Monday, July 23, 2007

Fava Beans

I bought some fresh fava beans at the Farmers Market the other night and was suprised when the woman selling them asked how I cook them. She hasn't been willing to peel them, as "everyone" knows you are supposed to, and was curious if it was worth the work. I told her that they are just fine with the skins on, and another veggie-person nearby agreed; she had watched a friend peel them once and decided that that was too much work for any vegetable.

The first time I found fava beans in town, I got some without knowing what I was going to do with them. I had always heard fava beans should be peeled, but I didn't have the energy for that so I tried cooking them with the peels on. I like the way the slightly bitter taste of the peel, less astringent than radicchio, contrasts with the buttery insides. After cooking them a couple times, I felt guilty - after all, wasn't I missing the whole point of fava beans? and peeled them; they were too bland. So I've gone back to cooking unpeeled fava beans. They show up early in the growing season, along with green onions, so I usually combine the two; but red onion is good too. The best part about cooking with them may be the fuzzy insides of the pods.

1 1/2# fava bean pods
1 bunch green onions or 1/2 small red onion
2 preserved lemon slices
2 Tbs olive oil
Shell the fava beans, stopping to enjoy the fuzzy pods, but do not peel the beans. Chop the onions fine. Mince the lemon slices. Place all ingredients in a microwavable bowl and microwave for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. The fava beans should be just warmed through. Stir and serve.
(Since most people don't have preserved lemons in the refrigerator, try replacing it with plain lemon slices and some salt.)

Fava beans, also called broad beans, are native to northern Africa and southwest Asia and have probably been part of the eastern Mediterranean diet for 8000 years. In Egypt and the Middle East, fool medames or (ful mdames) is a popular breakfast dish using dried fava beans and garlic; hot pepper and lime can also be added. According to Wikipedia, the beans can be fried, causing the skin to split open, and then salted to produce a crunchy snack popular in China and Thailand.

The first place I ever heard of fava beans was Unplugged Kitchen, by Viana La Place. She also likes the slightly bitter flavor of unshelled fava beans, and cooks with them peeled much of the time; she says that leaving the shells on keeps the beans from absorbing too much water and getting mushy. Her recipe for fava and spring onion pasta is similar to my recipe; she cooks the beans in water and the onions in a sautee pan, then adds mint leaves, black pepper, and parmesan to the pasta. She also has a tasty-sounding recipe for fresh fava beans with hot red pepper:
2 cups shelled but not peeled fava beans
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
Chopped fresh hot red pepper or red pepper flakes
2 tsp flat leaf parsely
olive oil
Cook fava beans in a little salted boiling water until tender, about 10 minutes for very young beans. Drain well. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, garlic, red pepper, and parsely.

Fava beans also lend themselves nicely to a puree for putting on little toasts.

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