In Praise of Fava Beans
July 12, 2010

Happy Monday! Glad you’re enjoying the Hippocrates Health Institute video giveaway. It’s been brought to my attention that the video set being offered is worth about $200. So this is quite a steal! If you haven’t entered yet, check it out.

It’s safe to say that all legumes are cherished in the CR kitchen. There’s one bean, however, that holds a special place in my heart. Fava beans–or broad beans, as they English like to call them–top the list of my favorites. Fava beans, which appear in literature dating back to Greco-Roman times, were the only beans eaten by Europeans before they discovered a cornucopia of legumes in the Americas. If we judged beans by size alone, then the unusually plump favas would be kings of the bean world. But it’s not the size alone that makes them so beloved among foodies. They’re also nutty and sweet, and they lend wonderful flavor and texture to late spring and early summer dining. They’re a pain to prepare, but in some ways, the labor intensive process (which can be truncated by cooks in a time crunch) only seems to win them more devotion.

Cooking with fava beans starts with these thick, spotted pods.

Yes, they’re a little creepy looking. Get over it.

To prepare fava beans, you split the pods open and remove the fat beans inside. This actually isn’t easy: the pods don’t just open with a little tug, and you may need a paring knife to help the process along. When you finish, you ought to have a nice little pile of beans for cooking.

To make them edible, you’ll need to par boil them for at least 4-5 minutes in boiling, salted water. I usually give them about 5 minutes, or until they’re tender.

At this point, the beans will be edible, but still hiding under a pale green, waxy coating. If you’re going to serve the beans to guests, I recommend that you remove the coating after giving the beans a little dip in cold water. However, if you’re going to be pureeing them (which, as you’ll see in a moment, I often am), or eating them solo (which again, I often am), it won’t hurt you to leave the waxy coating intact. It’s un-photogenic, but not harmful.

If you are cooking for a crowd, remove the coating. At this point, your beans are ready to be sauteed with olive oil and garlic, to be put in vegetable ragouts, to be served in grain dishes, or whatever presentation you’ve got your heart set on. Lover of bean puree that I am, one of my favorite ways to serve fava beans is in a thick fava puree.

Fava Bean Puree (serves 2-3)

2 cups cooked fava beans, waxy skins removed if possible
3-4 tablespoons high quality olive oil
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, chopped or minced
1/2 tsp salt
Pepper to taste

Place beans, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper in the bowl of your food processor (fitted with the S blade), and run the motor till the mixture is chunky and broken down. With the motor running, add olive oil in a thin stream until the mix is blending well. Stop, scrape the bowl, and process again, repeating the process until the puree is totally smooth and uniform (it’s exactly like making hummus).

You’ll have the best results with the puree if you work with fava beans that are still warm from cooking.

You’ll notice that this is one of the few recipes I ever add garlic to. I don’t always, but I do find that it enhances the flavor in a positive way. (It also reminds me of the way my Greek mama and Yaya like ’em!)

The finished puree should be bright green and fragrant. Garnish with a little lemon zest or fresh herbs, and serve as a dip or spread.

The other way I like to eat fava beans is in a simple vegetable ragout. Look up “ragout” online, and you’ll see that it’s often defined as stew: I personally associate ragouts not with hearty winter dishes, but with light assemblies of spring and summer vegetables. My own ragout recipe–the one I’m about to share–is prepared raw-style, but could just as easily work by steaming the veggies, rather than dehydrating them.

Summer Vegetable Ragout with Fava Beans (serves 1)

2 cups summer vegetables of choice: I used broccoli, summer squash, wax beans, and spinach
1/2 cup fava beans, cooked
1/4 cup fresh parsley, flat or curly
1 tablespoon good olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp lemon zest
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients till evenly coated, and place on a dehydrator sheet. Dehydrate at 115 degrees for about an hour, till the vegetables are tender and much reduced.

What you’ll have is a simple yet delicious sampling of farmer’s market bounty, prepared without fuss. I like to serve my ragout over a bed of grains. In this case, it was millet:

It was a perfect, satisfying, and simple dinner.

You may have noticed that I didn’t bother to remove the waxy skins from the beans. If I had, they’d have looked smoother and more bright. But sometimes we food bloggers can’t concern ourselves too much with the camera, and I had a growling belly.

If you’ve never tackled the mighty fava bean, it’s time to muster up some courage. They bring a lot of personality to a meal, and they also feel substantial (or “meaty,” to use a word I like less), so they’re a great food to serve when you’re cooking vegetarian for non-vegetarian diners. Like most beans, they’re rich in protein, iron, potassium, and fiber, so they make a nourishing meal for everyone. Give either of these dishes a shot, or come up with one of your own. And if you do, come tell me about it!

Tomorrow, I’ll give you a recipe for a “superfood” smoothie (served up with a wink). In the meantime, have a great night!

xo

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    32 Comments
  1. I made the fava bean puree today after searching for something to do with an excess of broad beans – it was sooo tasty! I featured it in my post today and linked back to you – hope you don’t mind 🙂

  2. I had never known fava beans until I lived in China, where everything is fresh when it should be, and local. I could judge the time of year by the food in season. Watermelon, clementines, peaches, and then…I stumbled across my neighborhood veggie-vendor shucking fava beans right there in the street. They were young, fresh, and tender, and I rushed them home to be sauteed lightly in olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice. Sigh. I haven’t been able to find fresh favas since then.

