Cooking with Fava Beans

FAVA BEANS, ALSO KNOWN AS BROAD BEANS or horse beans, are the original protein of the Mediterranean, going back centuries before red and white beans from the New World were introduced. Favas are most commonly associated with Italian dishes, but they can be found from Spain to Southwestern France, from Italy to Morocco. They are also used in Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine.

Favas are actually members of the pea family and grow in pods ranging from 5 to 12 inches long. Besides providing protein, they are a good plant source of vitamins A, B, and C; iron; potassium; and fiber.

FRESH FAVAS

Fava beans are available only for a short time during the autumn months. They have a very quick season when they are sweet and not starchy. If picked when they are young, they can be shelled and eaten raw, skin and all.

If you have the opportunity to purchase fresh favas, estimate 1-1½ pounds of pods per individual serving. Look for heavy, full pods that have good color and few blemishes. The blemishes appear quickly after picking but should not affect the beans inside unless the pod is heavily spotted. Feel the pod to confirm that it is full. There are usually four or five beans in each pod, but the pods can be deceptive and appear swollen even when they are empty.

"When cooked, fave beans have a creamy tecture and a mild, nutty flavor"

Keep fresh favas in the pod, wrapped in plastic, and store them in the refrigerator until ready to use. Fava beans are best when used within four days but will last well over a week. After that time, they start to lose their moisture and can get tough and dry.

Handling fresh favas takes a little more time than handling most other fresh beans. Open the pod and remove the beans. (If you’d like, throw a few of the pods into soups or broths to add flavor.) You can peel the beans while they’re raw, or you can carefully immerse the beans in boiling salted water for 30 seconds, remove them, and then drop them into an ice-water bath for an immediate cool down. Drain the cooled beans and remove the tough outer skins. Many chefs also remove the sprout from the tip of the shelled bean, although this is not necessary.

FROZEN, CANNED, OR DRIED FAVAS

If fresh favas are not available, frozen, canned, or dried varieties will do. Frozen and canned favas save on labor, as they come already removed from the pod and peeled. Dried favas must be soaked for several hours, rinsed, and peeled. You can stew frozen or dried, soaked beans with a small amount of vegan margarine or soy creamer and season them with thyme, sage, or savory. Savory is a classic seasoning for fava beans! Serve the stewed beans as a side dish or purée and use as a hot dip or as the base for a creamy soup.

Canned or thawed frozen favas can be sautéed with a mixture of seasonal vegetables and served over pasta. Try favas, diced Roma tomatoes, and sliced mushrooms over angel hair pasta; favas, sliced black olives, and corn served over couscous or risotto; or favas and diced sweet onions and carrots over orzo (rice-shaped pasta).

PREPARING FAVAS

When cooked, fava beans have a creamy texture and a mild, nutty flavor. Fresh favas can be used like fresh green peas. Cook them quickly as part of a vegetable ragout, or serve with potatoes and melted vegan cheese.

For a simple, elegant approach to preparing favas, drop newly peeled, fresh beans back into lightly salted boiling water for a few more minutes. Then, sauté them in a little olive oil with salt and pepper.

Fresh or frozen shelled fava beans can be enjoyed ‘naked’ with a little vegan margarine or olive oil. They can also be made into soups, added to stews, served chilled as a salad, braised, or made into purées.

To create a fava purée, shell fresh or thawed frozen beans. Steam or boil until tender. In a blender or food processor, purée the favas with a small amount of mushroom or vegetable stock, olive oil, and fresh minced garlic. The resulting spring green purée can be seasoned with oregano, cracked black pepper, and red pepper flakes to make a Mediterranean dish; with herbs de Provence for a Provençal offering; or with cumin and white pepper to create a Moroccan masterpiece. Serve your purée as a hot appetizer with delicate crackers, with toasted pita or flat bread, or on a thinly sliced baguette. Use it as a savory dip for vegetables; think fava fondue. Or top pasta, cooked grains, or grilled vegetables with your fava purée.

Paula Wolfert, a well-known cookbook author and culinarian, likes to use very small, fresh favas in a raw Spanish fava gazpacho with sherry-soaked raisins. The recipe is in her cookbook, The Slow Mediterranean Cookbook: Recipes for the Passionate Cook. For the Moroccan Fresh Fava Bean Spread adaptation included here, Wolfert uses beans that are a little bigger but still young, with approximately 5 or 6 per pod. These beans must be double-peeled—they must be stripped from their pods, blanched, and then slipped out of their skins.

BREAKFAST FAVA SPREAD

(Serves 10)

This spread is very popular in Egypt and is served with grilled pita or roasted flat breads.

  • 2 cups cooked or canned fava beans, drained
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup finely chopped onions
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ teaspoon ground white pepper

Combine all ingredients in a pot. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to a simmer. Allow to simmer 3-10 minutes until the onions are soft.

Place the mixture into a blender or food processor and process until the mixture is just puréed (not perfectly smooth). Serve hot or warm.

Total calories per serving: 68 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 8 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 4 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

FRESH FAVA BEAN MOROCCAN SPREAD

(3 cups or twelve ¼cup servings)

I adapted this recipe from one that I saw in Paula Wolfert’s The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook.

