Mediterranean in Little Italy: The Taste of Springtime in Jerusalem
Chef Olivia Hayo of Beautiful Food Inside + Out re-creates her culinary memories of the Mediterranean using inspiration, and local, seasonal ingredients, from her home in San Diego's Little Italy. This week she celebrates spring with a simple dish of grilled fava beans dressed with young garlic and lemon, inspired by an afternoon in her mother-in-law's Jerusalem kitchen.
Church bells tolled as we walked the slick cobblestone streets of Yemen Moshe, a quiet ivy-draped neighborhood just outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. We squinted in the spring sunlight as it glittered on the pale limestone of the homes and path we followed.
We had spent the morning wandering winding alleys of the ancient market nearby, the various calls to prayer serving as our soundtrack. We looked through stalls filled with hand-painted pottery and keepsakes, until the shuttering of cobalt-blue doors signaled that the city was slowing into shabbat, the day of rest, which we planned to mark with dinner at my husband Shay’s childhood home.
Shay’s parents welcomed us with warm two-cheeked kisses, all the while begging us to “sit, sit, sit”. They unloaded groceries in the kitchen. His father did the weekly shopping while his mother turned the haul into daily meals; theirs was a time-perfected routine.
We sat at the kitchen table watching as his mother emptied a large bag of slender green pods into a bubbling pot on the stove. Springtime was always marked with seasonal fruits for dessert and vegetables, simply prepared by boiling and salting, for an afternoon snack.
His father busied himself making tea with fresh mint and lemon verbena leaves, pouring us glasses just as she tipped the bubbling pot over a colander set in the sink.
When the steam cleared, his mother scooped the green pods onto a plate and sprinkled them with a hearty shake of salt. She set them on the table, and I looked to Shay for guidance, not recognizing the vegetable, or how to eat them. I could always count on a new food discovery when staying with my in-laws.
They were fuhl, or fava beans, a common ingredient throughout the region. I had only seen peeled, cooked down, and served on top of hummus, never in their whole form. Shay grabbed a few and easily opened a velvety pod, plucking out a large, tender bean. He removed its waxy coat, revealing lime-green flesh and handed it to me.
It tasted like spring—sweet and mildly grassy.
Last week at the farmers market in Little Italy, I noticed a table piled high with the familiar green pods. I took some home along with young wild spring garlic and an unruly bunch of mint to make my own version of that memorable afternoon snack.
I picked through the lot to find the smaller younger pods, which are tender enough to eat whole, and doused them in a bright dressing of spring garlic and mint. Charring them on the grill allows the beans to gently steam and imparts a smoky flavor that is perfectly balanced by lemon’s sharp bite. It’s a dish that honors my memories of many afternoons spent around that kitchen table in Jerusalem, and all the discoveries I’ve enjoyed with my new family.