  3. I just tried fresh favas for the first time last week, and am definitely a convert! They were delicious. I did remove the skins and lightly sauteed them with olive oil and salt. I had asked the produce guy at the store how to prepare them, and he said he just ate them raw! (I did try one raw, but it wasn’t. . . er, too appealing.). 😉

  4. Oooh! I actually bought some dried fava beans online, but I haven’t been brave enought to prepare them yet. They are shelled, but I don’t know if they have the waxy coating removed! Do you know if dried beans usually have this removed?? (I hope so!)

  5. Thanks for letting us know more about fava beans! I was very curious about them and how to prepare them, and now that the guidance comes from what I know is a reliable source (you!!), my fava adventures can begin! I love love love this dehydrated veggie ragout concept you’ve come up with. It’s so pretty, and I love that it can highlight the tastes of minimally-prepared veggies!

  6. What a great recipe idea! I love broad beans (as we call them here in UK), and I used to eat them often. We usually had them as a salty snack – just boiled the whole pods in salty water for 20-30 minutes and then took the beans out of the pods – very easy, they just pop out! Served with lemon juice (my dad used to have a click of butter on his) and extra sea salt if desired. Now since I’m trying to transform into raw food lifestyle, I haven’t really found a good recipe for those lovely beans, so I’ll definitely try yours!
    Thanks

  7. I’ve never tried fava beans… However, I’m thinking now I need too (insert, running to whole foods tonight)! Thanks for sharing.

    • Wendy,

      Fresh is always preferable to canned, since canning can involve the use of preservative agents that aren’t ideal for us to eat — but most of all because fresh foods always taste superior! So I’d really encourage you to just embrace the process of making them fresh. If not, go with canned.

      G

  8. This looks and sounds delicious. May I make a general suggestion? I’d find it helpful if you’d list the ingredients in the order that they are used. In this case, olive oil would be listed after the salt. I copy recipes into my own recipe book, and it’s a bit annoying to find ingredients listed out of order. Thankfully this is a short recipe but still… Thanks for considering.

  9. Oh, man I love fava beans! My husband makes this phenomenal Egyptian fava bean dish with mint, zucchini and carrot and lots of lemon juice. Mmmmm. It’s with the dried kind though. At least in Australia, we tend to refer to broad beans as the fresh ones, which you’ve used, and the fava beans as the dried kind. I love their thick, leathery skins. Is that weird? 🙂

    These recipes, especially the dip, look phenomenal, as usual!

  10. I ate fava beans for the first time a few months ago – grilled. I marinated them in chili garlic lemon sauce and then charred them, pod and all on the grill. The beans got steamed from the inside, and you just chomp on them like edamame. Really good, but messy!

  11. Ok, so I have this friend who is a chef, and we went to a restaurant called Blue Hill, in NY, that grows its own food at its farm out back. It was extremely expensive. She said, “It’ll be expensive,” and I, not knowing anything yet about restaurants of that caliber, thought, “I’ll be ready to pay $45 or so.” Nope. Prix fixe. $200 or so. And every course had fava beans. They were in season, I guess. By the end of the night, I hated them. Passionately. That’s my fava bean story. Maybe one day I’ll try again. But not yet.

  12. I am one of those people who have never tackled the fava beans..I am actually not even sure if I’ve had one before. I love ragout though so I can’t wait to try this recipe.

  13. Well, of course I am not surprised that you love favas! They’ve been a favorite of mine since I was a child! 🙂 Oh and especially after seeing Silence of the Lambs! LOL!

  14. Yet again, you inspire me to cook (or uncook?) with an ingredient I have never before attempted to use. That ragout looks fresh and summery and delightful!

  15. Is it bad that all I can think of when I hear fava beans is “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti”? Oh, Silence of the Lambs. Thanks for ruining fava beans for me.

  16. “Yes, they’re a little creepy looking. Get over it.”—Oh honey, if you think THAT’s creepy or anyone does, they need to come over to my house with my growing Scoby mushroom homemade kombucha making collection 🙂 Nothing like a SCOBY = symbiotic culture of BACTERIA and YEAST growing in glass jars on the counter 🙂

    Oh i digress….haha!

    Ok great fava bean recipe/preparation. And I like your summer veggie pile, the yellow beans (raw i think?) look lovely and we’ve talked on the whole “toxic”beans cooked vs. raw thing and I think it’s simply a texture/digestability thing, not anything else. Now red kidney beans, yeah, gotta cook those unless you like getting poisoned.

    Anyway sweets, have a great nite!
    xo
    🙂

  17. I saw the most amazing fava beans at Union Square last week! AND the lady told me to make a puree out of them! Perfect timing 🙂

  18. I love how green and fresh the puree looks! I must say, beans kind of scare me…there’s just so many ways to prepare them! I don’t know that I’ve ever had fava beans, but they definitely sound delicious!