In Greece, dishes combining beans and grains have been served since ancient times. Originally they were offerings to pagan gods. Today, they’re made to honor Greek Orthodox saints and the Virgin Mary.
Greek names for beans and grains roll off the tongue: Polysporia, Polykoukia, Bourbourelia, Fotokoliva, Koliva, Fotopapouda, Papoudia, Panspermia, Sperna, Palikaria. All are essentially the same: mixed legumes and grains made into soup or salad. Polysporia, in English “many seeds,” is the most common name.
Polysporia is traditionally made on November 21, the day Orthodox Christians believe Mary was consecrated to God in Jerusalem’s Temple. After her consecration, legend says Mary’s family gave out beans and grains to the crowd waiting outside. Some claim Polysporia represents the beans and grains Mary’s family distributed.
Others look to a more ancient origin. In Feasting & Fasting in Crete: Delicious Mediterranean Recipes (Kedros Publications, Athens, 2001), Diana Farr Louis says the origins of Polysporia go “back thousands of years and may even have been made by the Minoans. Psilakis [a popular Greek cookbook writer] compares it to the panspermia (all seeds) offered by both the Minoans and ancient Greeks to their gods in thanks for a successful harvest.”
Historians link Polysporia to Demeter, goddess of the harvest, who reigned over grains, vegetation, and all fruits of the earth. From Demeter, ancient Greeks learned to plant, grow, harvest, and prepare grain. In return, they gave Demeter offerings of grain dishes similar to today’s Polysporia.
Most believe it’s no coincidence that modern Greeks celebrate feasts on days, and in ways, similar to pagan holidays, and that pagan offerings to Demeter morphed into Christian feast day foods. Polysporia “is child of the incorporation of ancient strong traditions in[to] the Christian religion … Since farming economy depends a lot on nature, [seed-sowing time] continue[s] to be associated and sprinkled with magic,” according to Greek food historian, Mariana Kavroulaki.
Recently Bob’s Red Mill, a purveyor of beans, grains, and baking products, invited me to write an article for its website. Bob’s sent me a collection of products to use for developing recipes, including Whole Grains and Beans Soup Mix. The minute I saw its ingredient list, remarkably similar to Polysporia’s, I immediately wanted to make a tasty, modern dish of Greek beans and grains.
After testing several versions, I settled on soup seasoned with lemon and fresh dill, a classic Greek pairing. It’s so delicious, everyone who tried it wanted more. I served it with Bobota, rustic Greek cornbread with feta popular in Northern Greece (also made with Bob’s Red Mill products). Bobota makes a wonderful partner for soup of any kind.
In addition to giving me products to use in developing recipes, Bob’s Red Mill donated our Bob’s Red Mill giveaway prize. Rest assured, I’d never recommend a product I don’t personally use and love. In this case, I’ve been a Bob’s Red Mill devotee since the 1970s. Its products are invariably fresh and designed with the home cook in mind. In Alaska, Bob’s Red Mill is often the only locally available source for essential baking and cooking ingredients.
Besides its religious significance, ancient and modern, Polysporia tastes really good. I discovered Bob’s Red Mill sells a Whole Grains and Beans Soup Mix, with ingredients remarkably similar to Polysporia. Wanting to know if there was a link, I asked Cassidy Stockton of Bob’s Red Mill how they developed the mix. She said, “We formulated this mix using our Grande Whole Grains blend because we wanted a soup mix that contained a good variety of whole grains, as well as beans. There’s no fancy story, we all just really loved the chewy texture of the grains in contrast with the beans.”
When Bob’s Red Mill invited me to submit a guest post, they gave me products to use for developing recipes. The minute I saw the “Whole Grains and Beans” ingredient list, I knew immediately I wanted to make a tasty, modern version of Polysporia. After several tries, I settled on a recipe seasoned with lemon and fresh dill, a classic Greek pairing. It’s so delicious, everyone who tried it wanted more. I served it with Bobota, a rustic Greek cornbread with feta that is popular in Northern Greece (also made with Bob’s Red Mill products).
Greek Beans and Grains Soup (Polysporia)
Greek Beans and Grains Soup is tart, chewy, creamy, herby, and all-around delicious. Paired with rustic Greek cornbread and a light green salad, it is great for lunch or dinner. If you’re like me, you’ll also eat it for breakfast. To make the soup vegan/vegetarian be sure to use vegetable stock or water (it’s richer if made with stock).
- 3 cups diced Yellow Onion, 1/4” dice
- 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
- Freshly ground Black Pepper
- 2 Tbsp minced Garlic
- 2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grains and Beans Soup Mix, rinsed under cold water
- 8 cups Vegetable or Chicken Stock, or Water
- 1 tsp Kosher or Coarse Salt
- 2 cups thinly sliced Green Onions, green and white parts both
- 2 Tbsp minced fresh Dill or 2 tsp dried Dill
- 1/3 cup fresh Lemon juice
- 1-1/2 tsp finely grated Lemon Peel
- Extra Dill for garnish
In large pot, sauté onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in Beans and Grains, stock, and 1 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil, cover, turn down heat to low, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, or until beans are tender. When beans are done, stir in green onion, dill, lemon juice, and lemon peel. Cook for 5 minutes. Taste and add salt, freshly ground black pepper, dill, or lemon juice, as needed. Garnish with dill and serve immediately.
NOTE: You can turn this recipe into a salad. To do so, use 6 cups stock, don’t cover pot while it simmers, and cook liquid down until it’s almost gone, stirring regularly to prevent burning. When beans are done, stir in onions, dill, lemon juice, and lemon peel. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Rustic Greek Cornbread with Feta (Bobota me Feta)
Makes 9” x 9” cornbread; double recipe for 9” x 13” cornbread
Rustic Greek Cornbread is lightly sweetened to balance the salty feta. The rustic texture of this bread combines well with hearty soups and stews. For a more refined version, substitute all-purpose flour for corn flour.
- 1/2 cup Butter
- 1/3 cup Granulated Sugar
- 2 large Eggs
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Medium Cornmeal
- 1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Corn Flour
- 3 Tbsp Bob’s Red Mill Sweet Cream Buttermilk Powder
- 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
- 1/2 tsp Kosher or Coarse Salt
- 1-1/4 cup crumbled or diced Feta Cheese
Preheat oven to 375°F. Liberally butter sides of 9” x 9” pan.
Melt butter in medium pan. Whisk in granulated sugar, eggs, and water.
Put cornmeal, corn flour, buttermilk powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Whisk ingredients together, making sure the mix has no lumps. Fold in wet ingredients, just until all ingredients are combined. Put batter into prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or just until center is set; don’t overcook or the cornbread will be dry. Remove from oven and let rest 10-15 minutes before cutting and serving.
At www.laurieconstantino.com, Laurie Constantino creates and writes about authentic Mediterranean fare using ingredients readily available in North America. Her recipes are inspired by her travels, her homes in Limnos, Greece and Anchorage, Alaska, and her vast cookbook collection. She also writes extensively about foraging and cooking with wild edible plants and mushrooms. Laurie’s book, Tastes Like Home: Mediterranean Cooking In Alaska, was published in 2007; a revised edition with new recipes came out in 2011.