  • 1 pound unshelled fresh young fava beans (approximately 2 cups shelled)
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • ½cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • ¼teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Steam favas in pods for approximately 5 minutes or until soft. Drain and run under cool water. Allow beans to cool and then peel thoroughly.

Place the beans into a small pot. Add garlic, 1 Tablespoon oil, and 1/2 cup water. Cook, stirring, for approximately 2 minutes until the beans are soft and tender. Drain the beans.

Place the beans into a bowl. Add the remaining oil, lemon juice, cumin, and salt and mash until smooth. Allow to cool for at least 2 hours before serving.

Total calories per serving: 54 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 7 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 107 milligrams Fiber: <1 gram

MINESTRONE WITH FAVA BEANS

(Serves 8-10)

This recipe uses rice rather than traditional pasta. If you’d prefer to use pasta, use orzo.

  • 4 cups shelled fresh or frozen fava beans
  • Salted boiling water to cover beans
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • ¼ cup chopped celery
  • ½ cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 7 cups water
  • 1 cup long-grain white rice
  • 2 cups chopped fresh spinach

Cook the beans in a pot of boiling salted water for approximately 2 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water. If beans are fresh, remove and discard the outer skins, reserving the beans.

In a large pot, heat oil over moderate heat. Add onions and celery and sauté for 7-10 minutes, until the onions begin to brown.

Add carrots, tomatoes, and parsley. Cook and stir for several minutes. Add 7 cups water and the beans, cover, and cook over low to moderate heat for approximately 40 minutes or until the beans are tender.

Add rice, cover, and cook for 5 more minutes. Add spinach, cover, and cook over low heat for approximately 10 minutes or until the rice is tender. Serve hot.

Total calories per serving: 404 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 66 grams Protein: 22 grams
Sodium: 28 milligrams Fiber: 21 grams

CLASSIC FAVA BEAN SOUP

(Serves 6-8)

  • 5 cups shelled and peeled fava beans (approximately 6 pounds whole pods) or thawed frozen fava beans
  • Salted boiling water to cook beans
  • 3 Tablespoons nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 4 Tablespoons vegan sausage crumbles
  • 2 cups diced onions
  • 1 cup minced carrots
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 7 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 spring fresh savory or 1 teaspoon dried savory
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 cups cleaned fresh spinach
  • ½ cup vegan sour cream

If using fresh beans, remove them from the pods. Drop the fresh or thawed beans into salted boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove from stove and shock in ice water. Allow beans to cool. If the beans are fresh, remove and discard the outer skins.

Melt the margarine in a pot over low heat. Add sausage and heat for approximately 1 minute. Add the onions and carrots and continue to cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for approximately 3 minutes or until the onions and carrots are softened.

Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the broth, peeled beans, and savory. Simmer over very low heat for 20 minutes or until the beans are tender. Add the parsley and simmer 1 minute more.

Remove the soup from the heat and stir in the spinach leaves. Place the soup into a blender or food processor and purée until smooth. Return the soup to the stove. Whisk the sour cream into the soup, stir, and cook until heated. Serve immediately.

Total calories per serving: 597 Fat: 11 gram
Carbohydrates: 91 grams Protein: 35 grams
Sodium: 397 milligrams Fiber: 33 grams

SPRINGTIME FAVA STEW

(Serves 6-8)

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup shelled and peeled fresh or frozen fava beans
  • ½ cup chopped onions
  • ¼ cup chopped celery
  • ¼ cup chopped carrots
  • 1½cups chopped Swiss chard leaves
  • 1½cups peeled, deseeded, and chopped tomatoes
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • Red pepper flakes to taste

Combine the oil, beans, onions, celery, carrots, and chard in a pot. Cover and cook for 45 minutes or until vegetables are soft.

Add tomatoes, cumin, and red pepper and cook for another 20 minutes to allow flavors to combine. Serve hot over cooked rice, couscous, or orzo.

Total calories per serving: 101 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 11 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 31 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

SMOKY CREAMED FAVA BEANS

(Serves approximately 6)

Serve this recipe as a hot dip, or use it as a base for sauces or thick soups.

  • 5 pounds young fava beans still in the pods (approximately 10 cups, shelled)
  • ¼ pound vegan bacon
  • 1 Tablespoon nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • ½teaspoon fresh savory or pinch finely crumbled dried savory
  • Water to cover the cooking beans
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup vegan creamer, such as Silk soy coffee creamer
  • ¼ cup vegan sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Shell beans and remove skins.

Cut the bacon strips into ½-inch sections. In a large pot, cook the strips in margarine over low heat for 2-3 minutes. The strips do not need to be crispy.

Add the beans, savory, enough water that it comes 1 inch above the beans, and salt to the bacon. Cover tightly and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the beans are tender. Remove from heat and allow beans to cool.

Whisk in the creamer, sour cream, and pepper and stir into the beans. Return to low heat and cook, stirring, for approximately 5 minutes until the sauce coats a spoon. Quickly stir in the lemon juice and parsley and serve.

Total calories per serving: 436 Fat: 9 grams
Carbohydrates: 71 grams Protein: 34 grams
Sodium: 640 milligrams Fiber: < 1 gram