday night and left overnight.
I love revithia and I’m not in Sifnos nearly often enough to satisfy my cravings for it and so, thanks to Ronia Anastassiadou and her book, Traditional Recipes of Sifnos, I’ve learned how to make it at home. It’s the essence of simplicity, its aroma while cooking is divine, and you can make it, too. I won’t tell Ronia, though, or any other Sifnian that I know that we’ll be using an electric slow-cooker instead. They’d hardly believe that only once or twice anywhere on Sifnos have I had any better.
So, here goes:
Revithia à la Sharon
Note: I always guess at quantities when I’m making this soup, except when it comes to the oil, and it’s never yet come out wrong.
1) Soak about a pound of dried chick peas in warm water for several hours.
2) Drain, rinse and place them in your slow cooker’s ceramic pot.
3) Chop a big onion or two and add to the pot.
4) Put in a bay leaf or two and some salt.
5) Pour 1 cup of good quality extra-virgin olive oil over it all. Stay with me here, oil phobics among you, and use a full cup. There’s not a chance you’ll be sorry you did.
6) Cover with water. Remember how the chick peas expanded when you soaked them? They’ll do that again, so add an extra-generous amount.
7) Cover the pot and turn on the slow cooker. High or low, it doesn’t really seem to matter, though I usually keep it on high for about half of the time. “It must cook many, many hours,” I was once told so I start it in the evening before bed and leave it to cook until supper the next day. Every few hours, I check and add water if needed. You’ll want enough for an ample broth.
8) Take out the bay leaves and serve with 1/4 lemon, thick slabs of fresh bread, and a Greek salad – horiatiki, the real kind with no lettuce and a full slab of feta – and kali orexi, enjoy! I’m quite certain you will.
And I won’t even mind if it’s not a Sunday.