ON SIFNOS, the most common Lenten dish is these chickpeas, cooked slowly overnight in the communal oven. On Folegandros, the dish is also made on the eve of the Day of the Cross, September 14, the day the Saints Constantine and Helen are said to have discovered the cross on which Christ was crucified.
Perhaps because the island women had to go to church and had no time for more complicated dishes on that festive day, they chose to make this simple one, and the tradition was established. The soaked chickpeas are usually placed in an unglazed clay casserole, made in the small pottery workshops of Platis Yalos, on Sifnos, and taken to the bakery in the evening, to be picked up the next morning after church. I cook these beans under a double sheet of aluminum foil in a heavy lidded casserole. After six hours, they emerge beautifully tender.
Serve as a main dish, accompanied by smoked trout, olives or feta cheese and fresh country bread.
In a medium bowl, combine the chickpeas and 1 teaspoon salt and toss well.
In a medium flameproof casserole, heat the oil and sauté the onions over medium
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