Fabulous Fava Beans

Marla’s recent post describing her Moroccan-inspired meal, which included a couscous with fava beans, inspired me to come up with a post of my own that put a spotlight on this lovely early summer treat. I remember being curious about fava beans (AKA broad beans) ever since I heard about them in The Silence of the Lambs.  I had never seen them in any grocery store, and had no idea what they looked like or how they tasted.   I first found them at a farmers market years ago, and as soon as I tasted them, I was in love.   A year later, I found some fava bean plants at a nursery and planted them in my garden so I could enjoy my new treat.   This was in the early days of my community gardening experience in Winnipeg, and for some strange reason, the fava beans were the only produce from my garden plot to go missing that summer.  (Obviously someone in the neighbourhood also had a passion for favas and couldn’t find them anywhere else!)

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 as used 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?   Like I mentioned earlier, 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!

The first shelling: getting the beans out of the pod

Blanched beans will look a little wrinkly

Tear the end of the outer husk, and squeeze the bright green inner bean out!

Now you have a bowl of double-shelled favas, ready to eat!

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 (recipes are both copied from About.com)

Ingredients:

  • 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

Preparation:

  1. Shell, blanch, and re-shell fava beans. You should have about 1 cup fava beans.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Ingredients:

  • 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 aborio rice
  • 3/4 cup freshly shredded Pecorino cheese

Preparation:

  1. Shell, blanch, and shell the fava beans.
  2. Shell the peas.
  3. Trim the asparagus and cut into bite-size pieces.
  4. Chop the white and light green parts of the green garlic or garlic scapes.
  5. Put the broth in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Keep it at a very low simmer.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
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