Fava beans are becoming a little easier to find these days at farmers’ markets, which is a great thing for fava lovers. They’re actually closer to the pea family than the bean family – they need to be shelled in order to eat them – but many people also dry them and use them as a dried legume throughout the winter. I’ve also seen fried fava snacks at some Asian grocery stores made from dried beans! Like all legumes, the plants are great nitrogen fixers that improve the soil when you grow them, and some farms plant them as a cover crop specifically to turn them over into the soil. Now I plant a big patch of them in my own garden so I can enjoy them all summer long, and compost the rather large stalks after the season is done. They’re an interesting looking plant, with black and white flowers, and the pods grow upright off the main stalk instead of dangling off of side stems.
So now that I’ve got you interested in fava beans…what do you do with them? First of all, favas need to be shelled from their pods, which are thick and have a fuzzy interior. Then, the beans need a second shelling – the individual beans are encased in a slightly tough and slightly bitter shell that doesn’t taste great. This is easiest to do after the beans are blanched. You can boil favas in hot salted water, or steam them briefly and then plunge them into ice water. After they’ve cooled down, each bean’s shell will have slightly loosened, and will be easy to remove. (These shells aren’t as bad with the younger beans, and you can skip the second shelling.) Then they’re ready to eat in any recipe you may have!
My favourite way to eat fava beans is simply boiled and peeled, then served with some butter and fresh herbs, but there are a ton of delicious recipes out there that use fava beans! They have a creamy texture that purees really well, and they maintain their bright green colour even when they’re cooked. You can marinate them in a bit of red wine vinegar and shallots and serve as an antipasto, or puree them with some garlic for a creamy dip. Here are a few recipes that will hopefully whet your appetite for this fantastic summer veggie!
MARINATED FAVA BEANS
2 lbs fava beans
1 Tbsp minced shallot
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp minced chives
Shell, blanch, and re-shell fava beans. You should have about 1 cup of beans. In a medium bowl combine shallot, vinegar,salt, and pepper. Let sit 10 minutes. Slowly whisk in oil.Toss with fava beans, cover, and chill for at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
To serve, stir in chives and use a slotted spoon to transfer beans to a small serving plate, an antipasto platter, or on top of a simple green salad.
SPRING VEGETABLE RISOTTO
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 to 2 lbs fava beans
1/2 lb sweet peas/garden peas/English peas
1/2 bunch asparagus
2 stalks garlic scapes
5 cups homemade broth (or use 4 cups commercial broth diluted with 1 cup of water)
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1 cup arborio rice
3/4 cup freshly shredded Pecorino cheese
Shell, blanch, and re-shell the fava beans. Shell the peas. Trim the asparagus and cut into bite-size pieces. Chop the white and light green parts of the green garlic or garlic scapes.
Put the broth in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Keep it at a very low simmer. Meanwhile, heat another medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and the olive oil. When the butter is melted and stops foaming, add the chopped green garlic and the salt. Cook, stirring, until the green garlic is wilted, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and stir to completely coat it with the butter and oil. Cook, stirring until the opaque rice grains turn a bit translucent around the edges. Add about a cup of the warm broth to the rice and cook, stirring as you like. Adjust the heat so that when you’re not stirring the mixture simmers a bit but doesn’t boil or get too excited. When most of the broth is absorbed – when you can see the bottom of the pot for a few seconds when you stir because the mixture is thicker than the broth – add another 1/2 cup broth. Continue cooking, with some stirring, and adding 1/2 cup of broth at a time until the rice is almost tender to the bite, about 15 minutes.
Add the asparagus and more broth and continue cooking and stirring and adding broth as needed until the asparagus is almost done and the rice is al dente – tender but with structure to each grain. Add the peas and fava beans. Continue cooking, adding a bit more broth and stirring, until the peas and beans are warm, just a minute or two. Stir in the cheese and remaining tablespoon of butter and taste – add more salt if you want. Serve with more cheese and freshly ground black pepper.
COUSCOUS WITH FAVA BEANS
Adapted from The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden
1 cup dry couscous
2 cups boiling water
2-3 Tbsp butter
1 lb fava beans, green peas and/or sauteed zucchini
2-3 Tbsp raisins, soaked in water for 20 minutes
dash of cinnamon
Add boiling water to couscous. Cover and let stand for 20 minutes. Approximately half way through, add 1-2 tablespoons of butter and fluff with a fork. Boil fava beans or peas. Because I like my beans on the crunchy side, I brought the water to a boil first, then added the beans and boiled for about 2 minutes. Saute zucchini slices, if using. Mix beans/peas/zucchini with a tablespoon (approx) of butter. Drain raisins. When the couscous is ready, top with the vegetables, raisins and a dash of cinnamon. You might want to serve this dish with yogurt.