Fava beans are a versatile and delicious legume that have been a part of our culture for thousands of years. Originally grown in North Africa and South East Asia as early as 6000 B.C. the fava bean is also celebrated in the cuisine of the Mediterranean and southern Europe, especially Italy, Greece and Portugal A plant that’s been a part of our diet and culture for so long is going to have a few nicknames, so fava beans, technically the vicia faba are also known in English as pigeon beans, horse beans, Windsor beans, field, bell, tic beans or simply as broad beans.
They are hardy, sturdy plants that grow well in warm and cold climates and do well in all types of soils.
Indeed, because of the fact that they grow quickly and have such lush foliage, they are often grown by farmers just as a cover crop to protect sensitive fields.
Of course, fava beans are much more than mulch. The bean itself, when cooked, is buttery and creamy, and lends itself to a variety of dishes and snacks. Fried and oven-dried, mixed with aromatic spices, fava beans make a delicious crunchy snack and are often sold prepared as such. A simple way of preparing them is to just steam them and enjoy them as a side dish with a little olive oil, sea salt and lemon. They can also be made into soups, stews, falafel and mashed into dips or served with liver and a nice Chianti. (Haha! Sorry, I couldn’t help myself)
Although you can buy canned or frozen fava beans, getting them fresh and shelling and preparing them yourself is a somewhat meditative and relaxing way to spend a lazy afternoon. If you do buy them fresh, still in the pods, make sure you budget at least an hour to prep enough for four servings.
The beans themselves are in large tough pods that easily split along the seam to reveal between three and seven beans, snugly nestled in a soft downy bedding. Each bean, in turn, is covered in a smooth, tight fitting sheath that has to be removed. Some cooks suggest parboiling the beans to loosen the sheath, but this is not necessary; a deft little nick with a paring knife will enable you to get a thumbnail in the pale green sheath and the covering comes off quite easily, revealing a lovely glimmering deep emerald coloured bean that a dried, canned or frozen bean cannot match for beauty or flavour.
One of the nice things about shelling fava beans is you get 100% return on your efforts; unlike picking strawberries, or even shelling peas, you are not tempted to eat any of the fava beans raw; they are somewhat bitter, a flavour profile that disappears with a little cooking.
For some folks, a fresh fava bean salad, or grilling the entire pod directly over the coals, as recommended in this ingenious recipe, are rites of spring and summer. But now that it is fall, we recommend this simple and delicious soup by Martha Stewart. It’s so simple and the short list of ingredients means the lovely little fava bean flavour will come through.
1 1/2 cups chopped white onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 1/2 cups blanched, peeled fava beans
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
- Saute onion in olive oil. Season with salt. Stir in chicken stock. Bring to a simmer. Add fava beans. Simmer until tender. Stir in Parmesan. Puree. Season with lemon juice, salt, and pepper.